Hospital infections: The common nonsense of Astroturfers

It’s generally good heart health NOT to read the on-line comments following major stories in the commercial media.

There is a concept called “astro-turfing” in which individuals are paid to troll through major media and leave specific comments behind. Each day they are given key points to make by their employers. The impression is that these comments reflect the “grass roots,” when in fact it is all calculated, planned, and presumably well-funded. Hence, the reference to astroturf, or an artificial “grass roots.”

This is not to say that every stupid comment reflects that of a paid astroturfer, but, well, it’s rather obvious at times.

Fortunately, here at Diablogue we are far too specialized a readership to attract astroturfers. Please do read the thoughtful comments our real live readers do leave behind.

A recent comment left behind on a CBC Marketplace story left us scratching our heads, wondering if the individual was such an astroturfer.

Marketplace took cameras inside 11 hospitals in Ontario and BC to test how well they were being cleaned. The CBC applied a harmless gel to places many people would touch, including hand rails, door handles, light switches, and elevator buttons.

The gel glows when exposed to ultra-violet light. When the CBC returned 24 hours later, most of the gel was still there, suggesting none of these surfaces had been cleaned in the course of a day.

That included hospitals belonging to the Niagara Health System, the site of 37 C-difficile related deaths last year.

According to the CBC, Canadian hospitals have the highest rates of hospital borne infections in the developed world.

CBC reported that “time and again, hospital insiders told Marketplace that cleaners were being asked to do more with less” as hospitals were pushed to balance their budgets.

This is not a new story, and if speculation around next week’s budget is correct, this may very well be a continuing story.

Unions have been raising this issue for years, yet we have seen more privatization and cuts to front line cleaners.

Readers of this BLOG will have seen repeated references also to hospital overcrowding, which studies link to the spread of hospital borne infections.

Remarkably, the Ministry of Health itself frequently suggests hospitals are unsafe as it tries to direct patients to community-based clinics.

While the on-line comments following the story cast blame in the more obvious directions, one comment suggested that union-directed health care was to blame.

Excuse me?

Labour has been a strong opponent to cuts and privatization of hospital cleaning. We have been staunch proponents of health and safety in our workplaces. We have consistently challenged overcrowding and overwork that creates unsafe conditions.

Unfortunately, we don’t direct the health care system.

Was this the work of an astroturfer employed by one of the many right-wing foundations that are popping up in Canada? Or was she just expressing a really ill-informed idea for free?

We’ll likely never know.

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