New Brunswick

CUPE blames low patient satisfaction with hospital cleanliness on cuts

The union that represents hospital cleaning staff in New Brunswick says job cuts and a lack of backfill for absent workers are to blame for fewer patients being satisfied with hospital cleanliness last year, and warns the situation will only get worse with privatization.

Union warns privatization will make situation worse, but health minister confident in switch

Norma Robinson, the president of CUPE Local 1252, predicts 'deaths from hospital-based infections' if the province goes through with plans to privatize hospital services. (CBC)

The head of the union that represents hospital cleaning staff in New Brunswick says job cuts and a lack of backfill for absent workers are to blame for fewer patients being satisfied with hospital cleanliness in the last year, compared to previous years.

Norma Robinson, president of the New Brunswick Council of Hospital Unions, CUPE Local 1252, contends the problem will only get worse if the provincial government proceeds with plans to privatize the management of cleaning and food services.

But Health Minister Victor Boudreau argues ongoing negotiations with global giant Sodexo are "quite timely," given the latest patient survey results, released Tuesday by the New Brunswick Health Council.

Only 51.7 per cent of patients who responded to the 2016 Hospital Patient Care Experience survey reported their room and bathroom were "always kept clean" — down from 53.2 per cent in 2013 and 59.6 per cent in 2010.

The Horizon Health Network had an average of 49.7 per cent of patients at its 11 hospitals who felt their room and bathroom were kept clean, while the average for the Vitalité Health Network's nine hospitals was 55.8 per cent.

Fewer staff, no less work

Robinson points to "repeated staff reductions" in hospital environmental services since 2011.

Although she could not immediately provide statistics, she said there are fewer people doing the work, yet the amount of work hasn't changed.

"It doesn't take rocket science to figure out if you've got 10,000 square feet to clean and it requires five bodies and you've got three, that there's going to be corners cut," she said.

"And that's not the fault of the employee doing the cleaning, it's the practice that's been put in place by government." 

It's most unfortunate because what this report does is it points the finger to say that people aren't doing their job, when in actual fact they are, there just aren't enough people to do it.- Norma Robinson, CUPE Local 1252

In addition, when cleaning staff are off sick, or on holidays, Horizon and Vitalité don't always replace them because of those budget cuts, said Robinson.

"This is an ongoing issue. It's day to day where people are not replaced. [Horizon and Vitalité] are trying to get by with the minimum amount of staff and those staff are being pulled in all different directions," she said.

"It's most unfortunate because what this report does is it points the finger to say that people aren't doing their job, when in actual fact they are, there just aren't enough people to do it."

Hospital cleaning is not a service that should be cut, stressed Robinson, given the risk of antibiotic–resistant superbugs, such as Methicillin–resistant Staphylococcus aureus [MRSA] and Clostridium difficile [C. difficile].

She has previously predicted "deaths from hospital-based infections" if the province goes through with plans to privatize.

In a brief submitted to Boudreau in July 2015, CUPE alleged the reputation of the so-called "Big Three" private companies — Sodexo of France, Aramark of the United States and Compass Group of the United Kingdom — is "consistently substandard" when it comes to hospital cleanliness.

'Bound to be incidents'

Health Minister Victor Boudreau contends hospital cleanliness will improve through privatization of environmental services. (Radio-Canada)

The health minister, however, expressed confidence in the government's plan to outsource to Sodexo.

"When you're dealing with a company that serves 75 million patients daily around the world, there are bound to be incidents, but you have to measure those incidents versus the success of the company," said Boudreau.

Sodexo operates in more than 80 countries around the world, including about 500 sites in Canada.

We believe they can improve the level and quality of service provided to New Brunswickers while they're patients in our hospitals and save money at the same time.- Victor Boudreau, health minister

"They are experts in the business; it's what they do," he said.

"We believe they can improve the level and quality of service provided to New Brunswickers while they're patients in our hospitals and save money at the same time."

The contract the Liberals are negotiating with Sodexo will guarantee reduced costs of at least $7.9 million, Boudreau has said.

"And that's money that can be reinvested into the system … So you know, we feel this is the right decision for the health care system."

CUPE has said privatization could see 280 jobs cut. Boudreau has acknowledged there would be some job losses when the contract is signed, but has not estimated how many.

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