Been there, done that part 2: Albertans want public solutions that will improve our health care

March 13, 2019

Been there, done that part 2: Albertans want public solutions that will improve our health care

The plans announced today by UCP leader, Jason Kenney, proposing to privatize laundry services in hospitals, is the second announcement he has made touting the supposed efficiency of the private sector in our public health care. His announcement takes us back to the mid-1990s when, under the Conservative government of Ralph Klein in Alberta, laundry services in Calgary were privatized. As a result, laundry workers went on a wildcat strike and garnered national headlines, but the contract was eventually given to K-Bro Linen.

Fast forward to 2019, and we are hearing a repeat of the same old rhetoric. “Mr. Kenney presented no clear business case as to how privatizing laundry services would save money or provide better service, and no indication of what the economic impact would be with potential job losses in the public sector,” says Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare.

Privatization ideologues insist that contracting out is benign because the services are still paid for with public money. However, it's about the least sensible way to use public money that you could conceive. In the case of K-Bro Linen System, whose revenues mainly come from contracts from public health care facilities, it is evident by their corporate profile and their stock values that their primary objectives are maximizing profits and shareholder value, all at tax payers’ expense.

Kenney claims that the Saskatchewan government’s laundry outsource to K-Bro Linen System will allegedly save $100 million over the contract. However, this ‘stated savings’ has been refuted by University of Winnipeg economists, Hugh Grant, Manish Pandey and James Townsend, who studied the privatization proposal, and estimated that the savings are actually closer to $17 million over the next decade. Further, while the Saskatchewan health system may save some money in the short term, the citizens of Saskatchewan will bear the costs in the long term. These economists predict that the loss of employment and income in the province will outstrip any savings, and will cost residents of Saskatchewan $31.5 million over the next 10 years, compared to the best public option.

In Alberta, to exacerbate the problematic situation of outsourcing, these contracts are often secret. "’Commercial confidentiality’ wipes out the public's right to see how and where money is being spent in the public health system,” states Azocar.

We have seen from years of privatization experiments under former PC governments, and elsewhere in Canada, that outsourcing health services to private companies is both costly and ineffective. “Patients need to be able to rely on receiving quality care in all aspects of our health care – and that includes laundry,” says Azocar. “Albertans deserve to know that their health and safety is being put ahead of corporate interests.”

As Albertans head to the polls in 2019, it would be refreshing to see new ideas coming forward, rather than rehashed privatization plans that have done nil to improve and expand our public system.

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