Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Food, cleaning woes symptoms of major health care problems

VICTORIA - Check into a hospital in B.C. today, and you’ve got a one-in-four chance of ending up in a place that’s too dirty to meet basic standards.
That’s the grim finding of a new independent audit ordered by the six health authorities around the province.
The results back up the widespread complaints that conditions have grown worse in hospitals and seniors’ care centres in B.C., and that the problems are most serious in centres where cleaning was contracted out to private corporations.
It’s not just cleanliness.
Complaints about bad food - cold, badly prepared, not nutritious, even inedible - have also been mounting. Generally, the concerns have been dismissed by government and the health authorities.
But the Vancouver Island Health Authority has just announced the astonishing news that the largest hospital kitchen in the region has been slapped with a high health hazard rating by inspectors.
And the Interior Health Authority - which got high marks in the cleanliness audit - has released a report identifying major problems with the food it is serving up to patients.
It’s a bleak picture.
I don’t really care who cooks hospital meals, whether they work for a corporation or the government, or if they are in a union. I just want to know that if someone in my family ends up in hospital or a seniors’ home, the place will be clean, the food will be OK and the services will be delivered in a cost-efficient way.
That’s not happening.
The cleanliness audits found problems across the province, with 26 per cent of the health facilities failing to meet the accepted standard. (Some of the failing grades came close, but almost clean is a lame boast.)
More than half the institutions in the Fraser Health Authority - including the Surrey Memorial Hospital, which has been subject to huge attention over infection problems - failed to meet the standards. More than half the centres on Vancouver Island fell short, and about one-quarter of the centres in the North and in the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority failed the audit.
The bright spot was the Interior Health Authority, with more than 90 per cent of facilities passing the audit.
But when it comes to food quality, the IHA has nothing to brag about. It released a report last week - credit to the authority for that - which outlined major problems.
Consider just a couple. The review found that unless they had a family member to help them, seniors in care homes waited as their meals, not great to start with, grew cold. Acute care patients were served food that was cold, and fell short of meeting nutritional requirements.
And health inspectors were worried about food safety problems.
Just as they were in the Vancouver Island Health Authority, where the main kitchen - serving several hospitals - has just received a “high hazard” rating for health violations. Kitchen staff weren’t wearing proper gear, the inspection found, and food wasn’t protected from contamination. There was “inadequate cooling and refrigerated storage of potentially hazardous foods,” temperatures weren’t monitored and the place was dirty - broken floor tiles were trapping dirt in the kitchen, while mould and mildew were taking hold on the walls near the dishwashing area. Walls were chipped to the point that inspectors feared bits of them could fall into the food.
Is contracting out to blame? The Vancouver Island Health Authority fired its food preparation staff and hired a British-based corporation, the Compass Group. People doing the work now are paid about $10 an hour, instead of the former $18. Turnover is high, and training a constant challenge.
And health regions that contracted out cleaning have far worse results than those - like the Interior - that kept the services in-house, and under their control.
These results are alarming. Patients can’t judge most aspects of their care.
But they know when the rooms are dirty, and the food grim, and the basic health care promise is being betrayed.
Footnote: The big question is why the government encouraged or forced high-speed privatization and re-organization. The Interior food review found the authority had rushed plans for central food preparation without adequate planning. Privatization deals with big corporations were pushed across the province instead of more sensibly being tested in one or two settings.


Anonymous said...

The big question is why the government encouraged or forced high-speed privatization and re-organization
This may be a big question, but it's also an easy one: it's their religion. It was simply an article of faith that privitization would be better in every respect, and no amount of evidence to the contrary is likely to change their minds.

Anonymous said...

Check a few of the interior or island newspapers, the story is almost always the same. The Health authority is fixing everthing. Well after a year on the job it should have been fixed long ago.
I notice that HEU mentions the hospital staff are getting rather low wages similar to someone doing the halls in a hotel. No body parts or assorted fluids in the hotels. Wonder what the turn over rate is? A guy I know went to apply for a job and found the person running the interview had just started working there as well.

RossK said...

Have to agree with Dave M on this one Paul.

Would also like to make the point that while you may not care who does the job, your later statements about contracted out low wages and high turnover are pretty strong correlations supporting the notion that privatized, corporatized services are not working.

Anonymous said...

just imagine how sanitary things are at your local fastfood joint where some disgruntled teenager making gord's slave wage has just got his hours slashed running up to his job loss because his hours at work are nearing the crucial 8 buck mark.

Anonymous said...

The big question is: What is the correlation between hospitals that use the audit firm's sister company's staff scheduling software and how those facilities fared in the audit.

Can you say conflict of interest?
I knew you could.

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