At a time when infection prevention professionals are stretched thinner than ever before, the federal government has stepped in with $500 million to help nursing homes and other long-term care facilities hard hit by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Those federal allocations are for what the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control are calling “strike teams” to address infection prevention and control.
“It’s great,” Linda Spaulding, RB-BC, CIC and a member of the Infection Control Today editorial advisory board, said in a recent interview with that publication. “Obviously COVID-19 has shown where our infection prevention weaknesses lie, and now the federal government is finally putting its money where its mouth is.”
Indeed, new responsibilities, staffing shortages, and stress have compounded the already high-pressure work that infection preventionists, or IPs, do as the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into its second year. That’s why International Infection Prevention Week, which runs from Oct. 17-23 this year, will celebrate the work IPs do each day to keep their patients, hospitals and communities safe with a series of promotional and educational events.
Today is #GlobalHandwashingDay! Remember cleaning hands often is one of 10 Ways to Prevent Infection. Learn more and share the infographic: https://t.co/sFvKTwt3Si #handhygiene pic.twitter.com/wuryPER4RL— APIC (@APIC) October 15, 2021
The strike teams will receive funding from the CDC, in partnership with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), to allow state and other health departments to staff, train and deploy the teams to help in nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities and other long-term care facilities with known outbreaks. They will focus on strengthening infection prevention and control activities to prevent, detect and contain outbreaks when they happen.
That funding is part of $2.1 billion within the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
The global pandemic which started in November 2019, has now claimed nearly 5 million lives around the world, more than 720,000 of them in the U.S. alone.
“This funding will dramatically improve the safety and quality of the healthcare delivered in the United States,” says Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, in a press release. “Funding will provide significant resources to our public health departments and healthcare systems and opportunities to develop innovative strategies to protect every segment of the U.S. population, especially those disproportionately affected by the pandemic, at a time that they are hit hard.”
IPs have stepped into new roles created by the pandemic: ensuring that adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) is available, monitoring surge capacity, updating ever-shifting infection guidance. That’s on top of their usual responsibilities, such as preventing surges in healthcare-associated infections, keeping measles and flu outbreaks at bay, and setting an organization’s hygiene standards.
IPs have also confronted another toll of COVID-19 – the resurgence of some healthcare-associated infections (HAIs), which has eroded years of steady progress made in reducing them. The increase is attributed to more and sicker patients and frequent and prolonged use of ventilators and catheters.
Beyond the evolving challenges of the job itself, infection preventionists are also are in short supply. Among the reasons for the staffing shortages:
"The shortage is here,” Devin Jopp, CEO of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) — which organizes International Infection Prevention Week — told Patient Safety & Quality Healthcare. “Add in burnout, and that’s creating pressure on the availability of IPs.”
One Texas health system recently weighed having retired IPs working remotely to supplement staffing shortages. Recruitment and retention remain a top focus for APIC going forward.
“We must take our lessons learned from COVID-19, remember the terrible costs of this pandemic, and make real and sustainable changes to prevent it from occurring again,” says APIC’s Jopp. “Ensuring we have infection preventionist expertise is one of the critical ingredients to enhance our preparedness.”