4th Niagara hospital declares C. difficile outbreak

A fourth health facility in Ontario's Niagara region has confirmed an outbreak of C. difficile after six patients tested postive with the bacteria.

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A fourth health facility in Ontario's Niagara region has confirmed an outbreak of C. difficile after six patients tested postive for the bacteria.

The Hotel Dieu Shaver Health and Rehabilitation Centre said four of its patients tested positive within the past few weeks, prompting officials to investigate further and call the outbreak. The other two patients are not part of the outbreak, the centre said.

The rehab centre has 134 beds, 400 employees and 40 medical staff. The centre is part of the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph Health System. It is not part of the Niagara Health System, which says 16 deaths related to the bacteria have been reported in recent months.

Meanwhile, dozens of concerned residents rallied outside the Greater Niagara General Hospital in Niagara Falls, Ont., on Wednesday to voice concerns about the local health care system and the handling of recent bacterial outbreaks.

Niagara-area residents expressed concern about the local health system at a rally Wednesday. (CBC)

The deaths were reported at three area hospitals: 10 at St. Catharines General Hospital, four at the Greater Niagara General Hospital and two at the Welland Hospital.

C. difficile can cause diarrhea, with most cases hitting people taking antibiotics. In severe cases, it can cause critical illness and death in elderly or very sick patients.

The Niagara Health System declared an outbreak in conjunction with Niagara Region Public Health at St. Catharines General on May 28 and at the Greater Niagara General and Welland sites on June 23.

Local residents, including Niagara Falls city councillor Wayne Gates, attended Wednesday's rally in an effort to draw attention to their concerns about the local health system and how the outbreaks have been handled.

Dr. Sue Matthews, the interim president and chief executive of the Niagara Health System, said the hospitals have taken measures to end the outbreak, including restricting visiting at the hospitals and bringing in extra cleaners.

"When we have patients with C. difficile in our hospital sites, precautions are always immediately put into place," Dr. Matthews said at a news conference Wednesday.

Management of the outbreaks "is and continues to be our hospitals central priority," she said.

Provincial NDP calls for investigation

Meanwhile, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath repeated her call for a full investigation into the NHS.

"Families in the Niagara region are frustrated and they have every right to be," Horwath said in a statement released Wednesday.  "Like many communities across the province they’re finding a health system that’s unresponsive, unaccountable and just not focused on the people they serve. That has to change."

A spokeswoman for Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Deb Matthews told the Canadian Press the provincial government is taking the outbreak very seriously.

"The people of Niagara ... want to know the region's hospitals are safe and that's why we're monitoring the situation closely and taking steps to support the hospitals," Neala Barton said.

Guelph General Hospital, which is not part of the Niagara Health System, declared a C. difficile outbreak on Tuesday. The hospital said it saw an "unusual spike" of seven cases in May, followed by four new cases in June.

Hospital officials said in a statement that the Guelph facility typically experiences "one or two cases of hospital-acquired C. difficile a month."

With files from The Canadian Press