Educate your staff, and hold pandemic drills

Education and competency testing for all employees and physicians regarding pandemics should be mandatory, according to new guidance from the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN).1

Educational activities should include information on etiology of human and avian influenza, the importance of vaccination, standard precautions, respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette, masking, and drop precautions, according to AORN. In terms of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), the guidance says "health care providers should be able to demonstrate behaviors that are required to successfully implement standard precautions, respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette, masking, droplet precautions, and the use of fit-tested respirators if SARS is suspected."1

Vanderbilt University Medical Center performs annual competencies on communicable diseases. Influenza is but "one of several options that could show up on our door at any time," says Nancye Feistritzer, RN, MSN, assistant hospital director of perioperative services.

Outpatient surgery staff members need to be able to recognize the signs of influenza, says Linda Burton, BSN, CIC, infection control practitioner at the University of Colorado Hospital, Denver. "You could have someone scheduled for surgery and they come in coughing, with flu symptoms," Burton warns. "They need to know what to do to protect themselves and who to call."

University of Colorado Hospital is developing a dedicated web site on pandemics, Burton says. That web site will explain what to do during a pandemic, who to call, and how to follow the emergency plan in each department, she says. Unit-based clinical educators will educate staff as units and, when needed due to irregular work schedules, will also educate individuals, Burton says.

Importance of drills

University of Virginia (UVA) Health Sciences Center in Charlottesville educates staff at least twice a year on its emergency preparedness plan, says James McGowan, DHA, administrator of the perioperative region. "When we go through training, we test how many people we can get responding to the hospital when we do a drill," McGowan says. The OR and freestanding ASC are involved as the hospital has a variety of mock patients overwhelm the ED, he says.

Vanderbilt conducted one drill specific to SARS, says Feistritzer. By conducting drills, staff learned about proper use of personal protective equipment, the importance of hand and respiratory hygiene as a role in prevention, isolation and how that affected staffing patterns, the need to establish effective communication with appropriate agencies such as the state Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, communication issues with families, and coordination of public information from the Department of Homeland Security.

"We have a disaster drill where you practice what happens; you practice your plans, basically," says Feistritzer.


  1. Association of periOperative Registered Nurses. AORN guidance statement: Human and avian influenza and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. AORN J 2006; 84:284-298.