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Compass retains hold on Island health contracts

Jan 06 2012

Compass Group Canada retains its monopoly over housekeeping and food services at Vancouver Island health facilities, despite the health authority's attempts to dump the contractor.

Vancouver Island Health Authority announced Thursday it has renewed its housekeeping contract, worth $10.61 million per year over five years, with Crothall Services Canada, a division of Compass.

The new contract covers housekeeping services at Victoria General, Nanaimo and Cowichan District hospitals and at Cairnsmore Place and Dufferin Place residential care facilities.

Nanaimo NDP MLA Leonard Krog said the contract award was"shocking."

The Liberals and VIHA seem to believe in rewarding bad behaviour, he said.

"There have been some dreadful outbreaks, including C-Difficile and others, at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital and now the company that was responsible for cleaning is essentially getting rewarded with another contract," Krog said. "I find it astonishing, just astonishing."

VIHA says the new contract with Crothall raises cleaning standards, increases staffing levels, creates a specialist outbreak cleaning team, enhances monitoring processes and introduces more patient and staff satisfaction surveys.

Mike Old, spokesman for the Hospital Employees' Union, said the union supports the decision of the health authority to retain the experienced workers who currently clean the facilities.

"Our concerns about crushing workloads for cleaning staff have been recognized through a commitment to higher staffing levels in this contract," Old said.

In May 2010, VIHA said it was casting about for alternatives to Compass to provide housekeeping and food services for south Island hospitals and residential-care facilities.

Before that, Compass had been dogged by regular infection outbreaks, failed housekeeping audits and damaging WorkSafe B.C. inspections.

Improper cleaning methods and insufficient cleaner strength had a significant effect in an 11-month C-Difficile outbreak at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital that infected 94 people and killed five which started in 2008.

Compass employees lacked proper training to use toxic chemicals that caused hair loss, nose inflammation, respiratory problems and skin irritation, according to two failed WorkSafe B.C. inspections issued in 2008 and 2009.

Workers used ineffective cleaners. Staff over-diluted bleach cleaner and later needed to switch to a soil-lifting detergent that would remove the virus from surfaces.

Despite efforts to "test the market" and find new providers, in the spring last year, VIHA announced that Crothall was identified as the lead proponent for the housekeeping contract.

Murray Hutchison, VIHA's corporate director, general support services, said he was close to the "rigorous" process of choosing a new proponent.

The health authority considered six or seven bids from different companies and Crothall's was superior, not the cheapest, Hutchison said.

VIHA is spending more money on cleaning and infection control and housekeeping is "stronger than ever" and closely aligned now, Hutchison said.

If the housekeeping fails on any of the new measures during monitoring, financial penalties will be applied.

In a worst-case scenario, the company would lose the cleaning contract, according to VIHA.

In April last year, VIHA said it was getting rid of Compass and signing a new contract with Marquise to provide housekeeping and food services at residential care facilities on the south Island - Glengarry, Mount Tolmie, Aberdeen, Gorge Road and Priory Hospital - as well as Queen Alexandra Centre for Children's Health and Saanich Peninsula Hospital. But before the ink on the contract was dry, Marquise was bought by Compass.

Compass has three of its divisions working in VIHA's contracted sites: Crothall Services, providing housekeeping services; Morrison, providing food services; and Marquise Group, providing both food and housekeeping services in residential care facilities.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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