To many infection preventionists, nursing homes had been ticking time bombs long before early last year. One-on-one, the job had always been manageable. En masse, it was an entirely different story.

“We were all caught off-guard when this pandemic struck,” said Kristi Felix, infection prevention supervisor for Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals, which includes St. Jane de Chantal Long Term Care. Felix also serves as a faculty member for long-term care courses hosted by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology.

Felix believes the pandemic put a spotlight on the inadequate resources for infection prevention programming in long-term care, an industry she believes has long under-prioritized infection preventionists and their role in resident safety and staff education.

In hindsight, it’s easy to see how and why the pandemic quickly overwhelmed those who were tasked with infection prevention.

“COVID caught the entire LTC sector off guard,” said Raj Shah, founder and CEO of CareSafely. “In many facilities, the entire care staff was in a triage mode. So much was unknown about the virus, and new guidance was coming out weekly.”

As Felix observed, very few IPs had specialized training and most couldn’t complete even the basic requirements of their infection prevention programs, having to juggle unrelated job duties at the same time. Most nursing homes with appointed IPs have assigned duties to a nursing position, though federal regulations could soon change that.

“The ‘triage’ stage ended with seniors’ vaccinations, but IPs must stay vigilant since we’re not out of the woods yet,” Shah warned. “IPs must ramp up internal messaging campaigns to encourage staff vaccinations.”

For Felix, the pandemic shed light on the need for more resources for nursing homes’ infection prevention programs.

“If there is anything good that will come out of this pandemic, it will be to show how important IPs are and the need to prioritize the education and training for IPs and to assure there are adequate resources for the infection prevention program in our facilities,” she added.