Washing hands? It’s their job

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As I was sitting down to eat supper and watch the evening news on Monday night, I was shocked twice.

The first time at hearing that hand washing rates among health-care professionals is down from 53 per cent to 51 per cent.

The second shocker came moments later, when Eastern Health CEO Vickie Kaminski said that patients have the right to ask health-care professionals (nurses, doctors, technicians) if they have washed their hands before these people take care of them.

It’s a good thing I have a PVR because I had to rewind and make sure I heard her correctly.

It is common knowledge that people need to wash their hands.

Hand washing helps reduce the spread of germs that cause colds, flus, and other disgusting things no one wants to catch — 10-year-olds know this, but apparently at Eastern Health, only 51 per cent of people got the message.

No one likes getting sick.

Flus and colds keep us home from school and work and away from our regular activities.

Being sick takes away our energy and is generally not a good feeling.  Additionally, sometimes it goes beyond the seasonal flu or the common cold.

Last week, three patients contracted the C. difficile infection and later died. Eastern Health still does not know if these patients contracted the infection from within the hospital or if they all came in with it individually. Tests have been sent to Winnipeg to be further scrutinized. It is also believed that each of the three patients would have succumbed to their other illnesses even without the C. difficile bacteria. Still, it would be better if we could avoid contracting it.

When it all comes down to it, I think I can speak for most people when I say we would like to avoid spreading germs whether those germs are typical like the common cold or deadly like the C. difficile bacteria.

To combat the spread of germs, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety says we have to wash our hands well and we have to wash them often.

For a health-care professional, this means before and after every patient.

It means using hot water and lots of soap.

It means scrubbing our hands together until we sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.

This might sound like an inconvenience but when it comes to the health of society, it is worth every second.

One hundred per cent of people working in hospitals should be doing this.

Fifty-one per cent might be a pass in some realms of life, but when you’re a health-care worker, it is a massive fail.

Getting back to shocker No. 2 — when I go to a hospital or other medical related clinic, I am the patient.

I am there because I require medical attention.

This could be anything from having blood work done to receiving cancer treatment.

Regardless of my reasons for being there, I am likely under stress and would like to have my health treated in a responsible way. This includes being treated by kind, knowledgeable and clean health-care professionals. Ms. Kaminski says I should ask the health-care professional if they have washed their hands.

Would I ask a cook in a restaurant if he washed his hands before he made my hamburger? No, I wouldn’t. Why? Because it’s not my job to see if you’ve washed your hands — it’s yours.

So do it.

M.A. Clements writes from St. John’s.

Organizations: Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety

Geographic location: Eastern Health, Winnipeg

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  • Stephen D Redgrave
    Stephen D Redgrave
    March 25, 2013 - 13:48

    M.A. Clements has made several valid points, mostly in favour of simply following procedure. Last December I had the unfortunate experience of hanging around The Health Science Centre, fourth floor south, 20 hours per day for more than six days in a row, while my wife was in acute care. In order for a loved one to receive the very best care possible, a family member needs to be present virtually all of the time. This is due to budget cuts and a clear cut lack of nursing staff. The nurses that are on duty are literally running from one diarrhea soaked bed to another and trying to do vital blood work, administer meds, keep strict records, be cheerful and answer patient requests. While I was there caring for my wife, I heard the nurses dealing with broken IV pumps, patients so heavy that it took four staff to change a diaper, waiting for several hours in some cases. None of this is the fault of the nurses who are doing their best at all times. Also, there are family member in every ward 24 hours per day who do not follow any regulations. I was one of them for a full week. I worried that my wife would not be properly cared for if I went home for a few hours....don't get me wrong!! It's in no way the nursing staff's fault whatsoever. Understaffed is understaffed, and nothing we do is going work those poor girls any harder than they already do. When the sweet elderly woman across from my wife called the nurse over and said "Excuse me sweetie, but I've gone poop in my bed again" The nurse would always smile and reassure her everything was ok, "I'll get you sorted out" In this case, all the hand washing in the world can't stop the spread of airborne bacteria and trust me, it was....airbourne!