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TORONTO C. difficile, SARS, and MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus), are just a few of the killer superbugs and contagion that Ontarios hospital cleaners wipe out on a daily basis. But Ontarios health minister says hospital cleaners who are a key part of clinical infection control teams are overpaid, and their wages should be slashed and their work contracted out to the lowest bidder.

Today, Doug Allan, a hospital cleaner at the Scarborough Hospital, joined Michael Hurley, the president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE), at a Queens Park media conference to give Health Minister George Smitherman a lesson on why cleaning a hospital is skilled and dangerous work and not the same as cleaning a bank.

Allan explained how, during the SARS crisis last year, he put his own life at risk disinfecting the rooms occupied by SARS patients as part of a laborious eighty-five minute cleaning. Allan was quarantined three times for exposure to the SARS virus. Like Allan, each day across Ontario, thousands of hospital cleaners routinely dispose of blood, needles, feces and urine, and disinfect the rooms of very sick patients.

With virulent strains of contagion, like C. difficile, reaching epidemic proportions and killing hundreds of patients in Quebec and Calgary, and at least seven in Ontario in the last few months, we have a health minister in Ontario prepared to risk infection control by contracting out cleaning services in order to cut hospital costs. Its a recipe for disaster, says Hurley.

In Montreal, poor hospital sanitation was identified as a major factor in the spread of C. difficile. We believe that, without additional resources applied to cleaning in Ontario hospitals, this disease will spread virulently here, adds Hurley.

In Britain, where compulsory contracting out of cleaning services has been in place since the 1980s, the growing link between contracted out housekeeping services and hospital-acquired infections, is hard to ignore. Infections are skyrocketing and hospital hygiene is deteriorating. It costs the British government 1 billion a year to control hospital contagion, and 5,000 patients died from MRSA last year. Recently, the British health secretary announced the end of cut price cleaning by private contractors in an effort to control MRSA infections.

To maximize profits, private contractors reduce cleaning standards, scrimp on materials like disinfectant, hire less staff, pay poor wages, and offer workers little training and no benefits. In hospitals, where cleaning services are contracted out, the quality of cleaning is also adversely affected by staff shortages and high staff turnover rates.

We know there are risks and added costs associated with contracting out cleaning in hospitals. The British experience shows clearly that cleanliness is as important as shorter waiting times in ensuring quality care for patients, says Hurley.


For more information, please contact:
Michael Hurley, President, OCHU - (416) 884-0770
Stella Yeadon, CUPE Communications - (416) 578-8874