Infection Prevention and Control in 2021: Let’s learn from our past mistakes, be proactive

Date: January 10, 2021 | By: Heather Hutson, RN, IP-BC, Chief Infection Control Officer, AMS Onsite

As 2021 gets underway, let’s pause to take a few moments to reflect on 2020 and all that we learned from such a difficult year, particularly as it relates to long-term care and infection prevention and control practices.

2020 was incredibly hard for so many people, but it also brought many important issues to the forefront. We held our collective breath when the news highlighted the first long-term care facility to be affected by COVID-19. It was hard to believe how quickly it all unfolded.

We scrambled to deal with the lack of PPE that was so desperately needed. We cried with families and staff at the loss of residents who were unable to take their last breath holding the hands of their significant others and/or children. We adapted to new and frequently changing testing requirements and regulations, as well as new infection-focused surveys. Now we change our focus once again – this time to administering vaccines and managing the required paperwork that goes along with it.

We are more knowledgeable, and although we are tired, we are stronger.

We’re all ready to breathe a sigh of relief, but we must prepare ourselves for 2021. One thing that really stands out is that nursing facility Infection Preventionists (IP) were not prepared. Although it was mandated back in November 2019, the facility-designated Infection Preventionist was often merely another title that was added to the name badge of an employee who was already bogged down with so many other very important and necessary responsibilities. Many were also the MDS coordinator, the ADON or even the DON.  We know now this was not effective.

The facility-designated IP should be a stand-alone position and needs to be supported and provided with mentorship and ongoing training.

Policies and procedures in relation to Infection Prevention and Control programs were often generic and although they included all the components required to satisfy regulatory requirements, they were not always easy to understand -- or easy to find.  Moving into the new year, it’s critical to adjust policies and procedures so they fit your facility. They should be easily understood by all your staff and accessible -- not tucked away on a shelf in an administrative office or on a computer program that is not often accessed.

We expect policies and procedures to be followed, but we often fail to ensure they are understood.  Education is key. Staff must understand the value of the policies and procedures before we expect them to be followed.  If we explain to staff what potentially could happen if the policies and procedures are not followed in relation to the effect they will have on the resident -- or themselves -- and not say that the facility will receive a citation from state if they are not in compliance, compliance will improve.

Let’s learn from 2020. Let’s not make the same mistakes. We all must change our mindset in 2021 – let’s be proactive and not reactive.

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