APIC ‘grows’ one of their own with 2013 president

More public awareness key to IP growth

Patti Grant, RN, BSN, MS, CICPatti Grant, RN, BSN, MS, CIC, director of Infection Prevention and Quality at Methodist Hospital for Surgery in Addison, TX, has been elected the 2013 president of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC).

Excited to take a leadership role in an organization she has long admired, Grant answered a few questions for Hospital Infection Control & Prevention. Better known to readers of this newsletter through her IP Newbie column, Grant has a passion for mentoring that really began with a fortuitous turn of events more than 20 years ago. Though brand new to her first IP position, she scored a ticket to ride when a more experienced colleague could not attend the annual APIC conference.

“I remember it vividly — I got to go to APIC because my manager’s daughter was graduating,” she recalls. “The entire 1990 APIC conference was already paid for. Though I had been in the position less than six months they let me go! It just set me on fire. I had no idea the field of infection control was so huge. I was so overwhelmed with excitement that I don’t remember much except that I was alone — but I never felt alone. The APIC community just screamed ‘positivity’ to me. Most of the time since then it feels like my career as an infection preventionist has only lasted about five minutes. It’s rapidly changing, and although there is a lot of repetitive work I’m never bored. Who knew when I demoted myself all those salary grades [by leaving a better paying nursing position to become an IP] way back then, that I would ever feel confident enough to put my name on a ballot to run for anything — local, state or international. But this is all happening now because APIC ‘grows their own.’ I have always felt taken care of and mentored by those more experienced than myself.”

Q. You certainly have paid that forward, with your mentoring efforts and your column in this newsletter.

“I sure have tried. I feel obligated to do so.”

Q. What challenges do you see facing APIC and infection preventionists in general? Is there a specific area you really want to focus on?

A. The focus for me — and it’s something that can’t really be done in one year — is to help the general public know that infection preventionists exist. I really worry when the general public is looking for answers about infections and they see ‘professionals’ in our title — they quickly think that we are not a resource or advocate for them. I think we are losing a lot of the audience that we could be using as a resource. Several years back we dedicated an entire segment of our website to the general public. I actually envision a day when the general public asks, ‘How many IPs do you have in this facility? Are they certified?’ The public is demanding excellent surgeons, safe medication administration and credible nursing staffs. Now they need to know that IPs exist. Really, until those that are outside of health care, regulatory and accreditation bodies demand our presence in facilities, I don’t see us being able to serve our customers in the fight against infections to our full potential. The resources won’t be there. I really think this is a big loop-hole and it is something that is going to take probably over a decade to close.”

Q. We seem to have survived the Great Recession, but how much have the dire economic conditions the last few years hurt infection prevention programs? There certainly is a push to regulate infection prevention by CMS and other major players, but the age-old question is how do IPs translate that to program resources?

A. “It’s a very hard question, yet one that I think everybody needs to constantly assess. I think we are strong today in 2013 despite everything that has happened with the economy. We have a solid foundation. APIC continually engages in long range planning and now — especially in the last five or so years — we have a very solid headquarters staff. Another thing that makes APIC unique from many of the other like associations is that we have exceptional and sustained infection prevention volunteer networks. Not just the APIC chapters, but individuals who volunteer their time within those chapters. Yes, we survived the Great Recession, but I don’t think any of us are really comfortable. We continue to struggle with the resources and the politics of health care. However, this new demand for transparent reporting of health care associated infections (HAIs) couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. I don’t think it is necessarily going to increase the IP presence in health care to the level needed to achieve optimal wellness, but I think it may well keep our resources consistent and [save us] from the budget hatchet — and if that’s the case, the patient wins.

Q. Over the last few decades we have seen infection control move from an entrenched perception of inevitable health care associated infections to a dramatic new push for “zero” HAIs. We are seeing dramatic results, even though we know that not all HAIs can ever be prevented. Though this is admittedly a loaded question, do you think people will look back some day and be shocked to realize that 100,000 patients a year once died of HAIs?

A. “I don’t want to sound glib, yet I don’t think that people will be any more shocked looking back at this transition period than you and I are now looking back at the average life span not too long ago before modern surgical procedures, invasive diagnostics and antibiotics. It was not really that long ago that people died of relatively simple problems like a tooth abscess, a ruptured appendix or a breech presentation during childbirth. Honestly, I am really very proud to be part of what APIC has accomplished in its short 40 years. We didn’t do it alone. We did it by partnering with other professional associations and federal and accreditation agencies. And I really try to put all this in perspective when I feel very frustrated — like many IPs. I try to pull myself back and look at the entire ‘life span’ of what we consider modern medicine. To be really honest, infection prevention as a formal discipline is barely out of the toddler stage. I don’t even think we are close to adolescence, but we have come a long way in a short time. Can we do better? Of course, but I think the key for us as an association — if we are to become known for the frontline application of science at the bedside — is to remain humble — not be defensive, that’s a big one — and to listen. Then we can move forward with a common vision of life without infection. I don’t mean zero infections, but we can always continue to do better.”