Eastern Health's CEO says patients can help improve the hygiene of health care workers by reminding them to wash their hands.

A recent audit found handwashing among Eastern Health staff has dropped from 53 to 51 per cent, with hospital porters being the worst offenders.

CEO Vickie Kaminski said the board has been educating staff about the importance of proper hygiene, but she said if patients don't see their doctors or nurses wash their hands, they should mention it. 

"Reminding the public to remind their health care providers to hand wash is going to help," said Kaminski. "Because I think you're going to feel badly if your patient says to you, 'Have you washed your hands?' if you haven't done it."

Handwashing effective in preventing disease

Handwashing has been determined as one of the best ways to prevent the spread of dangerous bacteria such as C. difficile.

On Monday, Kaminski acknowledged that six patients in total at Eastern Health facilities tested positive for the deadly disease, and three of those patients have since died.

Kaminski pointed out that none of these deaths was caused by C. difficile bacteria.

"We know that these patients died from their illnesses," said Kaminski. "But it doesn't negate the fact that getting C. diff makes them sicker."

Handwashing standards are rigourous

Kaminski said Eastern Health's standards for handwashing, as outlined by the Canadian Patient Safety Institute, are daunting, with health care workers required to wash their hands immediately before they enter and immediately after they exit each patient's room, but those standards are necessary.   

"The risk is, you leave that patient's room, you're heading into the next patient's room," outlined Kaminski. "A patient in the hallway stops to talk to you, you put your hand on their arm, and you forget you haven't washed your hands going into the next patient's room."

"It's getting ingrained in people the need to wash their hands as often as possible and make it automatic, make it routine."