Who shoulders the blame for infections?

By: February 17th, 2009 Email This Post Print This Post

In infection control (IC) we often stress to frontline staff, “we don’t prevent infection, but help you prevent infections.”

Yet when outbreaks occur it is the Infection Preventionist (IP) that feels the heat from administration or regulatory agencies looking for answers.

And it is often the IP who deals with the backlash in the follow-up reactions, not only from others, but internally as well. I have a comrade who dealt with a serious outbreak of norovirus in her facility a couple of years ago where over 100 patients and staff were infected. It took weeks for them to curtail the outbreak. It took its toll on her mentally and physically. She made the point later that “this was just norovirus – and with all the time and effort it took to eliminate it – how would we ever survive with a true pandemic where many people will die.” She didn’t think she wanted to be around in infection control when that happened. She didn’t know if she could survive it.

From another perspective, the scope of practice for an IP is growing daily and the responsibilities associated with that scope are diverse. Some facilities are finally responding with the staff and resources to be able to finally prevent rather than just “respond.”

But IP’s are just a piece of the puzzle. IP’s can’t be 24/7 watchdogs, forcing doctors or nurses to wash their hands, or follow sterile protocols, we can only educate them on why they need to.

Will IP’s be blamed for outbreaks? In some cases they already are because they serve as the champion of these issues. Regardless, they certainly feel the weight of HAIs on their shoulders, whether their administration is reprimanding them or not.

And although there are probably too many factors in infection control to completely lay blame on one or two individuals, hospitals will continue to be scrutinized for those infections deemed “preventable,” which will only heighten the pressures on IPs, as well as all of the other pieces that fit into hospital control.

For a little help easing that pressure, check out the new tool, Infection Control Survey, which can be used to evaluate your physican office. For other hospital related infection control tools, see Infection Control Compliance Guide or Infection Control Program Guide.


By Cynthia McMaster on February 18th, 2009 at 9:56 am

Thank you for the work you are doing. I previously worked in NorthWestern Missouri hospital where MRSA lawsuits were ramped, and the Administrative Infection Control support ignorance was just as great it seemed, for funds to manage a creditable Infection Control team and process. But that was not the only hospital with that attitude. Others frequently shared that same mentality. Every one ask, what does Infection Control do anyway? Until there was a lawsuit or outbreak, then it was why wasn’t Infectin Control doing something? I have given up on hospitals and now find more satisfaction working in Public Health, again the first place that funding is cut and in this economy it is happening. Seems like it always takes an outbreak to bring people around to why.


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