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Same company responsible for cleaning Niagara hospitals during C. diff outbreak

By Emily Innes, Collingwood Enterprise-Bulletin

Collingwood General and Marine Hospital

Collingwood General and Marine Hospital

COLLINGWOOD – The G&M Hospital has hired a private firm to take over house-cleaning services — a company which was responsible for cleaning in Niagara hospitals during an outbreak of C. difficile.

The Collingwood General and Marine Hospital’s support staff will be supervised by Aramark – a food, hospitality management, facilities management and uniform services company for hospitals, schools, stadiums, and other businesses – effective Jan. 28.

“We know (cleaning) isn't our core business and there are many organizations out there who can provide support services as their core business,” said Linda Davis, CEO and President of G&M Hospital. “We know that they are much more able to provide state-of-the-art support in that because it is their business.”

Davis said the current two managers in the support services department will need to apply for management positions with the company, and if successful will be managers for Aramark.

“Aramark is going to provide the management so they have the opportunity to choose their own employees... (It) will be looking for the very best management to go forward with, as we all would,” she said.

For other employees, they will continue to be employed by the hospital with the only changes being in management.

This switch is expected to neither increase nor decrease the $2.7 million deficit the hospital is facing this year, said Davis.

“We see this as a value-add,” she said. “We continue to have challenges such as an aging facility, so we want to keep (the hospital) as clean and well maintained as possible and we need to have expertise for that.”

She said Aramark will provide a range of new cleaning products, which are more advanced than the antiquated broom and mop. Davis said this might also be easier on staff.

Aramark will be in charge of environmental cleaning, food service and facilities management departments.

Earlier this year, the Niagara Health System did not renew Aramark’s contract. The company had been cleaning hospitals in the Niagara region for 10 years.

NHS officials have never stated why the contract was not renewed.

The health care group also announced it would add the equivalent of 18 new full-time cleaning positions.

A Clostridium difficile infection outbreak in 2011 at St. Catharines, Welland and Niagara Falls hospitals infected 102 patients and killed 37, and led to a complete revision of cleaning protocols.

The Service Employees International Union, which represents cleaning staff at the NHS, heavily criticized NHS for using Aramark.

“Aramark is in the business to make money,” QMI Agency reported Sharleen Stewart, president of the union, saying on March 27, 2012. “They are in it to make a profit and the way you make more profit is to cut costs.”

Davis said G&M administration was aware of the issues within the Niagara Health System when making their selection, and said C. difficile outbreaks can occur in hospitals with in-house or outsourced cleaning staff and that many factors contribute to an outbreak.

“The hospital did its due diligence in looking at the track record of all the companies that we were reviewing and we did not feel there was any need to be concerned — in fact we are quite excited about Aramark’s track record,” she said.

Another incident of a C. difficile outbreak was reported this March in a hospital in Burnaby, B.C., which also employed Aramark.

Fraser Health, the health care corporation responsible for the Burnaby Hospital, in a March 1, 2012 press release, stated 84 people who had contracted C. difficile died over a two-and-a-half-year period, though it was not yet determined if the infection had caused their death. They did confirm that from 2010-2011,13 patients had died directly as a result of C. difficile.

In its press release, Fraser Health stated “environmental cleaning practices” as one of several possible causes for the outbreak.

Michael Gardam, in a report considered by the hospital, suggested the contract continue with Aramark, but be revisited to include provisions to be able to increase the amount of staff.

The Ontario Health Coalition last week released ‘OHC Austerity Index - Health care cuts and deficits across Ontario’, and stated it is concerned about the growing trend of hospitals hiring for-profit companies to run support services.

“(The for-profit company’s) mandate is to maximize their profits for their shareholders who might live half a world away and are not particularly concerned about the level of cleanliness or infection control in the Collingwood Hospital, for example,” said Natalie Mehra, director of OHC.

“What happens is, in order to make room for profit and sell the service to the hospital, companies generally use cheaper supplies and equipment and they reduce the number of staff, so cleanliness suffers as a result.”

Davis says the hospital has no plans to reduce staff, but that the hospital is always trying to look for ways to be more efficient with taxpayers’ dollars, so that could mean changes in the future.

Mehra says cleanliness has been the responsibility of hospital administrations for more than a century and it’s only in the past decade the job has been outsourced.

“Hospital administrators can be an expert in a whole range of things that a hospital needs,” she said. “If they choose to not be experts in cleaning then I think there is a real problem.”

The OHC hosted a public forum session after the outbreak in the NHS and Mehra said they heard from workers, nurses, and the public that after hiring Aramark for cleaning services, the hospital quickly reduced cleaning staff, and the hospital’s level of cleanliness was reduced.

“The consequences for poor quality is very serious and that is absolutely the business of hospital administration,” said Mehra. “They can't say ‘oh we only deal with doctors and nurses.’ Patient food, transporting patients, cleanliness of the hospital, and patient records, these things are all intrinsic to hospital functioning and no hospital can function without them.

“They matter to the quality of life and health and safety of a patient very dramatically.”

Aramark spokesperson Chris Collom, speaking from the company’s U.S. headquarters in Philadelphia, said Aramark is leading the way in infection prevention techniques in Canada.

“Patient safety is the top priority for our organization and our operation is fully compliant with the standards set by the Provincial Infectious Disease Advisory Committee,” said Collom.

He did not comment on previous C. diffile outbreaks.

– With files from QMI Agency


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