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Recently, spokespersons for large corporate interests have concentrated their energies on privatizing hospital support services. They downplay the significance of support services to good patient care. A recent report provides ample evidence of the dangers of privatizing these vital services. A link to the full report is at the end of this brief summary.

The Chicago Tribune report found over 100,000 Americans died due to unhygenic conditions in U.S. hospitals in 2000. Nearly three quarters (75,000) of these deaths were preventable. About 2.1 million patients each year, or six per cent of hospital patients, will contract a hospital-acquired infection.

Hospitals provide ideal reservoirs for germs, with temperature-controlled environments and a steady stream of germ-carrying strangers pouring through the doors each day. Germs that wouldn’t be harmful to healthy people in their homes or at work can turn deadly for patients too young, too old or too weak to fight the infection.

The report indicates that deaths linked to germs in hospitals are the fourth largest cause of death in the U.S.– only behind heart disease, cancer, and strokes.

The report connects these deaths to a number of sources, including cutbacks:

  • Hospital cleaning and janitorial staffs are overwhelmed and inadequately trained, resulting in unsanitary rooms or wards where germs have grown and multiplied for weeks, sometimes years, on bed rails, telephones, bathroom fixtures – almost anywhere. Because of cost-cutting measures, U.S. hospitals have collectively pared cleaning staffs by 25 pe rcent since 1995. During the same period, half of the nation’s hospitals have been cited for failing to properly sanitize portions of their facilities, a shortcoming that can colonize new patients with lingering germs.

  • Hospitals are required to have professional staffs devoted to tracking and reducing infections, but rampant payroll cutbacks have gutted those efforts. These staffs have been reduced an average of 20 percent nationally in just the last three years. Many hospitals disregard the Centre for Disease Control’s recommendation of at least one infection-control employee for every 250 beds.

  • The American Hospital Association said the last decade of unprecedented cost-cutting and financial instability has impacted all areas of hospital care, including infection control. “It’s had an effect on infection control and it’s had an effect on our ability to recruit and retain workers. It’s had an effect on our ability to invest in new and updated equipment as much as we would like to,” said Rick Wade, AHA executive vice president for communications.

Patients’ lives depend on keeping hospitals germ-free. Cuttin corners on important support services like housekeeping means people will die. A similar crisis may be on the horizon for Canadian hospitals. When hospitals cut back and privatize housekeeping services, and replace skilled and experienced hospital cleaners and maintenance staff with private contractors focused on cutting costs and increasing profits, they are playing with people’s lives.

The report can be downloaded from: http://www.heu.org/images/unsafe.pdf