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TORONTO The Ontario government continues to underestimate the threat posed by Clostridium difficile, even though Quebec hospitals are reporting an alarming escalation in the number of deaths from the infectious bacteria, says the leader of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU), part of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

We now have 100 more cases in Quebec, bringing the death toll in that province to 179, says Michael Hurley, the president of OCHU. In the meantime, Premier McGuinty is telling us not to worry because the government has put in place new safety standards that require hospitals to report publicly.

We are very disappointed in the Premiers response because saying everything is fine is not a response. The first system failure in the SARS crisis was government overconfidence. We urge the Ontario government to move fast on this issue.

OCHU has been calling for the government to dedicate special resources to bolster cleaning in hospitals and long-term care facilities. The union is also calling for the government to convene a meeting as soon as possible with hospital and long-term care managers, public health officials, doctors, and unions to prepare strategies to prevent the spread of C. difficile.

Quebec doctors are now saying hospital sanitation is the main culprit in spreading C. difficile and is the key to preventing the spread of the bacteria, says Hurley. Unfortunately, the number of workers cleaning Ontario hospitals is still dropping steadily because of years of funding cuts. Sunnybrook Hospital, for example, received a funding increase of only one per cent so you can expect further cuts to cleaning staff there.

Clostridium difficile, also known as C. difficile can spread quickly throughout an institution from patient to patient, or from caregivers to patients.

The problem is compounded by patients being transferred to multiple institutions and the huge numbers of part-time staff who are forced to work at more than one facility to make a living, says Hurley.

For further information, please contact:

Michael Hurley
OCHU president

Shannon McManus
CUPE Communications
416-292-3999, ext. 222