Pandemic Has Compounded Challenges for Safety in Healthcare Settings

The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) says it agrees with the call to rebuild a resilient patient safety culture in U.S. healthcare institutions that came today from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in the New England Journal of Medicine.

As SHEA explains, "The pandemic response has led to burnout and staffing shortages, which have compounded the challenges associated with maintaining culture of safety in healthcare settings. Addressing these realities and creating a patient safety culture that values the critical role of healthcare personnel is essential to building a stronger future for healthcare-associated infection prevention. We are now faced with a pivotal opportunity for healthcare leaders to take lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to rebuild better systems of care for healthcare-associated infections that can be managed during outbreaks and other crises impacting healthcare. SHEA has been updating education and expert guidance to incorporate lessons learned from COVID-19 into the next generation of infection prevention and antibiotic stewardship programs. We look forward to working across government agencies, healthcare systems and patient advocacy groups to refocus on healthcare-associated infection prevention with an emphasis on more sustainable responses post-pandemic."

The Perspective published in NEJM by Fleisher, et al. (2022) observed, "The fact that the pandemic degraded patient safety so quickly and severely suggests that our healthcare system lacks a sufficiently resilient safety culture and infrastructure. We believe the pandemic and the breakdown it has caused present an opportunity and an obligation to reevaluate health care safety with an eye toward building a more resilient healthcare delivery system, capable not only of achieving safer
routine care but also of maintaining high safety levels in times of crisis."

Also in a statement issued today, the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) says it is calling for healthcare organizations to assess their infection prevention capacity and strengthen prevention programs by adding personnel, resources, and training to support both infection prevention and surge capacity for future pandemics.

2022 APIC president Linda Dickey, RN, MPH, CIC, FAPIC, stated, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) increased significantly during 2020, reversing years of progress. The current pandemic illustrates that our healthcare facilities are not where they need to be in terms of infection prevention and patient safety. Facility-wide infection prevention programs are critical and require adequately staffed, trained, and resourced infection prevention and control departments. We must bolster our infection prevention and control staff capacity in our system of healthcare to simultaneously manage HAIs and future pandemics.”

Dickey adds, “This is not the time to ask infection prevention teams to do more with less. It is the time for investment in the infection prevention and control infrastructure in our nation’s healthcare facilities so that basic infection control practices can be hardwired into processes of care. Our hospitals need more infection preventionists. Infection preventionists serve as a critical line of defense in preventing and responding to infections and integrating evidence-based strategies to limit their spread. It’s essential that hospitals, clinics, and long-term care facilities have enough infection preventionists to train staff and monitor safety protocols so that dangerous pathogens do not spread and lead to infection."

She continues, “APIC calls on federal and state governments to provide funding to help support healthcare facilities across the continuum of care to ensure that there is adequate surge capacity so that infection prevention and control measures will endure when stressed by future pandemics and disease outbreaks. We can’t let the lessons learned from COVID-19 go to waste. Building stronger infection prevention programs throughout healthcare will not only improve our ability to protect the public during future pandemics but will simultaneously improve patient safety. To help healthcare facilities assess their infection prevention capacity, APIC is launching a new campaign called HAI Fast Forward: Accelerating HAI Prevention, which will include a series of webinars and other resources available to help organizations make headway in reducing their HAIs back to pre-pandemic levels.”