Hospitals in Niagara Region are bringing the management of their cleaning services back in-house after a decade of outsourcing the work to a private vendor.
The Niagara Health System, which includes six hospitals and one ambulatory-care centre, sent a memo to staff earlier this month informing them it would not renew its contract with Aramark when it expires on March 31.
“This will be a cost saving and will provide us with greater flexibility in how we deliver our services,” chief financial officer Angela Zangari wrote in the memo.
The decision comes less than a year after an outbreak of Clostridium difficile in the Niagara Health System was linked to more than 30 patient deaths in four months, sparking an outcry in the community and prompting Health Minister Deb Matthews to appoint a provincial supervisor.
At the time, the union representing hospital workers said its members were concerned that cleaning practices were insufficient to contain the spread of the disease.
C. difficile, which attacks the lining of the gut and can cause severe diarrhea in some patients, is a common problem in hospitals, where a large number of patients are taking antibiotics that make them more susceptible to the disease.
Sharleen Stewart, president of the Service Employees International Union, said staff in Niagara had complained about what they called inferior cleaning products and said they weren’t given enough time to clean rooms effectively. She said the move to bring the management of cleaning services back in-house means the hospital system recognized there was a problem with the contract.
“I strongly believe that it indicates that [Niagara Health System]has realized and taken to heart our warnings that contracting out such an important service as infection control has to be stopped,” Ms. Stewart said.
Housekeeping staff were employed by the health system, and only the management of the service was contracted out.
A spokeswoman for the health system confirmed that the hospital would end its contract with Aramark on March 31, but declined to say why that decision was made.
“We have determined, at this time, we will move this position back into [Niagara Health System]” Caroline Bourque-Wiley wrote in an e-mailed response.
She added that since the outbreak, the health system has stepped up its cleaning practices by introducing a disinfectant system that uses ultraviolet light and adding the equivalent of 18 new full-time cleaning positions.