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Hospital preparing to contract out jobs of service workers


When the staff of what had been Indian River Medical Center met for the first time with Cleveland Clinic executives on Jan. 9, a clear concern was expressed: Would employees have to reapply for the jobs they currently held?

Reapplication is sometimes required in transitions like the one that just took place as Cleveland acquired the county’s largest hospital.

The answer from Cleveland was equally clear – and in writing. “No, they will not,” was the response spelled out in a takeaway of questions and answers.

For two divisions in the hospital, that answer held up exactly a week.

Last Wednesday and Thursday, janitors, cooks and everyone else in the dietary and environmental services divisions – more than 200 workers, according to one source – were told they would indeed have to reapply for their jobs. And not with Cleveland Clinic, but with an outside contractor: Aramark, a global facilities maintenance, food services and uniform company.

Cleveland Clinic uses Aramark’s services at its Weston hospital as well as most of its Ohio community hospitals, and it will be taking over those services at Cleveland Clinic Indian River.  The 200 workers will be employed by Aramark, not Cleveland Clinic.

The news of Aramark’s three-year contract came as a shock, according to the source, an employee affected by the change who requested anonymity due to employment concerns.

The staff apparently never got word of Aramark’s impending arrival even though then-interim CEO Karen Davis told the IRMC Board of Directors about the change in September and won unanimous approval to move forward.

That was prior to Cleveland taking over, so the change in employee status for the affected workers was already set when the acquisition was finalized in December. It is unclear whether Cleveland Clinic played any role in the decision. Hospital officials did not respond to inquiries about why the affected workers were not notified earlier or why an exception to the blanket promise of job stability wasn't noted at the Jan. 9 meeting or before.

The move to outsource food and cleaning services came after “months of careful consideration,” the hospital, now Cleveland Clinic Indian River, said in a statement provided Monday.

“Aramark will be updating and renovating the cafeteria serving area, while focusing on creating more healthy food choices for patients, visitors and caregivers,” the statement said, using the term “caregivers” as Cleveland Clinic uses it to refer to all employees. “Aramark was chosen because it provides food service and nutrition to hundreds of hospitals across the United States and is consistently ranked #1 in its industry.”

The statement went on: “The EVS and Food caregivers will transition to Aramark, retaining their current tenure, and their salaries will remain the same or may increase.”

According to minutes from the September hospital board meeting, outsourcing the janitorial and food service will only save the hospital about $7,000 per year, and the change was undertaken with the idea of increasing the quality of services.

Davis said at the meeting that the hospital had been “struggling with HCAHP scores” – patient surveys mandated by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services – in both dietary and environmental services.

But only one question of the survey’s 32 had to do with either service; it asks only if the patient found their room and bathroom clean “always,” “usually” or “never.” Scores from 2017 showed 59 percent of IRMC patients found their rooms “always” clean, as opposed to 70 percent statewide and 74 percent nationally.

Regardless of the reason for the change, the affected workers feel blindsided, according to the source.

 “If they knew about this in September, why didn’t we know? If we knew before we signed up for our benefits for 2019, a lot of us may have done it differently,” said the employee.

The employee spoke about being “bitterly” disappointed by what to some appeared to be Cleveland Clinic’s broken promise. “You have the (new) administration saying one thing and then they come back a week later and tell us outright another thing. We’re really not going to be Cleveland Clinic employees and we really do have to re-apply for our job and we really are going to lose benefits for 2019. This is all I’ve thought about since Wednesday’s meeting.”

At the Aramark presentation, workers were told they would get healthcare services comparable to what they now receive, “but they didn’t provide any pricing,” said the source. “We don’t know the insurer and we don’t know how much it’s going to cost us.”

Still to be resolved is the issue of sick pay. Some of the workers have been at the hospital 35 years and have as much as 1,000 hours of unused sick pay. “We were always able to bank that. Now, we don’t know.

They gave a straight answer about paid time off, but they didn’t have a straight answer about the sick time.”

The source described another employee who has worked at the hospital for more than three decades who was worried when she didn’t see her specific position listed with Aramark. When she voiced her concern, an Aramark representative asked if she’d be willing to relocate.

“She was just aghast,” said the employee. “She said, ‘I was born and raised here. I’ve been here my whole life. And you want me to relocate?’”

At the very least, employees are scrambling to find Social Security cards, birth certificates and high school diplomas, the employee said.

Aramark is a global, publicly-traded company of 730,000 employees in food service, facilities management and supplies. In hospital settings, it claims that nearly 60 percent of its “room service” accounts are in the top quartile of patient satisfaction.

Whether it provides employee satisfaction is another question. Aramark is slated to take over March 18. Applications are due Feb. 6.