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Studies show that hospital-acquired infections kill between 8,000 and 12,000 Canadians a year. Globally, there is a growing recognition of the relationship between the effective cleaning of hospitals and long-term care facilities and rising rates of hospital-acquired infections. Links are also being made between bed-occupancy rates, patient mobility within the hospital, shared facilities, and contracted cleaning and hospital acquired-infection rates.

To draw attention to this leading cause of preventable death, CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) has launched a 15 community tour of northern Ontario using a theatre set representing a hospital room to demonstrate the disinfection of a room that has been occupied by a patient with a superbug like C. difficile, VRE orMRSA. Fourty-two per cent of hospital-acquired infection deaths in Canada, between 3,200 and 4,800, are in Ontario.

Although medical experts are blaming hospital overcrowding (resulting from cuts to patient beds) for infection outbreaks – particularly outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant superbugs – bed cuts are continuing across Canada.

Between 1991 and 2003, a period when 16,000 hospital beds were cut in Ontario, the rate of patients contracting C. difficile increased almost fivefold. Outbreaks of other types of hospital-associated infections also rose. The Ontario government plans to cut another 5,000 acute care beds province-wide. Currently, hospital bed occupancy in Ontario is at record levels, over 97 per cent. Ontario has fewer hospital beds per 1,000 of the population than any province. Countries, like the Netherlands, with much lower occupancy rates, have correspondingly lower death rates from hospital-acquired infections.

OCHU is calling on Ontario’s health minister to bring down death rates from hospital-acquired infections by lowering hospital-occupancy rates, doing a deep clean of hospitals, and providing more resources for cleaning and infection control.

The mobile hospital room will begin touring southern Ontario communities in August.