“Stay away from hospitals if you don’t want to be sick”

Charest 7The Honourable Jean Charest, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Canada and former Premier of Quebec, was recently introduced (below) as the newest member of Ondine Biomedical’s board of directors (along with former Mexican President Vicente Fox).

Addressing the Vancouver media, Mr. Charest commented on how this new role complements his life’s work: “There’s one ingredient of public life that you always seek forever after, and that’s … to do something meaningful [that] makes life better for other people and that is exactly what Ondine … is doing now…. I accepted to join the board at this point … because I felt that I could make a contribution to this effort and be part of it and I’m very, very proud.”

Then Mr. Charest shared a story about how he first came across the issue of hospital infections. As a young man, when he began dating his now-wife Michèle, he met her father, a general surgeon, in Sherbrooke, Quebec.

As Jean tells it: “I remember him saying something to me that quite surprised me: ‘Jean stay away from hospitals if you don’t want to be sick!’ Which is sort of counterintuitive but when you think of it, you learn about the tragedy of the infections in our world and in our healthcare system…. You know why he said that…. This is really one of the major sources of grief and of death in the world.”

Indeed, as part of the longest investigation in the then 40-year history of CBC’s The Fifth Estate, Dr. Dick Zoutman, Chief of Staff at Quinte Health Care in Belleville, Ontario, said that “Hospital infections could be the 4th leading cause of death [in Canada] … and between cancer, heart disease, and stroke, it’s coming up as number 4.”

Just how many such deaths are there? Dr. Zoutman puts it at 8,000 to 12,000 every year, that are “directly attributable” to hospital infection. Which are part and parcel of the 220,000 people who become infected while receiving hospital care – again, every year.

Brad Spellberg, MD, Chief Medical Officer of the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center, explains why hospitals are such dangerous places:

I do think that people need to understand that the hospital is an inherently dangerous place and it’s not because hospitals are dirty or doctors are lazy or anything like that. Think about it this way. You’re taking the sickest people in society, crowding them into one building, tearing new holes in their bodies that they didn’t use to have by placing plastic catheters in their bloodstream, their bladder, putting tubes into their lungs that can breathe for them, and we’re using very large quantities of antibiotics to treat infections. So that’s a perfect breeding ground to generate antibiotic resistant bacteria.

As Premier of Quebec during a C. difficile-driven hospital infection crisis that “affected every single institution throughout the province of Quebec,” Mr. Charest told the Vancouver audience:

But what I remember from that episode … is all of this could have been avoided…. There are things that happen in life that you cannot avoid…. But there are things that we can do to avoid diseases, infections – if we put our mind to it. If we are conscious … of what the danger is. And if we just go out there and act upon it

For example, by joining a company whose mission statement is to do just that.

Mr. Charest’s remarks begin at the 9 minute mark:

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