The Role That's In-Demand & Rapidly Changing By Julie Rupenski, President & CEO, MedBest
The devastating effect of COVID-19 on senior care residents and staff has significantly changed the day-to-day operations of long-term facilities. Drastic measures to prevent and control the continued spread of COVID is now paramount. As a result, Infection Preventionists are in high-demand and quickly becoming key members of the interdisciplinary team caring for our senior population.
The role of Infection Preventionists has been primarily about preventing common acquired infections and advising on hygiene. While this is still the case, the role of an Infection Preventionist has expanded and is rapidly changing. The biggest changes include a focus on emergency preparedness and bio-preparedness and how to be ready for future outbreaks and pandemics.
Along with role changes, there have been changes in protocols at long-term care facilities. The CDC released new guidelines on June 25, 2020 for high risk populations affected by respiratory pathogens like COVID-19. Part of these new CDC guidelines that affect Infection Preventionists include:
- Long-term care facilities with greater than 100 residents must have a full-time Infection Preventionist with the proper training.
- Facilities with less than 100 residents may/may not require an Infection Preventionist based on the acuity and needs of the resident's population as determined by completing a Facility Infection Risk Assessment.
Who are these Infection Preventionists? Most are registered nurses (82%) who have a background in clinical practice, epidemiology, and basic microbiology and subsequently, pass an exam to become certified by the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology.
While their main responsibility within senior care continues to be about patient safety by preventing and stopping the transmission of infections, their expanding role and responsibilities now include:
- Keeping abreast of and providing on-going updates and education related to COVID-19
- Following policies and practice related to suspected infections, those transmitted by air droplets or airborne
- Designing & maintaining a system customized to each facility to track prevention, measure, and monitor active infections/incidence
- Contact precaution and limited transport of residents with known or suspected infections that can be transmitted through contact
- Ensuring all healthcare providers within facility have supplies and personal protective equipment needed and dispose of them properly
- Educating staff on how to prevent transmission to each other
- Monitor cleanliness of rooms and any equipment used on patients including ventilators
- Ensuring residents have adequate supply of masks to wear as needed
With Infection Preventionists in high demand, here are 5 suggestions on how to attract, hire, and retain them:
- Offer an attractive compensation and benefits package. According to Indeed (July 2020), the average salary for an Infection Preventionist with 2 to 3 years of experience and Bachelor's Degree is $75,108/yr in the US. However, depending upon demand and location, Infection Preventionists can earn a six-figure salary
- Ensure that these highly trained professionals have the proper tools needed to make an impact from day one
- Begin skilling-up your current team and develop future Infection Preventionists
- Make infection prevention a culture and not just a selling point
- Hire a well-known and respected search firm that has an extensive network of senior living professionals including Infection Preventionists
With the increased demand for safety, prevention, and protection for staff and residents, the need for Infection Preventionists will only continue to grow. They are considered crucial leaders of health care teams and frontline professionals.