Municipalities key market for IC consultants

By Katherine West, BSN, MSEd, CIC

Infection Control Consultant

Springfield, VA

Most infection control consultants have limited their practice to hospitals and long term care facilities, but there is a need for consultants to expand beyond the traditional role to areas like municipalities. These local city and county governments have a need for infection control assistance, particularly to ensure compliance with standards by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Washington, DC.

A municipality is not unlike a hospital. There are many departments or agencies under one governing faction -- either a mayor or a board of supervisors. Each of the government's agencies (fire, law enforcement, shelter, dental clinic, social services, jail, etc.) needs to be evaluated with regard to application and compliance with OSHA. Why is this important? Because the municipality is the employer and is responsible to ensure that agencies are meeting laws and regulations that apply to them. This is a risk management issue for the municipality.

Currently, there still exists a great deal of confusion regarding who falls under the OSHA bloodborne pathogens standard and how to properly implement the regulation. Without the assistance of an infection control consultant, municipalities are at a loss as to how to apply the standard using science and basic infection control principles and practices.

Municipalities are falling prey to sales personnel and consulting companies which do not have the proper knowledge base to assist in this effort. This is leading to confusion and the expenditure of large amounts of money inappropriately. For example, agencies have been told incorrectly that they must purchase special commercial washing machines costing thousands of dollars for contaminated uniforms of emergency personnel and law enforcement personnel. Thus assisting with proper application of the standard will save dollars which are vital in these changing times of budget constraints.

Many municipalities do have infection control and compliance programs in place but there is no one to coordinate the efforts and collect the data to show the effectiveness of the programs in place. This is an important component for compliance monitoring and annually reviewing the effectiveness of the program. Data are also needed to assist in the documentation that risk has been reduced for employees. This will assist in reducing the potential for liability and the cost associated with post exposure management.

Audit exposures and medical management

Just as the ICP coordinates these activities for the hospital, the infection control consultant can do the same for a municipality. Conducting audits of exposures and the medical management that followed, monitoring TB cases and TB conversion rates, conducting training programs for each of the agencies, updating and developing the exposure control plan, and serving on product evaluation committees are all needed functions. Municipalities have been hiring risk managers to assist in this process, but they may not have expertise in this area and could welcome the help of infection control consultants. In addition, city and county attorneys are often not aware of many of the laws and regulations which govern this area. Whether done part time or on a retainer basis, consulting offers one the opportunity to try new ideas and approaches to problems. Working with a municipality offers a real challenge and opportunity to put ideas to work, so don't be limited in your scope of practice. Branch out -- it's fun out here! *