Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hospital visitors pay either way

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Health Minister Theresa Oswald should check her facts. Did she really mean to say that hospitals should keep their cafeterias open around the clock, seven days a week, so family members of the sick and injured can eat subsidized meals whenever they want?

Ms. Oswald should point out where this 24/7 service is available. Anyone who has spent time with relatives in Winnipeg hospitals would love to know. The Tim Hortons in the HSC's second-floor cafeteria is open around the clock, but hot or fresh food in Winnipeg hospitals is generally unavailable after 7 p.m. Visitors make do with vending machines.

Documents obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation here found most cafeteria operations in Manitoba hospitals lose money. While that might be understandable for small hospitals, some lost as much or more than the revenues they bring in. And despite operating a Tim Hortons outlet that is a licence to print money anywhere else in town, HSC's cafeteria lost money last year. The hospital says that's because it is paying for renovations.

The CTF pointed out Victoria General Hospital's cafeteria finally made money after Aramark Canada took over. The documents, however, indicate only that Aramark in 2012-13 paid Victoria $25,600 in revenue after assuming control of the operations.

The point the CTF makes, however, is the Vic lifted a money-losing operation off its shoulders by contracting with a private firm. The WRHA points out it is not taxpayers on the hook for losses -- hospitals are not allowed to run deficits and must make up the losses from revenues of other ancillary operations. But someone pays: As Ms. Oswald said, it comes out of the pockets of those same families who park to bring a loved one to the ER or visit relatives in hospital. And anyone who has paid those rates may well add: Who can afford to eat at the hospital after paying for parking?

There are a number of privately operated cafeterias inside Winnipeg hospitals that can serve as a model for those centres that continue to lose money, in part because staff are unionized and earning wages much higher than private-sector counterparts. That would require the hospitals' cafeterias to adopt a business model, not one that relies on cross-subsidization, or the philosophy, espoused by Ms. Oswald, that its staff deserves to earn more money than the vast majority of workers at the same job outside hospitals.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 16, 2013 A12

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