Personal connections strengthen infection prevention efforts

Sharing knowledge, tactics helps patients throughout the region

With a national focus on hospital-acquired infections, “the role of infection prevention at our hospitals has really grown,” says Meredith King, RN, director of Outpatient Services and Infection Prevention at The University of Vermont Health Network – Elizabethtown Community Hospital and at Moses Ludington Hospital in Ticonderoga, both in New York.

Long before the inception of The University of Vermont Health Network, infection prevention specialists at the network’s hospitals had established a working relationship over the phone. Now, they are getting to know each other in person, says Carolyn Terhune, manager of infection prevention at The University of Vermont Medical Center.

We are working as a network to explore and implement the safest use of these devices across our hospitals.

Bonnie Edwards, infection prevention and control practitioner at UVM Health Network – Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital

“Such good energy comes from networking. It’s great to be able to see everyone’s units, as well, to have a more concrete understanding of the patient care environment.”

The team is working to better understand their hospitals’ differences as well as their similarities.

“Being an academic medical center gives us a focus that is different than a critical access hospital,” says Terhune. While UVM Medical Center focuses on surgical site infections, King concentrates “more on infections like Clostridium difficile and other issues that impact our local population.”

Together, the group has been addressing complex issues surrounding reprocessing of endoscopes and devices used during cardiothoracic surgery. “We are working as a network to explore and implement the safest use of these devices across our hospitals. Why reinvent the wheel?” asks Bonnie Edwards, infection prevention and control practitioner at UVM Health Network – Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital (CVPH).

The team shares knowledge and tools, as well as feedback from regulatory surveys. Sharon Martin, infection prevention manager at UVM Health Network – Alice Hyde Medical Center, is seeing the benefit of this collaboration. “I’ve been able to make changes at Alice Hyde around length of isolation for patients with Clostridium difficile.”

Cathi Dages, RN, CIC, infection preventionist at UVM Health Network – Central Vermont Medical Center (CVMC) learned that the New York Department of Health requires influenza vaccinations or the use of a mask for health care workers. “As we are at 77 percent vaccination rate for our staff, we are going to focus on how they make (masks) work at CVPH.”

The group’s 2017 focus will be on patient isolation. “We want to see some standardization of our practices and better understand when we should or shouldn’t have the same isolation policies based on our needs and local culture,” says Edwards. “These are patients we all share,” adds King.

In January 2017, UVM Medical Center’s annual infection prevention advocate program will bring King and two colleagues to Burlington. Dages and Erica Baker from CVMC have also participated in this program.

“The beauty of this initiative is the ability to network with others and connect directly with folks who provide patient care right at the bedside,” says Terhune.

“The overall advantage of us being in a network is team cohesion,” King says. “Everyone in infection prevention has a different background, experiences and care environment. Being able to network with my peers and ask questions has been invaluable.”