Thursday, July 7, 2011

Deadly hospital superbug outbreak linked to private US contractor

NIAGARA FALLS, Ontario, July 6, 2011 /Canada NewsWire/ - The outbreak of a deadly superbug at Niagara-area hospitals where dozens have died underlines the risk of outsourcing infection control to private US contractors, according to staff at the hospitals.

Frontline staff repeatedly warned executives at the Niagara Health System they were putting patient safety at risk by outsourcing responsibility for infection control to Aramark, a $13-billion American corporation which has a multi-million dollar cleaning contract with the hospitals.

The corporation is responsible for cleaning of all patient and common areas at the three hospital sites in the Niagara region where there has been a deadly outbreak of c-difficile.

"For years this contractor has been cutting corners and using cheap chemicals to increase its profits at the expense of patients. The result has been a breakdown in infection control and loss of life," said Sharleen Stewart, head of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents staff at the hospitals.

Staff have urged the hospital to do a scrub down with stronger, bleach-based chemicals and to take back full responsibility for cleaning and sterilization from the contractor.

"The buck should stop with the hospital. It is simply too dangerous to hand off responsibility for infection control at a public hospital in Ontario to a private healthcare company based in America," said Ms. Stewart, who represents more than 1000 nurses, aides, and hospital staff at the sites.

The Niagara Hospital System has been one of the most aggressive in the province at contracting out services at public hospital sites to for-profit companies.

"This has gotten out of control. Healthcare is for people not for profit. Lives are being lost," said Ms. Stewart.

Carol McDowell, a Registered Practical Nurse in Niagara, said frontline staff were working in close cooperation with the hospital to ensure every precaution was being taken to halt the spread of infection.

"As a nurse, I can only say it is a tragedy it took loss of life for the hospital to take action on poor infection control. Our condolences go out to the families," she said.

Recent studies have repeatedly shown a link between private cleaning contractors and the spread of C. Difficile spores and infectious diseases in hospitals.

A new study of Vancouver-area hospitals just published by Dr. Daniyal Zuberi from the University of British Columbia found that more than 60 per cent of staff reported negative impacts from outsourcing infection control at hospitals to private companies.

After a deadly outbreak in the United Kingdom, the U.K. Department of Health reported that cleaning and decontamination were critical in preventing infection because C. Difficile spores survive well on surfaces and in the environment.

The Journal of Hospital Infection also found a conflict of interest between the profit motive of private contractors and patient safety, finding that increased hygiene standards in the hospital reduce the profit margins of private companies, giving contractors an incentive to cut corners.

Aramark declined to comment.

SEIU is the fastest-growing union in Canada and represents more than 50,000 frontline healthcare workers in Ontario.

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