Behind The Scenes At St. Clair Hospital: Infection Prevention

When you visit a doctor or check in at a hospital, you typically expect that your visit will result in an improvement of health. The last thing you’d expect would be for your symptoms to grow worse – or for new ones to develop. Unfortunately, when a large number of people come together in one location to deal with a plethora of health issues, it’s possible for you to find yourself the victim of a secondary illness or infection.

This is especially true when patients experience extended stays or lengthy recovery times. Unfortunately, hospital- or healthcare-associated infections result in an estimated 1.7 million infections each year across the country (PDF).

Fortunately, with an organized, capable medical team, it’s also possible to prevent secondary infections in the first place. At St. Clair Hospital, we constantly strive to ensure that such a team is always working hard – and we’re pleased to report that our patients are benefiting from our ongoing efforts to prevent infections.

In fact, St. Clair Hospital has one of the best infection prevention records among all hospitals in Pennsylvania, and we currently meet or exceed all national benchmarks for hospital-acquired infection prevention. We’ve even reduced our rate of central line associated bloodstream infections (CLABSI) to zero — a claim that only 10 percent of hospitals in the U.S. can make.

Meet St. Clair Hospital’s Infection Fighting Team

St. Clair Hospital's entire staff is involved in infection prevention.Our infection prevention successes are certainly hard-won achievements – but our work isn’t done yet. These prevention efforts are ongoing and demand constant vigilance and commitment. So who exactly can be found on St. Clair’s infection-fighting team?

The short answer is “everyone” – in fact, we believe that desk-bound and bedside employees alike have an integral role to play in our robust and comprehensive efforts to prevent infections. There are, however, some key players who have helped organize these hospital-wide efforts from the top down. 

Laura Morris, M.T. (ASCP), CIC, is St. Clair’s Senior Infection Preventionist. This makes her the leader of our infection prevention program – and as she knows, it’s an extremely important one.

“Hospital associated infections are a major issue in the healthcare industry and a major threat to patient safety, but they are often preventable,” Laura explains. “St. Clair’s good rates are a reflection of the quality of this organization and of everyone’s contribution to infection prevention.”

But Laura insists that infection prevention is “a team effort that involves the entire staff at every level. Our goal is to not only reduce but eliminate the infections that threaten our patients.”

Working closely alongside Laura is Julie Fitzpatrick, MSN, RN, CIC, who acts as St. Clair Hospital’s Infection Preventionist. Together, our Infection Preventionists spend their day monitoring and collecting real-time information and data that ensures our staff can identify trends and problems that may be developing in one of our many units. The result? We, as a collective whole, are able to intervene immediately if necessary – protecting patients and preventing the spread of secondary illnesses within St. Clair Hospital.

A Division Of Labor

Of course, as Laura herself mentioned, she and Julie don’t do all of this work alone. Together, our Infection Preventionists work tirelessly to educate everyone on St. Clair’s staff about the latest in infection prevention strategies and trends. This ensures that everyone working at our hospital is equipped to address an issue as it’s developing.

Additionally, Laura works alongside Stephen M. Colodny, M.D., Chief of Infectious Diseases. The pair collaborate and lead St. Clair’s own Infection Prevention Committee – an active group of representatives from nursing, medical staff, laboratory services, pharmacy, nutritional services, perioperative services, environmental services, and administration. Together, every party communicates constantly about infection prevention strategies, methods, and needs.

St. Clair has also established a team of Infection Prevention liaisons of staff members from each of the clinical units and the ancillary services of escort, dietary, laboratory, respiratory therapy, plant operations, and environmental services.

Through these layers of communication and a universal sense of responsibility, we are able to improve infection prevention practices and procedures not only in clinical areas, but throughout each part of our hospital operations. Every department at St. Clair Hospital can assist in maintaining a clean, safe for our patients, visitors and staff. And St. Clair Hospital can proudly report that our efforts have been very effective at reducing serious hospital-acquired infections over the years – all due to what Laura calls a culture of cleanliness and prevention.

“At St. Clair Hospital, everyone wants to do the right thing. There is a genuine commitment, at every level. We never forget that all those statistics represent real people, members of families, who come to St. Clair to get care and to get well. It’s our job to keep them safe, and infection prevention is a critical piece [of doing that].”

To learn more about infection prevention efforts at St. Clair Hospital, please visit Volume VII, Issue 4 of St. Clair Hospital’s HouseCall magazine.