Tour of Ontario Hospitals Hopes to Cut HAIs

At a press conference held today in Ontario, Canada, hospital staff urged Ontario's health minister to bring down death rates from healthcare-acquired infections (HAIs) by lowering hospital occupancy rates, doing a deep clean of Ontario's hospitals and providing more resources for cleaning and infection control.

Michael Hurley, the president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), said the suffering and deaths of thousands of Ontarians from healthcare-acquired infections are so regrettable because they are preventable. To draw attention to this leading cause of preventable death, CUPE is launching a 15 community tour of northern Ontario, using a theater-like set representing a hospital room to demonstrate the disinfection of a room that has been occupied by a patient with a pathogen such as Clostridium difficile, vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE) or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Studies suggest that hospital-acquired infections kill between 3,200 and 5,000 Ontarians each year. While healthcare leaders make a direct connection between hospital overcrowding to superbug outbreaks, the Ontario government plans to cut another 5,000 acute care beds province-wide. Hospital bed occupancy is at a record level (over 97 percent) and 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.

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.

"By visiting North Bay, Timmins, Chapleau, Hearst, Little Current, Hornepayne, Matheson, Cochrane, New Liskeard, Geraldton, Sault Ste. Marie, Red Lake, Sioux Lookout, Fort Frances and Kenora, we hope to significantly raise public awareness this spring," says Hurley. "The Ontario government needs to require hospitals to report their death rates from hospital-acquired infections, as other jurisdictions do. The province needs to provide resources for a deep clean of our hospitals, as the United Kingdom has done. Contracted-out hospital cleaning, a practice the Royal College of Nurses has said is dangerous and unsafe, should be prohibited. And we need more resources for cleaning on an ongoing basis and for infection control."