New Brunswick

Horizon Hospital germ swabs identify problem areas

Horizon Health says it is following up on tests CBC News undertook to check surface cleaning in high-traffic areas. CEO Andrea Seymour says germ audits are proving helpful in seeing which areas need better disinfecting.

Horizon Health says swab tests proving helpful in disinfection battle

Horizon Health unveiled the results of its new cleanliness audit at a board meeting in Miramichi Thursday.

The new information comes on the heels of a CBC News investigation showing some surfaces in high-traffic areas of two hospitals were not wiped clean of an ultra-violet light-reactive gel after 24 hours, and in some cases, seven days or more. 

Steve Savoie with Horizon Health holds a adenosine triphosphate metre, used to test how well a surface has been disinfected. (CBC)
The health authority presented percentage data on the results of 2,200 organic residue swab audits undertaken since February. The swab tests register a pass or fail, based on how well a surface is disinfected. The test areas, in emergency and inpatient rooms, include commonly touched surfaces like light switches and bed rails. 

Steve Savoie is leading Horizon's staff training on the swab tests. He says the data is more useful than simply looking at an area or surface to see if it appears to be clean.

"We focused initially a lot on what you could see. But this is really focusing on what you cannot see," said Savoie. "At first we had [to] kind of work with our staff and train them to improve the results, and the results are improving quite well now."

Horizon is moving away from gel testing because it shows how effectively a surface was wiped or scrubbed, and not necessarily whether germs are still present afterwards, he said.

CBC News applied UV light - reactive gel to surfaces in two NB hospitals. (CBC )
"If I clean my [gel] marker with dirty water, I will pass the gel test but fail the [swab] test because I could have bacteria. I could have contaminated my surface with bacteria. So that's why we prefer this, because it's really more in line with what we want to do to ensure that we have a safe environment for our patients."

CBC News applied UV light-reactive gel to surfaces such as hallway railings, waiting area seating arm rests, and multiple surfaces in washrooms, in hospitals in Fredericton and Saint John. Tests in January and April showed the vast majority of the surfaces still showed gel after 24 hours, and about half showed gel after seven days.

Andrea Seymour, vice-president with Horizon, said the investigation prompted the health authority to seek out the surfaces CBC News tested "so that we could go and do our own testing with our [swab] devices and make sure that we are addressing the issues as they arrive."

Horizon Health COO Andrea Seymour says the health authority is moving germ-swab testing from emergency and inpatient units to high-traffic public areas as well. (Catherine Harrop / CBC)
"It'll take us a little bit of time to make it all the way through our buildings," she said. "And of course it's only point-in-time, so it's really how we sustain what we're doing over time that is really going to make a difference for us." 

Seymour said following the CBC News report, germ tests in the emergency areas of the DECH and Saint John Regional passed, but added the audits were not spontaneous.

She said she is encouraged by the newest Horizon audit results.

Horizon Health is using new technology to test its cleaning procedures and improve on deficiencies. (CBC)
"In those six areas that we are measuring in our patient rooms, which are light switches, door handles, over-bed tables, bed rails, toilets, and sinks in our patient rooms, our performance is really improving and our staff are embracing the new technologies." 

Slides presented at the board meeting gave percentage data on the swab results to date:

Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital

  • Baseline: 89 per cent pass (February)
  • Overall: 90 per cent pass (April)

Moncton Hospital

  • Baseline: 66 per cent pass (February)
  • Overall: 83 per cent pass (April)

Saint John Regional Hospital

  • Baseline: 52 per cent pass (February)
  • Overall: 77 per cent pass (April)


  • An earlier version of this story indicated the swab tests checked for germ load, based on information provided by Horizon Health officials. In fact, the test is for organic residue, in which germs can live.
    Apr 17, 2015 6:36 PM AT