Hand hygiene saves lives

In Canada, healthcare-associated infections affect more than 220,000 people every year and kill 8,000 to 12,000 individuals

Claire Ethier, 62, has been a resident at the Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre (EGCCC) for more than 14 years. In 2011, she was admitted to a local hospital for breathing difficulties and became infected with norovirus.


Claire Ethier knows the benefits of good hand hygiene so she washes her hands often. To avoid dry skin, she uses a moisturizing lotion after washing.

“I ended up catching a bug. They said it was because the nursing staff did not clean their hands before touching me,” says Claire. “I couldn’t come home to the EGCCC for a month because it was flu season. I missed Christmas and New Year."

Our hands are responsible for transmitting 80 per cent of infections. Hand hygiene, a very simple action, remains the primary means to reduce healthcare-associated infections and the spread of antimicrobial-resistant organisms. 

“Hand hygiene is the act of removing germs from the skin on the hands and can be achieved through either the use of soap and water or hand sanitizers,” explains Erin Roberts, Corporate Infection Control Professional. “It is important to use the correct technique: covering all surfaces of the hands and rubbing for at least 20 seconds."

Jose Caturan, Health Care Aide, practises hand hygiene before and after interacting with patients.

When Claire was finally able to come home, she insisted that everyone wash their hands before touching her. 

“When I came back, the staff understood that I was scared of bugs,” admits Claire. “They didn’t used to clean their hands to the extent they all do now. They are so good about it."

Claire says the staff are taught well. Proper hand hygiene, when demonstrated by leaders, has been shown to positively influence the compliance of others by up to 70 per cent. They are audited regularly, and her unit’s current hand hygiene compliance rate is 97 per cent. 

In the past six years, Claire has not had any infections or complications that were due to unclean hands. As a member of resident council, she encourages good hand hygiene practices and has witnessed positive changes throughout the entire site. 

Visitors are encouraged to practise hand hygiene upon entering the unit. There are sinks and bottles of hand sanitizer in every patient’s room.

Staff members carry little bottles of hand sanitizer, which they apply to their hands and forearms before doing anything. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, healthcare providers might need to clean their hands as many as 100 times per 12-hour shift, depending on the number of patients and intensity of care. They also clean residents’ equipment such as CPAP machines frequently. 

“It’s important to have clean hands, but if you’re using dirty equipment, you’ve just defeated the purpose. Clean hands and clean equipment together are key,” explains Erin. “When staff practise good hand hygiene, it means they care about the residents and their safety."

“The staff are excellent,” says Claire with a smile. “We work and live in a clean place." 

Watch Covenant Health's award winning hand hygiene video "It Makes a Difference".


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