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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

APIC Calls on Feds to Reinforce Infection Prevention

By Gary Evans, Medical Writer

The leading organization for infection preventionists (IPs) is trying to elevate and solidify its role in healthcare after many were dislodged from traditional duties or otherwise overwhelmed during the pandemic. Many patients paid a price, as healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) skyrocketed during the first year of the pandemic, the most recent data available.

Accordingly, the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) has issued a call to action report, which describes IPs as key players in pandemics and emergency response, as well as the longstanding wall between vulnerable patients and healthcare infections.

“Because infection preventionists are the only specialists in healthcare dedicated solely to infection prevention and control, facilities ranging from acute care hospitals, nursing homes, home health, and ambulatory surgery centers rely on their expertise on all protocols and policies that relate to preventing the spread of infections, including COVID-19, as well as healthcare-associated infections such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and Clostridioides difficile,” APIC states in the report.

The call to action and an adjoining APIC campaign called HAI Fast Forward” are aimed at accelerating an infection prevention rebound to fight future pandemics and protect patients from routine infections.

“We need to be able to do both. Another pandemic will happen in the future so we need to be able to respond to a pandemic and continue to prevent HAIs,” says Linda Dickey, RN, MPH, CIC, FAPIC, president of APIC. “We have seen across the county that cases of HAIs have increased as we have been battling the pandemic. So APIC is looking at this as a call to action to get those numbers back down.”

The fast forward campaign will include webinars and resources to reduce HAIs, while the call to action report outlines more of a sea change for the profession to be ready for the next pandemic.

“Congress should allocate funds for healthcare facilities to build infection prevention and control capacity to ensure the continuity of safe patient care during a pandemic and to have enough frontline infection preventionists during an infectious disease emergency," the APIC report states.

When COVID-19 hit the United States in 2020, there was little redundancy and resilience built into infection prevention programs, says Ann Marie Pettis, RN, BSN, CIC, immediate past president of APIC.

“In other words, it’s not like you had somebody extra,” she says. “If anything, we were all running so lean, even without a pandemic, without a crisis – and then those things happened.”

While federal funding is needed to bolster IP departments, APIC has a separate problem of finding enough staff to fill them.

“One of the vulnerabilities we have is that we are going to be seeing attrition among IPs,” Dickey says. “It’s not just in our sector, but it does prevent a challenge and a risk with healthcare and even broader [areas]. So, APIC is doing a lot to maintain and support our current IPs, and also to create a strong pipeline going forward.”

The call to action report calls on Congress to “invest now in incentivizing the next generation of healthcare professionals [to] join the infection prevention and control pipeline. Legislation has been introduced to create a loan repayment program for infectious disease personnel, which can be crucial to attracting and retaining talent.”

As part of rebuilding the profession and seeking federal resources, APIC is asking the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) to “require” IPs in key roles during future pandemics and crisis situations. That would include making sure IPs are consulted on “all policies or protocols that affect disease transmission.”

Furthermore, the APIC report says these issues should include IP oversight of “patient placement, patient and/or employee cohorting, PPE use and selection, workflow reviews, airflow or ventilation issues, patient isolation, and direct patient care practices in healthcare facilities."

For more on this story, see the next issue of Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

Gary Evans, BA, MA, has written numerous articles on infectious disease threats to both patients and healthcare workers. These include stories on HIV, SARS, SARS-CoV-2, pandemic influenza, MERS, and Ebola. He has been honored for excellence in analytical reporting five times by the National Press Club in Washington, DC.