New cleaning concerns: investigation reveals widespread problems with housekeeping at St Paul’s Hospital

News release

An investigation into staff concerns about deteriorating cleaning standards at St Paul’s Hospital has triggered a call by health care unions for an independent audit of the facility’s privatized housekeeping services.

Falling Standards, Rising Risks, a research report produced by the BC Nurses’ Union and the Hospital Employees’ Union in collaboration with the Health Sciences Association, paints a disturbing picture of dirty conditions and the consequences that come with over-worked, poorly-trained workers who no longer have a direct working relationship with either hospital staff or the infection control department.

Staff observations included: - old feces on curtains for several days - bedsides and bedside tables sticky with juice, again for days - no cleaning of monitor cables, no cleaning of IV poles - concerns about inadequate cleaning in the TB rooms, and more.

“The conditions reported by nurses and other front-line staff at St Paul’s are alarming,” says BCNU president Debra McPherson. “We’re hearing these same concerns from nurses in the Vancouver Island Health Authority and the Fraser Health Authority, and we’ve seen what can happen to patients as a result.

“It’s time for government and the health authorities to take these concerns very seriously. We’re not talking about dust bunnies here — we’re talking about bodily fluids of all descriptions on bed rails and equipment and empty soap and towel dispensers which makes it difficult to maintain good hand washing.”

A survey of Emergency Department staff in May found that 86 per cent believed the overall cleanliness of the department had declined post-privatization, while 64 per cent said housekeeping practices did not meet commonly accepted infection control requirements.

“This report shows that unacceptable cleaning practices continued to exist a full six months after St. Paul’s housekeeping services were handed over to the US-based multinational Aramark,” says HEU acting secretary business manager Zorica Bosancic.

“The research wasn’t conducted within a few weeks of the transition to privatized cleaning services — it was undertaken six months later. And we know from front-line staff and members of the public that those same inadequate practices continue today.”

Bosancic says the link between infection control and hospital housekeeping services is critical. “The public needs to feel confident that their safety isn’t at risk when they enter a hospital. Only a full, independent investigation will ensure that.”