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Fraser Health Authority needs more infection control staff

A novovirus outbreak closed parts of Royal Columbian Hospital on Wednesday, as 12 patients and six staff suffered with the stomach flu. - Contributed
A novovirus outbreak closed parts of Royal Columbian Hospital on Wednesday, as 12 patients and six staff suffered with the stomach flu.
— image credit: Contributed

The Fraser Health Authority has been under-staffed in the area of infection prevention and control, and is in the process of hiring seven new positions at six hospitals.

Following the outbreak of C. difficile at Burnaby Hospital in 2011, a report completed in February 2012 noted that Fraser Health's infection prevention and control program was "considerably under resourced compared with other jurisdictions in Canada."

Based on the fact the authority must oversee 12 acute care hospitals, the number of trained infection control practitioners (ICPs) is less than half of what would be considered acceptable by current standards, the report continued.

What's more, Dr. Michael Gardam, for his report, spoke with four ICP workers from Burnaby and Royal Columbian hospitals and said they were "clearly overwhelmed," and able to only "put out fires" rather than take preventive measures.

Dr. Elizabeth Brodkin, the authority's executive medical director for infection prevention and control, explained ICP practitioners are generally RNs who ensure that best practices are observed, and act as consultants to ensure infections do not spread.

For example, "They will look out for patients with nasty bugs, and ensure those patients are cohorted properly," she said.

The "bugs" are becoming more resistant, and the methods and techniques for dealing with them increasingly sophisticated. ICP practitioners receive specialized and ongoing training.

"It's a full-time job, and it's a very important job," said Brodkin.

The six new full-time ICPs will be at Burnaby, Royal Columbian, Surrey, Langley, Delta and Abbotsford Hospitals, with a seventh casual position added in Abbotsford.

"[They] will be very helpful to the hospitals," Brodkin said.

Ridge Meadows Hospital, she added, is adequately served by one ICP nurse, based on the number of patients and types of medical care given there.

Fraser Health has 28 full-time employee positions, including the six vacancies. It also has 12 IPC consultants who provide full-time support to regional infection control initiatives.

Brodkin made her remarks as a novovirus outbreak closed parts of Royal Columbian Hospital on Wednesday, as 12 patients and six staff suffered with the stomach flu.

C. difficile is a more serious problem. The bacteria infects the intestines and can cause illnesses ranging from diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, fever and colitis, and in some cases, results in death. In 2010-2011, there were 13 cases at Burnaby Hospital where C. difficile infection was believed to be a contributing factor in the cause of death.

Brodkin said patients must know their hospital is safe from infection.

"It's vital for public confidence – nobody wants to go to the hospital and get sick."

Gardam's report made at total of 13 recommendations in the area of infection control, and all are being implemented by Fraser Health. Others included hand hygiene specifications, and recommendations of what cleaning agents should be used.

In the U.K., the norovirus or winter vomiting bug affected about 100,000 people over Christmas.

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