Fraser Health finished a two-week super clean at Burnaby Hospital to fight high levels of C. difficile, and will now take the intensive disinfection efforts to at least four of its other hospitals.
The next round of cleaning, which runs until May 13, began Monday with a two-week regime at Langley Memorial Hospital, then moves on to Royal Columbian Hospital, Peace Arch Hospital and Surrey Memorial Hospital.
"It's been a bit of a wake-up call for all of us," Fraser Health executive medical director Dr. Roy Morton said Wednesday, referring to the intense scrutiny resulting last month from doctors at Burnaby Hospital publicly raising an alarm over the high incidence of C. difficile there.
"When this all came to light, everyone sort of snapped to attention and thought, 'Oh my goodness, something slipped through the cracks here.'"
The super clean - which is done twice a day in two steps using a sporacidal bleach - has paid early dividends, Morton said Wednesday.
He said three new cases of C. difficile were detected in Burnaby Hospital last week, but as of Wednesday afternoon, there appeared to be none so far this week.
He said he is hopeful the intensive clean will be equally effective at other Fraser Health hospitals.
"There are four [more] hospitals that the [C. difficile] numbers are a little higher than others and those four hospitals are where we're starting," he said, adding the intensive cleaning efforts may expand further if deemed necessary.
"We're going after the highlighted areas first. We'll see what kind of a response we get."
But the intensive cleaning regime has led to concerns by the union representing hospital cleaning staff, who say Aramark, the company contracted to clean hospitals in Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health, has taken cleaners from other hospitals to do the Burnaby super clean.
"They've left cleaning staff working short at St. Paul's, VGH [Vancouver General Hospital] and UBC hospitals because people have been redeployed to deal with the super clean situations at Fraser Health," Hospital Employees' Union spokesman Mike Old said Thursday, adding the union has filed a grievance over the issue. Old said St. Paul's cleaning staff were seven workers short on Tuesday, and VGH cleaners were five short.
"It's a fairly serious matter for us," he said.
"People are having to cover off more work with fewer people," he added, saying the union believes the shortage "will definitely compromise the quality of cleaning."
Ministry of Health spokeswoman Michelle Stewart confirmed cleaning staff have been moved to deal with the Fraser Health super clean, but said it has led to no shortages.
"Burnaby is drawing staff from other Lower Mainland sites but it involves casual staff who are not scheduled to work at those sites on those days," Stewart said in an email.
"We have been assured that activity is not leaving sites short-staffed," she said.
"We make no apology for implementing enhanced cleaning protocols," she said.
"We expect any time there is a formal grievance filed, the appropriate process and response would take place."
Aramark officials could not be reached for comment.
Morton said that in the future, isolated super cleans will be done when a case of diarrhea or suspected C. difficile arises.
Previously, it would take three such cases to prompt a super clean.
"The international infection control literature says if you don't actively have someone with watery diarrhea or signs of C. difficile, it's overkill," Morton said of the intense twice-daily double clean.
He said Burnaby Hospital will also step up monitoring, conducting five so-called glow germ audits - which test for C. difficile spores - per week on each floor.
Morton said Fraser Health has taken other measures as well, and the "vast majority" of recommendations from a recent independent audit of the C. difficile issue at Burnaby Hospital "have already been met or are well underway."
As well, he said, "all of the measures we have put in place at Burnaby are either in place or in the process of being in place at the other sites."
Health Minister Mike de Jong said he is seeing progress at Fraser Health.
"There is a focused effort underway and the folks there have redoubled their efforts to address the issue," he said.
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