Sickly dealings

After a half-year experiment outsourcing University Health Services to an outside provider, the University of Calgary has resumed full control. Patients will continue to receive care from current practitioners, but the May 1 transition has been difficult for all parties.

As a part of university-wide cost-saving measures, International Health Partners Inc. began operating UHS in October 2003 on a provisional contract while a long-term contract was to be negotiated. By April 2004, negotiations failed, and IHP gave notice that it would leave at the end of the month.

Dave McQuaig, President and CFO of IHP believes the university “bargained in bad faith.” McQuaig claims that the university had repeatedly and independently changed the terms of the contract during bargaining.

“IHP did not pull out. We were pushed out,” said McQuaig. “The original contract was changed and changed until we could not sign the contract.”

Dr. Peggy Patterson, U of C Associate Vice-President Student Affairs, who is responsible for UHS, disputes McQuaig’s claim.

“They weren’t pushed out, they left,” said Dr. Patterson. Neither party would specify which points of the contract they disagreed about because of prior contractual obligations.

Dr. Patterson claims that during IHP’s tenure, $150,000 from tuition revenues was needed to subsidize the clinic.

“They certainly did a good job of running the clinic,” said Dr. Patterson. “But the university was still paying some funds to keep the clinic operational.”

McQuaig disputes Dr. Patterson’s claim that the clinic was unprofitable.

“We’re concerned about the comments they [the university] are making. It was a known fact that we made money in the time we were there,” McQuaig said. “Dr Patterson said we pulled out because we were not making money, but losing $20,000 to $30,000 a month.”

He also accused the university of nepotism.

“Dr. Patterson hired her daughter to run the clinic after we left, and the university president defended the hiring of her daughter in a letter,” he claims.

McQuaig declined to disclose the letter, citing legal reasons. Dr. Patterson refutes McQuaig’s claim.

“Stephanie [Patterson] was the transition coordinator hired by IHP to assist in their transition to the university from October to December,” said Dr. Patterson. U of C human resources currently lists an available Clinical Services Manager position for UHS.

Alberta Union of Provincial Employees Local 52 Chair Dan Tilleman, representing support staff working at the clinic before and after IHP, is critical of the university’s attempt at cost-cutting.

“I thought they were looking at how they could make operations more efficient, but in the end, it’s not more efficient but it is contracting out services,” said Tilleman. “This was viewed dimly by the union–a lot of people who provided good services to the university were let go.”

Tilleman urged the university administration to stop experiments in outsourcing services, citing previous failures in outsourcing janitorial services.

“Administration should recognize and enunciate that support staff are competitively paid and provide good levels of service, therefore contracting out is creating unnecessary angst with our membership and should be stopped,” he said.

“The university continues to be interested in new and beneficial partnerships,” responded Dr. Patterson. “I certainly recognize the concerns that were raised by staff, but I’m pleased that former employees are willing to take up these positions [vacated by IHP].”

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