History may come to see COVID-19 as the seminal event shaping infection control practices in healthcare.

While the pandemic, so far, has spotlighted the ineffectiveness of current processes to assess, plan and manage infection control risks, Raj Shah, CEO of CareSafely, believes there is a bright side. The “unwanted” revelation and the urgent need to keep residents, staff and visitors safe “has inspired long-overdue innovation in proactively managing all infection control risks” at nursing homes and other care sites, he said.

 Janine Finck-Boyle, vice president of regulatory affairs for LeadingAge, also sees a positive takeaway from the pandemic. She believes it has forced providers to more closely relate emergency response with infection control and “get creative” with infection control barriers and monitoring.

The shortage of supplies was one area that spurred quick action among healthcare providers. For example, few providers in any sector could have anticipated the surge and subsequent shortage of personal protective equipment. And as cleaning and disinfecting supplies were quickly exhausted, many had to resort to homemade approaches, said Megan Henken, vice president of EVS product management at Medline.

Globally, the pandemic has forced larger long-term care systems to develop emergency-action plans around testing, cohorting and visitation to balance both psychological safety for residents and staff well-being with infection prevention and control, added Rosie Lyles, M.D., director of clinical affairs at Medline.

Promising efforts have already begun in the area of testing, according to Marti Wdowicki, PharmD, director of Clinical Operations–South for PharMerica.

Physical environments will have to continue to change, according to Finck-Boyle, who sees the industry completely transitioning to single- occupancy rooms, sophisticated air exchange systems and buffet-less dining. 

“Hopefully, ways of increasing safety will be developed through an evidence-based, mutual learning, collaborative approach, rather than a punitive, penalty-oriented approach,” she added.