Vigilance, strong relationships and thinking like a detective lead to low infection rates

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“Our whole existence is around preventing hospital-acquired infections,” says Dr. Jeannette Comeau, Medical Director & Pediatric Infectious Diseases Consultant. “We have excellent low rates of hospital-acquired infections here at the IWK. As a whole, the health centre is doing well in that domain.”

The third week of October every year is national Infection Control Week in Canada. Here at the IWK, we have an entire team that is dedicated to helping the IWK to prevent infections in patients and families. Led by Dr. Comeau, the Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) team at the IWK consists of three infection control practitioners, Registered Nurses Allana Ivany, Bridget Maxwell and Christine Sherren, as well as Brenda MacDougall, administrative assistant. Working under the Patient Safety and Quality umbrella, they collaborate closely with Jane Palmer, Director of Quality, Patient Safety, and Patient Experience.

Dr. Comeau is quick to credit experience and team atmosphere at the IWK as being a huge factor in their success.

Highly trained, Allana and Bridget hold designations in infection control (CIC©). Jeannette, Allana and Bridget also have certification with the Canadian Standards Association in Infection Prevention during Construction in Health Care Facilities.

Intense curiosity is also a prerequisite for the job. It’s about always questioning, looking for patterns in data and educating others to foster a culture of organizational awareness that ultimately keeps patients safe.

This January IPAC jumped into action with military precision to contain an outbreak of Norovirus. It was the nurses on the ward who first noticed there were a lot of patients and parents with gastro symptoms. They alerted IPAC immediately, tests were ordered and steps put in place to stop the spread and protect patients and staff. Within 48 hours the outbreak was contained and no new cases were reported.

“Allana and Bridget have so much experience and expertise. They are respected and well-known. Each player is really important in how our team functions. Even if we have to land on a difficult decision, such as closing a playroom temporarily, those are team decisions.”

Team isn’t defined by department. They work closely with many groups across the health centre, including housekeeping, facilities, supply and distribution, occupational health, safety & wellness, physicians, antimicrobial stewardship, and medical device reprocessing.

From providing expertise on what type of hand sanitizer is best to kill certain bacteria, to conducting the risk analysis to determine what containment levels are required for construction projects, the IPAC team is embedded in nearly every facet of the health centre.

“I really consider the IPAC Staff part of our Hematology/Oncology and Nephrology team. Their diligent work and dedication to keeping our patients safe proves invaluable in our day-to-day functioning. Working with an immune-compromised population necessitates that the IPAC Team is frequently involved in care planning and provision, thus ensuring that we are consistently providing the highest level of patient care every day,” says Jennifer Bowdridge, Clinical Leader, Hematology/Oncology and Nephrology.

Sometimes even when you do everything right, there are still cases where infections occur. That’s when there are opportunities to dig deeper. Over the past several years there has been some impressive work done to make operating rooms safer and as a result, the IWK has seen a dramatic decrease in surgical site infections.

“Working in IPAC is a continual learning experience. No two days are ever the same and each situation requires critical thinking and teamwork,” says Ivany. “Our passion for infection prevention is driven ultimately by our responsibility to the IWK patients and families,” adds Maxwell.

The IWK also participates in national collaborative research with 23 other centres in Canada. This gives the IPAC team a national picture of what’s going on and helps identify new or interesting organisms to put on the radar. Participating in frameworks like the Canadian Nosocomial Infection Surveillance Program (CNISP) and the Solutions for Patient Safety Network (SPS) allows the IWK to share our strengths and learn from the strengths of others.