Sunnyside hospital proactive with infection control

Long before the MRSA (pronounced MUR-suh) infection was making headlines around the country, Sunnyside Community Hospital was already working hard on infection control and patient and employee safety.

The hospital has an infection control nurse. The hospital also has communication and treatment procedures in place that are used when any concern about patient care or patient safety is noted.

While it seems very simple, all health care providers agree the biggest step in controlling the spread of any infection is appropriate hand hygiene.

"We have been teaching hand hygiene for many years," said CEO Jon Smiley. "What has changed in our program, is the emphasis we began a year ago to empower patients to remind all of us to wash and/or sanitize hands." That emphasis has resulted in a more than 90 percent improvement in hand hygiene among our staff and physicians," Smiley said.

The hospital has hand sanitizers in every patient room. There are also sanitizing stations in the cafeteria, in every meeting room, at the front entrance of the hospital and in every patient care area.

"We encourage staff to sanitize and wash, and we want the public to know that they need to use these facilities too. They are not just for staff," Smiley said.

The hospital provides flu and pneumonia vaccine for all patients and employees. Measles, mumps and rubella shots, pertussis (whooping cough) shots are also recommended for all employees. Employees are not charged for any vaccinations they receive. The hospital has scheduled flu shot clinics for all employees, physicians and volunteers.

Another way that infection is controlled is through good environmental services that clean patient rooms and all public areas. All cleaning products and methods are reviewed and approved by the hospital Quality Improvement Committee. This committee also assures that all OSHA/WSHA safety guidelines are followed in use of cleaning products.

"We make sure that every product is used in a safe way for the staff using it, and also appropriate to the area we are cleaning. For instance, some cleaners can't be used where there are newborns," said Environmental Services Manager Nancy Hazzard.

"We clean everything in every patient room when a patient is discharged. Our staff makes sure the room is sanitized before another patient can be brought into the room," Hazzard explained.

"Every case of infection is examined. When it comes to the issue of most concern right now, we can tell you there has been one hospital acquired MRSA infection in our facility nearly a year ago. Another patient was seen in the Emergency Department with MRSA last week. We have effectively treated, or in some cases transferred patients who were admitted with a MRSA infection," said Infection Control Nurse Fern Ridout. "We are constantly studying everything we do to make sure we are doing all we can to control all infections."

The hospital has appointed a special task force led by Dr. Michael Gawlik and Dr. Francesco Vinci to oversee the study on MRSA.

"We have a program at the hospital called Fearless Communication," said Vinci.

"Fearless Communication means any employee can raise any concern without fear of retribution. That means everyone is listened to, and there is no reprisal if someone points out any concern related to patient safety or infection control."

"That extends to our patients," Vinci continued. "If you come into the hospital be sure and sanitize your hands, and be sure to ask your provider if he or she has washed or sanitized before taking care of you or your loved one."

All the providers believe infection control needs to be taken seriously. While the recent news media attention has created panic in some areas, there is no panic at the hospital, according to Dr. Vinci, who added, "It's very good that people are taking notice of infection control issues because it will help them take infection control just as seriously as hospitals have for many years."

"At home, work and school you should practice good hand hygiene," Ridout said. "It is also important not to share personal items like razors or towels. If you have a cut keep it covered and seek medical treatment if it doesn't get better quickly."

"We have an obligation as leaders in the health care community to take a continued serious approach to the issues of infection control," Jon Smiley concluded. "Especially as the winter cold and flu season approaches, we need to be mindful of simple steps we can take to stay healthy. While MRSA is not new, this public and media concern is new, and we can all benefit by taking proactive steps before someone gets ill. These steps will help us stay healthy, they will help the hospital, and they will show leadership the rest of our community can follow."

(Editor's Note: More information about MRSA can be downloaded at www.co.yakima.wa.us/health.)

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