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TORONTO, Ont. – Ontario’s health minister is ignoring mounting evidence from the United Kingdom that links high hospital bed occupancy rates and cuts to cleaning staff to increased risk of patients dying from hospital-acquired infections, says the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU), the hospital division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario.

Conditions created by government underfunding are forcing Ontario hospitals to cut staff and increase bed occupancy rates to balance budgets. The Rouge Valley Health System proposes cutting 220 health providers—24 of them cleaning staff—and 36 hospital beds and, at the same time, pushing its bed occupancy levels from 82 per cent to 95 per cent.

According to OCHU president Michael Hurley, “this is a recipe for disaster. Apparently the Liberal government has not learned enough from the deaths of 62 patients at Burlington’s Joseph Brant Hospital arising from the C. difficile infection.”

At a Queen’s Park media conference today Hurley pointed to British Medical Association conclusions that the spread of hospital-acquired infections is associated with high bed occupancy rates and movement of patients. In its 2006 document, Healthcare Associated Infections, the Association also points to growing international recognition of the relationship between effective cleaning of hospitals and the spread of infection. Hurley added that Ontario’s own chief coroner stated that overcrowding may have played a role in the C. difficile outbreak at the Sault Area Hospital that possibly led to 26 deaths in 2006.

Reports indicate that, since the C. difficile outbreak, Joseph Brant Hospital has established a standard of cleaning each patient’s room twice a day and has added $1 million into hiring more cleaning staff and providing them with better disinfectant.

“This is what every hospital in the province should be doing to protect the lives of our families and loved ones when they are in care. Instead, provincial underfunding for hospitals is fueling staff cuts and higher occupancy rates, increasing the risk of infection,” says Hurley. He added that, for the first time, a Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) is planning to divert 1 per cent of hospital budgets to other health services in the community. For Rouge Valley, that 1 per cent means an annual budget cut of $2.2 million.

“The people of Ajax, Pickering and Scarborough are already facing the loss of health providers, beds, and cleaners, and now here’s another $2.2 million cut,” said Brian Davis, President of CUPE 4365 representing Rouge Valley hospital workers. “Ajax-Pickering and Centenary hospitals cannot withstand the level of cuts being proposed without severely compromising their ability to meet the heath care needs of these growing communities.”

For more information, contact:

Michael Hurley, President, OCHU – 416-884-0770
Brian Davis, President, CUPE 4365, at Centenary 647-832-4037
Betty Flood, Vice-President, CUPE 4365, at Ajax-Pickering – 905-391-9199 
Valerie Dugale, CUPE Communications – 647-225-3685