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Lakeland Infection Prevention Dept. Earns Friend of Public Health Award
May 8, 2015 Share

It was a busy year for Lakeland Health’s Infection Prevention Department, charged with keeping germs, viruses and communicable diseases under control at its hospitals and clinics, and in the community.

In 2014 the team was confronted with the dangerous enterovirus D-68, that sickened and killed children around the country. The first enterovirus case in Michigan was detected at Lakeland Medical Center.

They handled a severe flu season, and treated Berrien County’s first multi-drug resistant tuberculosis case. Then came the specter of Ebola.

The hospital staff responded by creating an isolation unit and practicing procedures in the event someone with the deadly disease emerged in the area.

For these and other accomplishments, the Infection Prevention Department – which includes Jim Rockhill, Sandra Daignault, Julie Langdon and Linda Helm – received the annual Friend of Health award from the Berrien County Board of Health on Wednesday.

They also were presented a proclamation from U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, Gov. Rick Snyder, state Sen. John Proos and state Rep. Al Pscholka.

According to Rita Brandt, Lakeland Health’s manager of associate health and wellness, the infection prevention team members are the “unsung heroes” working behind the scenes to keep patients, their co-workers and residents safe. Brandt, who also is the administrative project manager for the Ebola isolation unit, said the mission of Lakeland’s prevention team is to be ready for the unexpected.

“It could happen anywhere,” said Brandt of the Ebola threat. “We wanted to be the hospital that could say, if it happened here, we knew what we would do.”

Brandt said that Stephanie Elder, Clinical Resource Nurse and clinical project leader for Ebola preparation training, did “an amazing job” getting everyone ready for a potential emergency.

Every step helps the infection prevention team prepare for the unforeseen, Brandt said.

“We ask ‘What’s next?’ And there will be a next,” Brandt said.

“We want to be proactive as much as possible,” Jim Rockhill, an RN and infection preventionist, said.

The team also was recognized for meeting regularly with the staff from the Berrien County Health Department and keeping them in the loop on such matters as the number of influenza cases and hospitalizations, along with other disease outbreaks.

Dr. Rick Johansen, medical director of the health department, said his staff works “seamlessly” with Lakeland. “For the residents of the community, it couldn’t be better than to have this kind of relationship.”

Julie Langdon, a nurse and infection preventionist, agreed that last year was especially challenging, with enterovirus, influenza and Ebola cropping up in rapid succession.

“It was one month after another of trying to prevent harm and infection,” Langdon said.

It also is their responsibility to protect Lakeland Health’s 4,000 associates, as well as their families and others they come in contact with.

“If we don’t have the staff safe, we can’t keep the patient safe and give the best care we know how to give to our community,” said Sandra Daignault, infection preventionist and emergency preparedness consultant.

To that end, the team last year provided more than 6,000 flu shots to its associates, spouses, volunteers, students and medical staff. For the second year in a row, Lakeland had 100 percent compliance with its flu shot program.

Ebola emerges

As if Enterovirus wasn’t scary enough, then came the threat of Ebola, with the arrival of the first case in the United States in Dallas.

“The first day that the Ebola case hit U.S. soil, Dr. (Loren) Hamel (president and CEO of Lakeland) said ‘We will stay over and huddle on this,’” Brandt recalled.

The result was an isolation unit in an unused wing of the hospital. The preparation included equipping the unit and ordering all of the protective gear, along with training staff.

A “red zone” marked on the floor shows where staff must have on their protective gear. Signs carry detailed instructions for putting on and taking off the wear, called “donning” and “doffing.” These are the procedures that must be carefully followed to avoid spreading the disease.

Staff members readily volunteered to be on call in case of an emergency, which could mean being away from home and family for 96 hours at a time.

The team later monitored a Lakeland emergency room nurse after she returned from working in an Ebola treatment center in Liberia.

Helping hands

What can residents do to help with the fight against spreading infections?

Hand-washing is very important, the team members agreed, followed by “cough etiquette, including covering the nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing and sneezing.

Getting an annual flu shot is also high on their list. They suggested not visiting someone in the hospital if they have a contagious illness.

Rockhill said residents should rely on their local health department or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention websites for accurate information. “There is a lot of information out there on the Internet, and a lot of it is not very accurate.”

The Infection Prevention Team members were honored to be recognized by their colleagues at the Berrien County Health Department.

“It’s nice to know that they have as much respect for us as we have for them,” Rockhill said.

Photo Caption: Lakeland Health team members honored with the Friend of Public Health Award included  (left to right): Shannon Beckman, Stephanie Elder, Jim Rockhill (back), Julie Langdon (holding award), Kathy Effa, Rita Brandt, and Sandra Daignault.

*Story by John Matuszak originally featured in the May 7, 2015, issue of the Herald-Palladium

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