The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) is “creating a safer world through the prevention of infection.” APIC (apic.org) has approximately 16,000 members across the United States and in 70 countries. They include nurses, physicians, public health professionals, epidemiologists, microbiologists, medical technologists, and more, who daily do everything from crunching and reporting data to developing practices to education.
Formed in 1972—and approaching its 50th anniversary—APIC continues to have significant impact as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, in providing guidance to health care and to the public on infection prevention and the importance of vaccination and vigilance to protect vulnerable populations.
The organization’s CEO, Devin Jopp, EdD, MS, has more than two decades in association leadership, including serving as CEO of the American College Health Association. At the start of the interview, Jopp recognized the extraordinary efforts made by members of APIC and Argentum and by all those working in senior living: “These have been difficult times for Argentum members and our collective community to go through. We appreciate Argentum’s focus on infection prevention as we believe the lessons learned through the pandemic can help us harden our infection prevention efforts together. As much as we hope this is the last pandemic, we all know there are other diseases out there.”
Q. Can you share a few of the big lessons learned from APIC that can apply to senior living?
A. While almost all institutions had emergency response plans, I don’t think they had been really tested or contemplated to the level of national pandemic. We were thinking in terms of a flu outbreak, or, in the schools, possibly something like meningitis B. The scale and scope of COVID created issues that we never contemplated.
Another issue that was a massive challenge for all institutions was the availability of PPE (personal protective equipment). The early confusion about how PPE should be utilized both in healthcare and by the public combined with the critical shortages was a massive issue.
Additionally, we learned quite a bit about how porous and diffuse our workforce is in the senior living community where we saw how intermeshed workers were between communities. This created a large challenge in managing the spread of COVID-19 and highlighted the need for elevated infection prevention mechanisms.
The pandemic also revealed that infection prevention is everyone’s business and that we must make infection prevention a core strategy in senior living communities and across the entire continuum of healthcare. One key learning is that we must find a way to embed infection prevention expertise in each organization and build effective infection prevention teams in facilities to ensure each organization has the capacity to respond swiftly to emerging threats.
We must also ensure that everyone in our communities have proper training, from the maintenance crew all the way up to the administrators. Having an infection prevention team approach in place helps ensure that if there’s a crisis, we know how to react and can do so swiftly.
Q. What do you see as some issues to address to be better prepared for the future?
A. Having infection prevention expertise on staff is a critical learning through the pandemic. Not everyone is an infectious disease expert, and having a medical degree alone doesn’t make someone an infectious disease expert. Also, we saw that organizations were really hungry for information through the pandemic—and the information they got wasn’t always the best. We must create a structure to ensure that we have the right expertise onboard providing the best guidance possible.
Ensuring that organizations have effective PPE stockpiled and also test supply chains for multiple sources for PPE is going to be a crucial learning from the pandemic.
From a CEO perspective, I understand the challenge of justifying the elevated expenses related to infection prevention.
It’s not always a clear-cut value proposition, but we learned that not having this infrastructure in place can lead to tragic results. Communities must look at their IP infrastructure as key investments into safeguarding their communities. Infection prevention must be at the center of all senior living communities’ cultures.
Q. We’re seeing a lot of that now. What’s next?
A. I think the next phase of this pandemic will be the retrospective review of what went wrong. I recommend communities start doing a “hotwash” or review now—even though we’re not out of COVID yet—to get a group together that starts looking at lessons learned and develop a game plan to strengthen and harden infection prevention going forward. It’s hard to do while we’re still in it, but it’s so important to do this while it is fresh in our minds. [Leaders] must be champions for this work and helping to ensure that the lessons learned get implemented to strengthen our communities’ future responses.
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