Time and money: ICPs in high demand to do more with less
Will rising national profile spell fiscal support?
Infection control professionals had a median salary in the $50,000-$59,000 bracket, but budget-crunched hospitals held most ICPs to raises at l% to 3%, according to the 2002 salary survey by Hospital Infection Control. There appears to be strong demand for experienced ICPs, in part because infection control departments do not want to squander resources training those with no background the field.
While infection control is increasingly being pushed onto the national radar due to patient safety and bioterrorism issues, the national nursing shortage also is having economic effects that ripple out to infection control departments. According to the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, there are more than 125,000 nursing positions currently unfilled in hospitals across the country, and more than half of hospitals are using agency or traveling nurses, at great expense, to fill vacancies.
Yet while patient care nurses may be able to command their best salary in years due to the crisis, ICPs appear to be more linked to the hospital management side that is trying to cut costs to hire nurses. "Everybody is dealing with tight budgets, but I think with infection control, they want to see how tight they can get it," says Sandy Cox, RN, infection control practitioner for Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte, NC.
In percentage breakdowns of the 419 ICPs who responded to the HIC survey, 27% were making $40,000 to 49,000; 31% were paid $50,000 to $59,000, and $20% had salaries in the $60,000 to $69,000 range. On opposite extremes, 8% were making $30,000 to $39,000, and 6% were in the $70,000 to $79,000 range. The mid-to-upper six-figure salaries were the result of years on the job for most respondents.
Exactly half of the respondents have been working in health care 25 years or more, and the median age of the ICPs was 46 to 50. Overall, about a third of respondents were younger than 45, and 22% were older than 56. While such experience spells wage growth over time, raises in the short term were little cause for celebration.
"We just got a 3% pay raise after three years," says Barbara Ann Hohf, RN, infection control coordinator at St. Mary’s Hospital in Passaic, NJ. "There’s a nursing crunch and all that, but I’m considered middle management." Overall, only 25% of respondents fared better. That includes the 20% who drew raises of 4% to 6%; and the fortunate 5% of respondents were given a raise in the 7% to 10% range. But the median raise over the last year for all respondents was 1%to 3%. Others fared worse still, with 17% reporting they did not receive a raise in the last year. The reason does not take rocket science to identify.
"There is no money, and you are going to hear that from everybody," Hohf says. "The health care market is really bad. So there is no point in lobbying [for more pay] because at this point, they don’t even pay for me to go to conferences. And that’s hard, too, because they want you to have the up-to-date information, but you can’t go and get educated unless you want to pay for it out of your own pocket."
Many hours in a day
In addition, long work hours emerged as a common theme, with the median ICP working 46 to 50 hours, and another 24% working even longer hours than that. "I’m the only one in the department, so I’m on call 24/7, 365 [days]," Hohf continues. "If there is an infection control issue, then they call you. So that makes it a little rough. If you want to go away for the weekend, you either have to get coverage or be available. In small community hospitals, you will find that a lot. I’m licensed for 200 beds."
Even ICPs with adequate staffing fear budget cuts once three-year Joint Commission accreditation surveys have been conducted. In a trend likely seen at many facilities, hospitals may bolster infection control resources in the buildup period then phase them down after the survey is completed.
"We finally [can] justify enough staff; we have Joint Commission [inspections] and then they start cutting again," Cox says. "I’ve had to let an experienced ICP go before because she was the last hired. Now we [have] to hire again, [and it will be] someone who probably has no infection control experience because it is very hard to get experienced infection control practitioners."
Indeed, most of the ICP job openings on one major health care job required prior experience in the field. Based on the ads reviewed at one site, an experienced ICP could land a job from Los Angeles to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I think there is [demand] because there is a huge cost in training a new person," she says. "Then there is the time resources pulled from your experienced people to train that new person," Cox points out.
Still demand for experience doesn’t necessarily translate to good raises and more department resources. One possible solution is the rising profile of the ICP in the eyes of the public and health care administration. While that appears to be happening with the patient safety movement and bioterrorism preparedness, ICPs have long labored in obscurity.
"Infection control is not [really] addressed in nursing or medial schools," Hohf says. "It’s there — it is an overall concept — but it’s never really picked out as a specialty. You can watch ER and all of those medical programs — do you ever see an infection control nurse? Ask people what nurses do. Nobody ever mentions infection control. It’s right up there with prison nursing. It is very difficult for people to understand the whole concept."
Jobs are available, but IC experience is required
(Editor’s note: These 10 ICP job openings, most of which require prior infection control job experience, recently were posted on-line. For complete details on each job, go to www.medhunters.com/jobs/Inf_Control.html.)
- Employee Health & Infection Control Nurse — Nursing Administration (St. Mary’s Medical Center — San Francisco)
- Staff Nurse — Disease Management (Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, Newport Beach, CA)
- Infection Control Nurse (Prince Sultan Cardiac Centre, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)
- Infection Control Practitioner (Florida Hospital, Orlando, FL)
- Full-Time Infection Control Professional (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia)
- Manager of Infection Prevention & Control (All Saints Healthcare, Racine, WI)
- Full-Time Infection Control Practitioner (Phoenix’s Children Hospital)
- Infection Control Practitioner (Cedars-Sinai Health System, Los Angeles)
- Infection Control Coordinator (Wuesthoff Health Systems, Rockledge, FL)
- Infection Control Coordinator (Regional Medical Center of San Jose, CA)
- Infection Control Coordinator (Osceola Regional Medical Center, Kissimmee, FL)