A Sunnycrest Manor board recommends outsourcing bulk laundry services at the Dubuque County-owned facility but suggests working out a compromise to keep dietary and housekeeping services in house.

On Wednesday, operational board members present voted unanimously to recommend that Aramark handle bulk laundry services, at an estimated savings of $194,924 annually for the county. Personal resident laundry still would be handled at Sunnycrest.

They also recommended dietary and housekeeping services be maintained at Sunnycrest, provided the union representing the staff will negotiate concessions on benefits and wages as a compromise.

"This decision we realize is far less than what (consultant Health Dimensions Group) had recommended, but we feel comfortable with this move," said operational board Chairman Scott DeSousa.

Board members Shannon Lundgren and Eric Thomas did not attend Wednesday's meeting.

In its initial report, HDG projected the county could save up to $850,000 annually by outsourcing food and housekeeping/laundry services as part of several operational changes suggested to help the county offset expenses at Sunnycrest.

County Budget Director Michelle Patzner, a member of the operational board, said the board's recommendation also aims to reassign affected laundry employees to new jobs within Sunnycrest at their same employment level.

The recommendations now go to the Dubuque County Board of Supervisors for a final decision.

Donna Parker, nutritional director at Sunnycrest, said after the meeting that she was glad to see an opportunity to keep food services in house. She said she hopes a compromise can be struck between the county and employee union.

"We've worked very hard to bring down our budget line," Parker said.

DeSousa and other subcommittee members spent several months reviewing the bids from Aramark, New Horizon Foods and BSG Maintenance to reach the decision. Aramark originally bid to provide food and environmental services, while New Horizon bid on food service only and BSG Maintenance bid on environmental services only.

"I am also aware that lack of action (on the bids) has frustrated many people in the community, but please don't look upon this lack of action as a sign of procrastination," DeSousa said.

DeSousa said the subcommittee wanted to do a thorough investigation of each company, including talking to reference companies who use each provider's services. He said for Aramark, all companies were satisfied with how the provider handled large laundry services, but they also were honest about some criticisms.

"They didn't hold anything back," DeSousa said.

During public comment, Parker asked what the union compromise would entail and, if a consensus cannot be found, what would that mean for dietary and housekeeping services.

"I don't think that's in the foreseeable future now, Donna," DeSousa said. "Our intent of this was, Let's do this, see how this (request for proposals) goes, see if there can be some compromise."

Robin White, a regional representative for Sunnycrest's union, AFSCME Iowa Council 61, said the union has long made concessions in negotiations, including being the only county employee unit that makes contributions to health care plans. Patzner said Sunnycrest employees were given wage increases to offset their health care contributions during negotiations.

After hearing Aramark would pick up laundry six days per week for Sunnycrest, Tina Cornwall asked during public comment how it would be stored on the seventh day and if there will be an odor issue.

"So we have one whole day of laundry sitting in the facility, which is not a good idea. You're going to have that smell coming through the facility," Cornwall said.

Patzner said the laundry would be stored in sealed bins between pickups. DeSousa said other facilities contracting with Aramark have less frequent pick-up schedules, including one facility that only contracted for four days a week.

"I asked each one that specific question, 'Was there an odor?' And every one of them said that has not been a problem," DeSousa said.