Kimberly Marselas

When’s the last time your employees lined up during lunch breaks for voluntary training?

Proving again that healthcare workers are among the world’s most resourceful, a team from the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System came up with an entertaining educational concept that drew crowds from its inception — and accolades this week at the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology’s annual conference.

What, you ask, could increase attendance at an infection prevention course from about 20 attendees per session to 189, drawing even non-clinical staff?

Gracia Boseman, RN, MPH, and Kristy Causey, MSN, RN, put together an escape room, typically the milieu of weekend thrill-seekers who pay money to solve a series of clues needed to get out of a locked room in a given amount of time.

At the Veterans’ system, Boseman and Causey transformed the gambit into a healthcare training tool in 2017. They encouraged those who came to the “high-consequence infectious disease escape room” to use critical thinking to get out of a zombie- and flu-bug infested space.

The goal was to increase staff handwashing compliance and drive up acceptance of flu vaccines, once players/students had seen the dramatic potential for spreading germs in a close environment. Over three years, they trained more than 1,000 employees and took their show on the road to outlying clinics with a mobile, minibus version.

The Central Texas Veterans Health Care System designed a mobile escape room to make infection-control training more memorable.

To get out, trainees had to demonstrate at least three hand-hygiene engagements, examine their performance and hypothesize how their roles would change during an imaginary pandemic.

The fun came to an end in 2020, when an all-too real pandemic put the project on hold. Prior to that, staff had self-reported a 61% increase in handwashing and a 21% improvement in the use of personal protective equipment.

“Staff became acutely aware that contaminated surfaces play a role in disease transmission as they carry viruses and bacteria, and the importance of  wearing PPE, knowledge that would prove invaluable during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Boseman said this week.

After nearly 15 months in which it’s been incredibly tough to find the fun in long-term care, innovations like Boseman and Causey’s deserve a place in a post-COVID world. Their infectious-disease escape room also is a terrific reminder of what staff can achieve when given time and the resources they need.

After all, there’s no escaping the fact that training and quality improvement requirements continue despite all the other burdens brought on by the pandemic. Why not introduce a little levity when there’s room?

Kimberly Marselas is senior editor of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News’ Editors Notes are the author’s and not necessarily those of McKnight’s.