U.S. hospital study shows perils of Premier Campbell’s plans to cut, privatize housekeeping services

News release

Reductions in cleaning, infection control standards major cause of 100,000 patient deaths in 2000

With the B.C. Liberal government determined to cut back and privatize hospital housekeeping services, the Hospital Employees’ Union (CUPE) is today urging Premier Campbell to heed to findings of a U.S. study that found that cutbacks in hospital cleaning and infection control standards are a major contributor to the unnecessary deaths of more than 100,000 hospital patients in 2000.

Published by the Chicago Tribune Sunday, the report warns that there is a “hidden epidemic of life-threatening infections contaminating U.S. hospitals,” in which tens of thousands of patients die needlessly. It establishes a link between soaring infection rates and deep cuts of 25 per cent in hospital housekeeping staff over the past few years, combined with poor training and a transient low-wage workforce.

HEU spokesperson Zorica Bosancic called the findings “disturbing,” and she said it’s part of a growing body of research which points to the importance of housekeeping and high cleaning standards for the well-being of hospital patients.

“The study validates what we’ve been saying all along,” says Bosancic. “Patients’ lives depend on keeping hospitals germ free. And when you cut corners on important support services like housekeeping, people will die.”

But she warns a similar crisis may be on the horizon in B.C. because of the Campbell Liberals’ plans to cut and privatize housekeeping services, and replace thousands of skilled and experienced hospital cleaners and maintenance staff with private contractors and minimum wage jobs.

Housekeepers aren’t in the spotlight like doctors and nurses, says Bosancic. “But they are on the front line in the fight against dangerous strains of antibiotic resistant organisms. It’s very specialized work that requires an eye for detail and a working knowledge of complex cleaning protocols tailored for different areas of a hospital.”

Bosancic says she will forward a copy of the Tribune study to Premier Campbell, health minister Colin Hansen, and the Liberals health authorities. And the union will seek a meeting with Campbell and Hansen to review the findings and urge the Liberals to back off their plans.

Click here unsafehospitals.pdf for a copy of the Tribune article. For the backgrounder that describes in detail the work and roles of hospital housekeepers click here housekeeping.pdf

Contact: Stephen Howard, communications director at 604-456-7037