Union protests hospital’s plan to contract out cleaning, portering, waste management, and laundry services

TORONTO – Back in 2006, an outbreak of superbug C. difficile at a Sault Ste. Marie Hospital killed 10 patients directly and another 8 indirectly. The hospital, which had privatized housekeeping services, was forced to increase cleaning staff by 40 per cent and institute a range of other measures.

Now, management at Williams Osler Health System, is making a similar mistake, and risking patient health and safety by privatizing housekeeping and other services at Etobicoke General Hospital that will increase hospital overcrowding, and undermine infection control practices, according to the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

The hospital corporation plans to contract out 215 housekeeping, portering, linen and waste management jobs to a for-profit firm. The union says the for-profit operator’s motivation to maximize revenues will mean lower staffing levels, higher staff turnover, and fractured teamwork between in-house staff and contracted out workers.

“Contracting out hospital services such as cleaning is dangerous and unsafe – it magnifies risk of acquiring infections that can lead to death,” said Michael Hurley, president of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE). “Instead of contracting out to cut costs, William Osler should be investing resources in improving health and safety at a time when infectious diseases are on the rise globally, and microbial resistance is causing higher rates of hospital acquired infections.”

In Canada, about 200,000 people acquire infections in health care settings annually and 8,000 of them die as a result.

According to the World Health Organization, cleaners “are the first line of defense against health care-associated infections, and support efforts to reduce antimicrobial resistance.” But research shows that appropriate staffing levels and rigorous infection control practices are key to maintaining good hygiene in health care settings, which are compromised by privatization.

A number of infections can easily spread from patient to patient through personal touch or by touching contaminated shared surfaces as bacteria can exist on many objects in the patient environment including bedrails, telephones, and door handles, said Hurley.

Erica Young, president of CUPE 145, the union representing staff at William Osler, said the privatization of portering would cause delays and backlogs at the hospital as less staff are available to transport patients.

Young, who is an operating room technician with 30 years of experience as a hospital worker, said missed appointments would lengthen hospital stays and contribute to overcrowding, which would only compound the hygiene concerns caused by contracting out of housekeeping.

“It will be the perfect storm caused by hospital underfunding and privatization, and patients

will suffer,” she said, noting that the hospital had failed to provide a justification for contracting out. “Hospital management should be campaigning for more resources, not finding ways to cut costs that will cause more disease and death. It’s unconscionable for William Osler to choose this path.”

The privatization of housekeeping services has failed in multiple jurisdictions, she said, citing a CUPE research report. In Scottish hospitals, after a disastrous experiment with contracting out, the prevalence of C. difficile was reduced by 37 per cent after cleaning services were brought back in-house.


For more information contact:

Zaid Noorsumar

CUPE Communications

[email protected]