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Infection Control Group

Preparedness, Action, Communication and Commitment Drive Infection Prevention Team

Readiness, vigilance and all-in when needed are the strongholds and proof points of El Camino Health’s infection prevention commitment when it comes to annual flu outbreaks and especially the most recent coronavirus pandemic.

“Whenever you have a new disease that is caused by a virus transmitted from animal-to-human and then human-to-human as in COVID-19, it has the potential to be very lethal and this was a very high alert situation,” says Catherine Nalesnik, RN, BSN, CIC, enterprise director of Infection Prevention at El Camino Health.

The infection prevention team prepares and monitors for such outbreaks year round to be at the height of preparedness as they are the first line of defense when a patient with a suspected infectious disease comes into the hospital for treatment.

“The core elements of a good infection control plan include procedures, processes and education that can be quickly disseminated to the entire hospital team in order to decrease the transmission risk of infectious agents within the hospital and stay ahead of the curve,” said Catherine.

With this commitment, the team successfully delivered when was faced with being one of the first healthcare systems nationwide to be on the frontline against coronavirus.

In early January, hospitals in the area received notice from the Santa Clara County Public Health Department about an emerging new pathogen, a novel coronavirus. When the first patient arrived at one of El Camino Health’s emergency rooms with this virus, the infection prevention team took swift and decisive action.

The team interfaced with the county public health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to report the cases which assisted our health officials to determine where the infection might be spreading in the community. The entire hospital staff depends on the infection prevention team to relay accurate, current information quickly and ensure everyone within the organization knows the proper protocols to prevent transmission of the infection.

“I felt a huge sense of responsibility to provide the information and resources to keep everyone safe, and our team continually researched COVID-19 updates to communicate changing directives and protocols as more information came out about how the virus was being transmitted,” Megan Williams, BSN, MPA, CCM, CIC, infection prevention nurse.

The infection prevention team rounded on all the units, providing advanced training on new directives and disseminating information several times a day through staff huddles and emails. It was also supported by the broader El Camino Health team as a 24-hour command center was established to provide ongoing reports on COVID-19 patients, new admissions, the status of PPE supplies, testing numbers and results.

“We were supported by a multi-disciplinary team that answered questions from other teams, which allowed us to focus on processes to prevent transmission of the virus to staff and patients,” says Maricar Telmo, RN, BSN, MSN-CNL, CIC, infection prevention nurse.

El Camino Health’s campuses are located in very diverse and multi-cultural communities and because this population travels the world, the infection prevention team must remain abreast of multi-drug resistant organisms (MDRO) that are found on traveled individuals as well as emerging rare and dangerous viruses such as Ebola, SARS and H1N1.

“Our goal is to stay one step ahead and be vigilant so we can protect our patients, staff and community,” says Marie Weigel-Sarmiento, BSN, RN, CIC, infection prevention nurse.

El Camino Health was well prepared for the pandemic with sufficient and appropriate personal protective equipment, a strong knowledge base and expertise from the infection prevention team, and being extensively trained to address pandemic situations. That formula for success helped reassure anxious staff serving on the frontlines against COVID-19 and support the fight against the outbreak.