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Cleaning services to improve at Nanaimo hospital

Increased cleaning services, more staff and additional auditing tools will help fight infection outbreaks at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.

The Vancouver Island Health Authority signed a new contract Compass Group Canada for housekeeping services at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital and Dufferin Place residential care facility.

The health authority announced it was looking for a new cleaning contractor in May 2010, but has stayed with Compass, which will provide cleaning through its  Crothall Services Canada division.

WorkSafe B.C. inspections in recent years found Compass in violation of various health and safety standards at NRGH, which had several outbreaks of Clostridium difficile in recent years.

A B.C. Centre for Disease Control report about the first C. diff outbreak at NRGH, which lasted from July 2008 to May 2009, found insufficient cleaning staff to meet the daily needs of the facility and inadequate training.

Murray Hutchison, VIHA’s corporate director for general support services, said the health authority has made a “considerable investment” to increase cleaning standards. The former contract with Compass was about $8.2 million per year; the new contract amounts to $10.6 million per year for the next five years.

Hutchison said the cost difference is mainly due to increased staff – full-time cleaners in Nanaimo will go from almost 86 to more than 98 with the new deal, or almost 13 new positions.

The new contract also includes creating a specialist cleaning team at each site to respond to outbreaks, more patient and staff satisfaction surveys, an increased emphasis on auditing high risk areas and adding ultraviolet auditing.

The UV auditing tool is effective at measuring the thoroughness of cleaning, said Hutchison.

An auditor will mark 10 high hand-contact points in rooms with a special marker, then come back 24 hours later.

Hutchison said the health authority will use this as a learning tool for staff, but could penalize the company for not meeting performance targets.

"It's up to the company to provide ongoing training to their staff," he said. "All of this is designed to minimize or maybe eliminate all of the outbreaks."

Mike Old, Hospital Employees' Union spokesman, said the union would prefer the health authority resume direct control of cleaning services, as opposed to contracting out, but it is good news that the provider will not change.

"If they had flipped the contract to another company, it would have meant a lot of disruption and anxiety for our members," he said. "The other important thing is the health authority has acknowledged that there has been a staffing shortage. There hasn't been enough staff to adequately clean the hospital over the past few years."

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