Facilities should be wary of relaxing infection prevention efforts.
Though current conversations around infection prevention and control relate back to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are between one to three million healthcare associated infections (HAI) in long-term care facilities in any given year, with an estimated 380,000 deaths annually, said Devin Jopp, CEO of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC).
"There's a much broader sense of issues regarding these healthcare-associated infections that are critically important, and they too require us to have diligence and policies and procedures and staffing in place in order to make sure that we're keeping residents safe from them," Jopp told HealthLeaders.
Part of the solution to these issues will require improving the infrastructure around infection prevention and control practices—starting with more healthcare professionals exploring that particular career pathway.
With 40% of the workforce reaching retirement age in the next 10 years, in addition to the workforce shortage, there aren't enough professionals working toward becoming infection preventionists to accommodate the need, Jopp explained.
Historically, he said, infection preventionists have come from nursing backgrounds and public health, but they can also come from the biotechnology field.
"We have to make sure that we make it easier for them to enter the career, and I don't mean lowering standards," he said. "I mean having undergraduate degree programs and certificate programs in place."
It's ideal for a facility to have an infection prevention specialist on staff; however, those that don't should identify individuals who can be trained to assume some of the responsibilities of the role. According to Jopp, all staff should be trained on infection prevention basics.
Policymakers could also help with these efforts, he added, if Congress would help fund them and make it a national priority. Healso suggests expanding the National Health Surveillance Network to enable nursing homes to report HAIs in the same way acute care facilities do, to keep track of infections.
"Infection prevention isn't just about a pandemic, it's around all of the different infections that could impact the residents of these nursing homes," he said. "Part of that is around what controls we put in place."
"It's making sure we're doing hand hygiene programs, making sure that we're masking at the height of respiratory virus season. It's ensuring that we have vaccinations for personnel that are coming in and our healthcare workers, making sure things are cleaned properly."
APIC is working with the U.S. Department of Labor to encourage the adoption of a national registered apprenticeship program for infection preventionists. In doing so, they would be able to streamline professionals into those roles and ensure facilities have access to the staff they need.
Much of this will depend on the effectiveness of the programs and creating a culture of learning and competitive pay, Jopp added.
"I think it's also going to come into that issue of ensuring that they're investing in their people and they're paying them what they’re worth in order to hold on to them," he said.
“There's a much broader sense of issues regarding these healthcare-associated infections that are critically important, and they too require us to have diligence and policies and procedures and staffing in place in order to make sure that we're keeping residents safe from them.”
Devin Jopp, CEO of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology
Jasmyne Ray is the revenue cycle editor at HealthLeaders.
Infection prevention isn't exclusive to COVID; it involves protecting individuals from all types of healthcare-associated infections.
There aren't enough infection preventionists to accommodate the need, so more healthcare professionals are needed to pursue that pathway.