90 jobs to be contracted out at George Derby

More than 90 people will lose their jobs when George Derby Centre contracts out their positions in the spring, says the Hospital Employees' Union (HEU).

Those affected are housekeeping, food services, laundry, clerical and activity staff who make up about one-third of the union's staff there, said HEU spokesperson Margi Blamey.

Unlike contracting out at other health care facilities, this could prove highly disruptive since many of the residents are veterans who have been there for many years, as have many of the workers who will be losing their jobs, Blamey said.

"It's not a bit of disruption, it's significant disruption."

She noted that it's unknown what the new contractor will do to staffing levels at the facility when it takes over, which is expected to happen by the end of April, 2013.

"But in other places staffing levels have been reduced, they don't have the same complement. And as soon as you don't have enough staff to do the job, then quality deteriorates."

Contracting out work to private companies that pay lower wages and reduced benefits has become common practice at long-term care facilities in the province that face funding cuts from health authorities, said the union.

But George Derby Centre is not experiencing funding cuts, said its executive director, Janice Mitchell. It's just trying to increase the level of care it provides with the funding it receives.

"It was a difficult decision and it certainly wasn't taken lightly."

The centre is home to 300 residents, most of whom are veterans. Over the last several years, the care the residents require has become more complex, Mitchell said.

And while the centre has yet to put the contract out to tender, it expects to save a "significant amount" of money which it plans to use to hire more nursing and care aide staff, she said.

It also hopes to provide more flexibility to meet residents' needs. For instance, she said, many residents are now too frail to make it to meals at the designated times. The plan is to provide more of a restaurant-style meal service so they can eat when they're ready and able.

As for any disruption from the change, Mitchell said the centre will be communicating with residents and their families.

"We really have strict standards in the contracting out process to ensure the level of service and quality of service is maintained."

And while Blamey said the union proposed several measures to reduce costs and prevent the contracting out, Mitchell said the suggestions simply didn't create the ongoing cost savings it required.

Fraser Health Authority spokesperson Roy Thorpe-Dorward confirmed there have not been funding cuts to George Derby which is receiving $16.7 million in the current fiscal year, 2012-2013, which is up from $16.6 million last year.

George Derby is an independently-owned, non-profit facility where all the residents are fully-funded by Fraser Health, he said.

As with previous cases of contracting out services, "we ensure we keep in close contact with them and increase the contact and visits during the transition period to ensure that the care that residents are receiving doesn't suffer."

Thorpe-Dorward added that in similar cases in Fraser Health "we have not seen any impact on direct care to the residents and that would certainly be something we would watch for."

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