Wisdom Teachers

Power surge: Will APIC CEO make the list?

'IPs were the original patient safety experts'

Kathy WaryeKathy Warye, CEO of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), is something of a quick study. Facing what she recalls as "a steep learning curve" six years ago when she joined APIC as executive director, Warye is now being recognized as one of the top leaders in health care. She has been nominated for consideration as one of Modern Healthcare's "100 Most Powerful People in Healthcare." The annual competition recognizes the men and women considered among the most influential throughout the industry, as chosen by readers of the magazine. Under Warye's leadership, APIC has increased its membership 40% and more than doubled in budget and staff size. We recently caught up with Warye for an interview with Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

Q. It's an honor to be nominated for such a prestigious award, but that word "powerful" is kind of loaded. What does it mean to you personally?

A. To me, the nomination is really a refection of what APIC as an organization has been able to achieve. I just happen to be in the position of being the CEO. Getting there really took a team approach, dedicated, talented leadership – volunteer leadership — and a really talented staff. I will personally — and I think APIC as an organization will — continue to pursue our initiatives in such a way that we are dedicated to improving patient outcomes. And having `power' hopefully will enable us to do that, as well as continue to empower and position infection prevention and control within the health care system so that it will ultimately be adequately resourced.

Q. Infection prevention continues to draw unprecedented public and political attention, but it seems the battle for resources at the local program level is a constant. Do you think that can change under current conditions?

A. I think it actually was changing. We were beginning to see an uptick in infection prevention resources and were hopeful that trend would continue and become larger. Then the recession hit and all bets were off. Programs actually had cuts in their resources. I'm hoping that as the economy continues to recover, those resources will be replaced and in fact they will grow. Instinct tells me we are going to see more MRSA despite efforts to reduce it. We're seeing more C. difficile; we're seeing more antibiotic resistance. The need for these programs has never been greater. The need to resource them well is eventually going to become an imperative — just from the perspective of the institution [facing] non-reimbursement and pay for performance. You need resources to respond to that. The other part is that people who head the [IP] programs need to be leaders within their own institutions. They need to understand the business case [for infection prevention] and manage regulatory requirements in such as way that they can be beneficial to infection prevention in their institution.

Q. Infection preventionists have been historically wary of regulation affecting clinical practice, but isn't legislation the only way these programs are going to finally be fully funded in the nation's hospitals?

A. APIC has never been in favor of regulation that would dictate what happens in the clinical setting. That has not changed. I do think that a national approach to public reporting — where we had a consistent approach across the states and a recognition on the part of the federal government in terms of what could happen if these programs were adequately resourced --would really move the needle. In the House version of the health care reform bill – which didn't get passed – there was a requirement that Congress would receive an annual report on the number of certified infection preventionists. We were thrilled because that was evidence that at the highest levels of government they are hearing our message. When you talk about 'power" and influence, that is one of the things that is evident. They are concerned that these programs are not adequately resourced. Unfortunately, that didn't pass, but all of these things are conspiring to help advance the influence of IP programs.

Q. Though it's certainly more in the public eye now, infection prevention is one of the fields that people often know very little about before they jump into it. How has your view of the field changed over the course of your leadership?

A. I had some familiarity with APIC because of having worked for the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI). Our paths crossed around things like the reuse of single-use devices. So I was familiar with APIC and the work they did, but I have to tell you that I was certainly not an expert in what infection preventiontists do or that environment. It was a steep learning curve. In terms of how my perspective has changed, the thing that strikes me about this profession — in comparison to other health care organizations and associations I've worked with – is the speed of the change our members are facing. It is truly unprecedented. They work in very complex systems, and they have a very complex set of goals and objectives to achieve. Sometimes they seem insurmountable. There are a number of factors – things like antibiotic resistance — that are outside of their control. My respect for them has only grown over time along with my appreciation for how integral they are to patient safety. I think infection preventionists were the original patient safety experts, but somehow that got lost in the shuffle. I would like to see APIC and IPs recapture that.