Ebola Watch: APIC calls on hospitals to reassess infection control practices

U.S. hospitals don't have necessary infection prevention staff and departments are stretched beyond capacity to handle the Ebola virus, according to a new survey conducted by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) released during International Infection Prevention Week.

Only 6 percent of the 1,039 U.S.-based infection preventionists who work in acute-care hospitals to identify sources of infections and limit their transmissions said in the survey that their facilities are well prepared to receive a patient with Ebola.

The survey also reveals that one in two hospitals have only one or less than one full-time equivalent (FTE) infection preventionist on staff. Among hospitals with less than one FTE specialists on staff, 4 percent report they are well-prepared to receive a patient with the Ebola virus, compared to 31 percent of survey respondents with 11 or more infection preventionists on staff. 

"We know that many hospitals do not have enough staff dedicated to infection prevention and control," Jennie Mayfield, president of APIC, said in an announcement about the findings. "Facilities that are inadequately staffed to begin with are stretched beyond capacity at a time like this. The current crisis demonstrates our lack of surge capacity and should concern everyone. Because our infection preventionist members are having to focus so much attention on Ebola, they are very worried about what other infectious diseases we might be missing. The infection preventionist's skills have never been in more demand."

Nearly one in 25 people in the U.S. get healthcare-associated infections and nearly 75,000 people die each year with these infections, FierceHealthcare previously reported. Healthcare-associated infections cost the U.S. healthcare system in excess of $30 billion annually, according to APIC.

APIC Chief Executive Officer Katrina Crist said during a press confernece about the findings that the survey highlights the short shrift many hospitals give to infection prevention. "The Ebola outbreak illustrates why facility-wide infection prevention programs are critical and require adequately trained, staffed and resourced infection control departments. The unique skill set of the infection preventionist is needed to get out in front of this outbreak and prevent the next public health issue from escalating to a crisis."

APIC urges organizations to focus on the following three aspects of infection prevention in order to effectively protect healthcare workers, patients and the public:

  • Personnel: Because Ebola readiness demands intense, in-person training and drilling led by infection prevention experts, APIC says it is critical to provide adequate infection prevention staffing.
  • Training: To ensure that hospital staff  follow guidelines precisely 100 percent of the time, healthcare workers must have the proper training and participate in drills on safety protocols so that they can demonstrate proficiency in essential infection control practices.
  • Technology and equipment: To maximize efficiencies and provide real-time data to help infection preventionists detect and control infectious diseases, APIC leaders say healthcare facilities must invest in infection tracking and monitoring technology.

During a press conference Friday to discuss the survey findings, Linda Green, R.N., who sits on APIC's Regulatory Review panel, said the results are a "wake-up call" to U.S. hospitals to strengthen their processes.

All U.S. hospitals must have the capability to identify and isolate a potential Ebola patient, even if they end up transferring the patient to a regional or specialized center. However, Crist worries that with so much attention on Ebola, infection control staff will miss other outbreaks, such as a flu epidemic or a problem with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

"This really underscores the point in general that infection control is under resourced and what's happening with Ebola situation is exacerbating it, " Crist said.

To learn more:
- read the announcement
- here's the survey results (.pdf)