Privatization at new Comox Valley hospital one topic for town hall meeting

Concern about privatizing services at the new Comox Valley Hospital will likely be discussed at a town hall meeting this month.

Concerns surrounding the privatization of services at the new Comox Valley Hospital will likely be one of the topics discussed at a town hall meeting this month.

Citizens for Quality Healthcare (CQHC) has organized the meeting to discuss concerns around the planned public-private partnership (P3) model for the North Island Hospitals Project, which will be held in the Rotary Room of the Florence Filberg Centre from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Sept. 27.

Gwyn Frayne of CQHC worries what kinds of services could be under the private company’s control.

“I have to point out that we’re most concerned about the services,” said Frayne. “Care aides, housekeeping, kitchen staff, technical staff, everything, all of those services. We are quite worried about the contracting out of the services.”

Vancouver Island Health Authority’s (VIHA) Grant Hollett, North Island Hospitals Project (NIHP) interim project director, stressed the model is a partnership — instead of simply designing and building a hospital, the company must design, build, finance and maintain it. The contract would likely be for 30 years, and some “soft” services could be the chosen company’s responsibility.

“Soft services are usually negotiable, and they can include housekeeping, and they can include waste management, they can include parking services and things like that,” said Hollett, adding planting services, general maintenance and help desk services to the list of examples.

He also said he understands privatized housekeeping services in the new hospitals is a concern for some.

“We did put out the RFQ (request for qualifications) asking for interest in providing housekeeping services. But the final decision about what we want won’t be made until we start to go to the RFP (request for proposals) process and get close to final selection on that.”

According to Hollett, VIHA has heard from eight companies interested in a contract during the RFQ stage, and that list will be shortened down to three, likely by the end of the year, when VIHA starts its RFP stage.

He added housekeeping has been contracted out for a number of years in South Island hospitals, but not in the Comox Valley or Campbell River hospitals.

CQHC member Barb Biley, an employee of St. Joseph’s General Hospital and a member of the Hospital Employees Union, said she’s concerned some medical services such as diagnostic imaging and X-ray could be private.

However, Hollett stressed all services related to healthcare would be VIHA’s responsibility.

“Every position that has to do with the delivery of healthcare services is VIHA’s sole responsibility — that’s not part of the partnership,” said Hollett, and when asked if health care services would remain staffed through VIHA, he said: “Yes, as they are now. That will not change. That wouldn’t give us the performance gain we’re looking for. We’re looking for performance gain, risk transfer and innovation in the facility.”

Hollett added the P3 model will give the greatest value to taxpayers and is the best option to ensure the project is completed on time and on budget.

But, Frayne worries the project could cost more in the long-run with the P3 model, and that some accountability could be lost if private profit is a factor.

“They’re looking at health care, the soft resources as being the place they can make money,” said Frayne. “And when the profit motive comes into a P3 we know from our research it always makes it more expensive, always, without any exceptions.

“We watched the development in England of how the accountability was lost when the private services were allowed in and we can see that even with how in some of the hospitals in B.C.”

However, Hollett said the private company would need to meet specific standards — such as frequency of elevator breakdowns, or how quickly light bulbs must be replaced — and if it doesn’t meet these standards it would be docked payments as would be set out in the contract.

He also said the private company would take the risk of cost overruns during building due to the signed contract with a fixed price.

There will be three guest speakers at the town hall meeting, including Dr. Vanessa Brcic, Stephen Elliot-Buckley and Biley. Frayne would also like to see some VIHA officials attend.

writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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