According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC,) 1 in 25 hospitalized patients will get a hospital-acquired infection. It is estimated that each year, 75,000 patients will succumb to a healthcare- associated infection.
Written by Lori J. Connors
photos by Steve Babin
Not only do hospital-acquired illnesses pose a threat to patient safety, there’s the added risk of spreading disease to the health care team and to the community. In a world fraught with pandemic, the need for infection prevention is especially critical.
The Infection Prevention Team at Crestwood Medical Center is an army of two: Amy Stephens, RN and Roslyn Richardson, RN. In the midst of uncertainty and a rapidly changing landscape, these two women have worked tirelessly in the effort of mitigating the impact of COVID-19.
The work of infection prevention is largely behind-the-scenes and seemingly never ending. “We do a lot,” says Richardson. “We report to governing bodies, provide policies and guidelines that the staff follows to keep all of them safe, as well as our patients.”
“Our main goal is to prevent the acquisition of infection by patients or employees while they are receiving care or providing care in the hospital,” said Stephens. “Then, you add on a lot of other duties, like governmental reporting, policy writing, committee meeting preparation, observations on the floor to enforce compliance, just a myriad of things.”
Stephens and Richardson also sit on every committee at Crestwood and are expected to have the latest knowledge about infection prevention, all day, every day.
If the Team’s pre-COVID life was already fast-paced and filled with research and information dissemination, the pandemic took their work to a whole new level.
“The thing about preparing for something like this, is the tremendous amount of work that came before we even had our first patient in the hospital,” said Stephens. “I don’t think anybody in the healthcare profession really anticipated the impact this would have on the world.”
The Team met with hospital administration in mid- February. They evaluated how Crestwood would accommodate reduced patient capacity, reconfigure nursing units, and establish units dedicated to COVID patients.
If anything, COVID-19 has been a rapidly moving target; one in which information changes daily, often much faster. To stay abreast of the most recent research and best practices, Stephens and Richardson check with the CDC for daily updates and changes, information that is essential to keeping staff and patients safe and well.
“That’s been our life since COVID,” said Richardson. “We get up, we come in, we’re knee deep into it every single day. We write the policies, provide the guidelines, we make sure everyone follows them and then the next day, we start all over.”
“The most challenging thing to me has been the speed of which things change,” said Stephens. “We had to go to them (the staff) often, the very next day after we put something in place and say to them, ‘Sorry, you’ve got to change this.’ And they just rolled with it.”
A significant part of COVID management centers on the management of team members and their health.
Each day, staff members must complete a health screening before starting their shift. This is done either at the front entrance to Crestwood or at the door to their respective departments. Team members then answer several routine questions and have their temperature recorded. If a staff member has a fever and is exhibiting symptoms, they are sent home with instructions for follow up.
Crestwood also instituted a mask protocol for their team members. “Very early on, we went to universal masking for all health care workers coming into the hospital,” said Stephens. “Research shows very clearly that if you mask and the people around you mask, you can really decrease the spread of disease. Especially in healthcare where you can’t stay six feet away from your patients or your coworkers all the time.”
As a result of the efforts of Stephens and Richardson, Crestwood has been very fortunate. Thus far, there haven’t been any patient-to-staff or staff-to-patient transmission of COVID-19. “Getting through those early months, having our staff really dig in and do the right thing,” said Richardson. “Then, to walk away knowing that no one got sick during that time, that was a great satisfaction for us.”
“I have been so impressed by the way Administration, Nursing, Environmental Services, Respiratory, Dietary, and everyone else came together and did whatever it took,” said Stephens. “And they’re still doing it – to get the job done and to provide healthcare that is very much needed by people in the community.” n