New Interior Health boss seeks ‘wise counsel’

Chris Mazurkewich toured West Kootenay a week after putting the brakes on a decision whether to contract out hospital laundry services.

Chris Mazurkewich took over Oct. 26 as the new CEO of Interior Health. Last week he announced a decision on contracting out laundry services will be delayed at least until March.

Interior Health’s new chief executive officer says a decision on whether to contract out hospital laundry services won’t be entirely about dollars and cents, although there will inevitably be financial consequences.

Last week Chris Mazurkewich announced the health authority is delaying a final decision on privatizing laundry facilities, including those at Kootenay Lake Hospital in Nelson, until March.

During a tour of West Kootenay this week, he told the Star that he “has a bit of history with the laundry file,” noting that the move was considered a decade ago while he was chief operating officer.

“Most other health authorities outsourced laundry, plus food and housekeeping,” he said. “IH didn’t. The plants were very inefficient, but by collaborating with the union and management, productivity went up remarkably. It was competitive with what private laundry plants could produce.”

Despite older equipment, laundry was kept in-house, thanks largely to the leadership of laundry staff in Nelson. “I have to give them credit for that,” Mazurkewich said.

However, he added that at the time they knew when new equipment or expansion was needed, they would run into capital funding problems and would have to look at the private sector again. That’s what’s been happening over the last year, although a final decision has now been delayed several times. At stake in Nelson are 17 full-time and 12 casual jobs.

Mazurkewich, who started his new job Oct. 26, said he called for a review of the laundry issue “to make sure when we go in front of the board that we are prepared on all fronts. Different factors go into the equation. There’s the straight financial analysis but also softer qualitative factors to be considered. Community leaders recognize that, and the board is made up of community leaders. I don’t think whatever the decision the board makes is going to be easy.”

Mazurkewich said if the board opts to keep laundry in-house, they will have to spend money on modernization that consequently won’t be available for other services.

During his tour of the area, Mazurkewich met with physicians and elected officials in Nelson, Kaslo, and Riondel among other places. He was heartened to hear of collaborations to improve services, but doubted we will return to the days when every rural community had round-the-clock emergency service.

“I don’t think so, given the shortage of physicians and nurses. We are producing in BC considerably more physicians in the last few years than in the decades before, and more nurses, but there is increasing demand on the system. We have to look at doing things differently.”

Mazurkewich described his early days with Interior Health, following the creation of regional health authorities in 2002, as “rough.” He subsequently worked for Alberta Health Services before returning to take the top job with Interior Health, based in Kelowna.

I’ve seen the improvement in IH the last six or seven years and asked ‘Could I take that further and continue those improvements?’ I wanted to participate in that. But at the same time, it’s a daunting job and I’m humbled to be in it. I need to be listening to people and seeking wise counsel.”