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As year three of the pandemic approaches and COVID-19 remains a stubborn obstacle, it’s clear other infection control priorities haven’t received the attention they deserve.

Experts discuss here what other issues require more attention, and how skilled nursing operators can effectively balance the demands of COVID with other existing and emerging risks and pathogens.

Prepare for some tough battles ahead

It’s easy to see how many of the gains won in battling infectious diseases like MRSA, C. difficile and tuberculosis may have begun to slip during two brutal years staving off COVID.

Mary Madison, a clinical consultant for Briggs Healthcare’s LTC/Senior Living unit, foresees a brutal year ahead for influenza.

“This flu season will be the ‘twindemic’ we feared last season,” she predicted. “We were lucky last year because of our honing in on the spread of SARS-CoV-2. We masked. We were locked down to a certain degree. We social distanced voluntarily as well as involuntarily. The 2021-2022 flu season will not be as kind.”

Madison and her peers believe virtually every infection challenged by antibiotic resistance could be harder to fight once the pandemic ends.

Thinned workforces could lead to “decreased vigilance regarding the detection of early signs and symptoms of infections,” added Ellen Thompson, director of clinical services for Gentell.

“We need to get back to the basics of infection control practices that have fallen to the wayside, like environmental cleaning, personal protective equipment compliance and hand hygiene compliance, which has decreased to near pre-pandemic levels,” explained Caryn Arnold, Medline’s medical science liaison.

Tend to key infection control priorities

In some respects, infection preventionists were needlessly constrained during the first two years of the pandemic, said Deb Burdsall, Ph.D., of Baldwin Hills Solutions LLC.

“Even if a person had the knowledge and experience, there were very few communities that let the IP focus on the necessary components of an infection prevention and control program — especially, education of all personnel and residents (and) monitoring practice, which allow for just-in-time observations to support and reward proper technique and give just-in-time training for those who need reminders,” Burdsall said.

Achieve a balance with key strategies

Minimize temp staffing.

“In my personal experience, regardless of the clinical setting, a significant percentage of temporary staff can be disruptive to providing safe, patient-centered care,” said Elaine McGowan, vice president of clinical affairs at DermaRite Industries LLC.

Being consistent helps.

To create and promote a culture of safety, emphasize the commitment to basic infection prevention practices on a daily, shift-by-shift basis, McGowan added.

Be proactive is the best idea.

“Perform weekly grand rounds,” Thompson recommended. “Target residents with wounds, those who are susceptible to respiratory issues and those with indwelling urinary catheters.”

Elevate IPs as a profession.

“The time has come for full-time infection preventionists who are career focused and actually interested in infection prevention rather than other duties as assigned,” Burdsall said. “Someone who reports directly to the administrator or director of HR.”

Tap into all resources.

“We’ve learned that the infection control landscape continually changes, especially in the age of COVID; the importance of being able to identify and use resources for education and to obtain up-to-date information is crucial,” said Steven Antokal, director of clinical education for DermaRite Industries LLC.

Paul Alper, Medline’s vice president of patient safety innovation, said the company is partnering with Intelligent Observation to offer the company’s electronic hand hygiene compliance monitoring system, which combines near-field magnetic induction and artificial Intelligence to accurately capture hand hygiene events.

Stay ever-vigilant on disease states and emerging threats

“We really need to get more serious about antibiotic stewardship,” said Madison.

“Network with local peers,” added Chad Worz, chief executive of the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists. “The vital need to share experiences, best practices, and the latest evidence-based interventions will be a significant focus this year.”