NDP MLAs support call for moratorium on lab privatization talks in Victoria

HEU to make major presentation at Dec. 1 CHR board meeting HEU's campaign to keep Capital Health Region lab services public got an important boost Nov. 19, when four Victoria-area NDP MLAs lent their support and promised to press health minister Penny Priddy for an immediate moratorium on the bid by CHR CEO Tom Closson to privatize lab services in a "joint venture" with MDS. And, in a show of solidarity from other unions, the Victoria Labour Council approved Nov. 17 a motion opposing the joint venture and urging affiliates to write to Closson and health minister Penny Priddy to demand that CHR and MDS halt any further discussions, which the CHR now says will be wrapped up by mid-December. In August, the CHRís Closson announced that heíd reached a letter of understanding with Toronto-based private lab giant MDS for a possible public-private partnership on the delivery of lab services in the region. Closson recently arrival from Ontario where he had a track record as a strong privatization supporter. Since then, while the discussions proceed behind close doors, HEU has been organizing to fight the threat of privatization in the workplace and in the community. On the political action front, HEU activists raised concerns about the impact of the MDS discussions in the workplace in meetings with NDP MLAs Andrew Petter, Steve Orcherton, Rick Kasper and Gretchin Brewin. They also outlined how a public-private partnership undermines basic principles of our public Medicare system. Now that health minister Penny Priddy has established a stakeholder process which will soon be underway to address thorny issues surrounding reform of inpatient and outpatient lab services in B.C., the activists said Closson and MDS were trying to do an end-run around Priddy's efforts to develop province-wide solutions. "Who's setting health policy in B.C.," they asked the MLAs. "The health minister or MDS and Tom Closson?" In a recent letter to Closson, HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt called the CHR/MDS approach morally "troubling,"and not helpful in developing the "trust that's necessary to tackle some fairly contentious issues" at a provincial level. Allnutt requested a meeting with the CHR CEO to discuss alternatives that would help overcome roadblocks for the regionís positive lab outreach efforts, including a possible purchase of MDS' B.C. operations. In other related information, according to an HEU-commissioned research paper on MDS, the Toronto-based multinational is one of the largest corporate donors to Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, who has recently mounted a dangerous challenge to Medicare with proposals to expand the role of private hospitals in his province. An MDS-controlled venture capital fund is a major financial backer of the private hospital in Calgary that stands to be a major beneficiary of Klein's plans. Next step: talking to the CHR board HEU activists are gearting up for a major presentation to the CHR board when it meets Wed. Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. They'll unveil evidence that MDS joint ventures in other provinces have been beset with problems and haven't come close to meeting 'savings" targets. HEU members in Victoria are encouraged to attend the meeting at Begbie Hall at Royal Jubilee.