Keeping a hospital clean and free of agents that can cause disease takes a lot of hands, and a lot of work.

“As a team, Saskatoon Health Region takes many steps to keep harmful pathogens – agents that can cause disease – away from patients, especially those most vulnerable to infection,” stated Petrina McGrath, Vice President of People, Practice and Quality of Saskatoon Health Region.

Those steps include encouraging and promoting good hand hygiene among staff and visitors, doing our utmost to make sure our facilities are clean, and following the proper procedures to sanitize equipment.


Soapy hands in a sink

Hand hygiene is the cleaning of hands whether with soap and water or with alcohol based hand gel at appropriate times.

Hand hygiene

Washing your hands is what your mom taught you to do before you ate a meal, and what most people automatically do before leaving a washroom.

Performing good hand hygiene is critical when it comes not only to keeping an individual healthy, but in preventing the spread of disease.  And no one knows that better than those who work in health care.

“Hands are our primary mode of transmission for microorganisms,” explained Jenn Selkirk, who works in Infection Control with Saskatoon Health Region. “As staff members are the common denominator between clients – we touch one, then we touch another – it’s extremely important for health care workers to follow good hand hygiene at the right moments in order to prevent the spread of infections from one client to another.”

Saskatoon Health Region reports its overall hand hygiene compliance on its public website. From January to October 2014, the rate is at about 85 per cent, which is where it has hovered for quite some time.

“We’ve been auditing on our units for several years,” said McGrath. “Since we have committed to providing a culture of safety, we have decided to put more emphasis on hand hygiene than ever before.”

In the regular audit process, about 8,000 opportunities for hand hygiene are typically observed. With a renewed emphasis on hand hygiene starting two years ago, Saskatoon Health Region is on target to perform more than 50,000 observations.

“Hand hygiene at the right moment and with the right technique will assist in the prevention of the spread of germs,” said McGrath, as to why this emphasis has been placed on hand hygiene. “Hand hygiene helps protect healthcare workers, clients, family and visitors from germs that cause illness.”

 Cleaning hands between patients is critical to stopping the spread of antibiotic-resistant organisms such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, as well as viruses like influenza and the common cold. Eighty per cent of infectious diseases are actually spread by hands. Four are tracked by Saskatoon Health Region, and are examples of the type of infections that can spread through poor hand hygiene. Those four include Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Clostridium difficile (CDI), Vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE) and Extended-Spectrum Beta-Lactamase (ESBL).

According to the statistics tracked by Saskatoon Health Region, the rate of MRSA infection averaged 0.15 per 1,000 patient days so far this year, lower than the national average of 0.34 listed by the Antimicrobial Resistant Organisms Surveillance from the Public Health Agency of Canada updated in October 2014. The highest MRSA infection rate this year in the Saskatoon Health Region was 0.31 in July, still below the national average. Incidents of CDI, which have averaged 0.39 since April of 2014,were also lower than the national average of 0.52.

 The steps Saskatoon Health Region has taken to increase staff knowledge and practice of hand hygiene include installing more sinks in patient areas, and increasing access to hand sanitizer, especially at the point of care, and near elevators and other places where germs might spread. The goal is to have 100 per cent of staff practicing good hand hygiene.

Patients are being encouraged to keep their hands clean, as are family members coming in to visit loved ones in the hospital to ensure that they are not carrying in something that could adversely affect a patient’s recovery. There are posters up all over facilities to educate visitors about the importance of performing hand hygiene, and how to do it properly.

“Clean hands stop germs” is the simple premise of Saskatoon Health Region’s Germ Smart initiative, which encourages good hand hygiene to prevent workplace illness. Germ Smart is a Saskatoon Health Region program with a variety of helpful handwashing and hand sanitizing resources designed specifically for workplaces, schools and childcare centres. Germ Smart signage has been placed throughout Region facilities showing very clear steps to follow to perform good hand hygiene in order to assist health care workers, patients, clients, and visitors in how to effectively clean their hands.

“The scary truth is that 80 per cent of infectious diseases are spread by hands and not enough people are washing them,” said Kristin Knibbs of the Germ Smart program. “Only 85 per cent of people wash their hands after using the washroom, and 77 per cent before preparing food. It’s a problem, but the solution is simple.”

Simple hand washing can reduce gastrointestinal illness by 31 per cent and respiratory illness (including the common cold and flu) by 21 per cent.

“The bottom line is that when you wash your hands more often, you get sick less often,” said Knibbs.

For more information on Germ Smart, visit for posters, videos, activities and more.