From October through to March, influenza has hospitals running off their feet. Each year, hospitals run the risk of a sudden widespread outbreak of a new strain of the flu virus, called a pandemic. The illness may be highly contagious, possibly resulting in severe illness and even death.
The Scarborough Hospital (TSH) makes great strides in preparing for a time that brings an influx of ER visits and pandemic fear. Since the SARS outbreak in 2003, Canadian hospitals have been forced to take a closer look at infection control practices and focus their efforts on crisis planning and preparation before an outbreak actually occurs.
“Infection control management begins internally,” says Joann Braithwaite, Infection Control Manager at The Scarborough Hospital. “Our infection control unit has grown significantly, allowing us the resources to not only tend to the patients, but also educate and train our staff.”
TSH recognizes the evolving, comprehensive understanding and the practice of excellent infection control are key to maintaining the health of patients and staff at the hospital. The hospital’s facility-wide training involves Train the Trainer programs on infection prevention practices and Intranet based E-Learning self-study programs.
Also, TSH currently works towards improving an occupational health program to provide influenza immunization to all staff. After 17 years experience with the Toronto Public Health Department’s Communicable Disease Control Division, Braithwaite knows that, “Universal vaccination is important, particularly for the elderly and the sick, to reduce the spread of illness. For control, we advocate that health-care workers get vaccinated every year.”
As Canada’s largest urban community hospital, infection prevention is a priority for TSH. Although there has not been a serious worldwide pandemic since 1918, Health Canada estimates that another pandemic could potentially result in approximately 9,000 to 51,000 deaths in Canada and cause a severe shortage of hospital beds.
With an estimated 1,500 annual deaths due to the flu in Canada, TSH initiated Febrile Respiratory Illness Screening, an infection control precautionary surveillance program. This process involves actively surveying the respiratory symptoms, fever and travel history of incoming patients and screening them prior to entering the hospital, thus ensuring that TSH remains responsive to community communicable disease epidemiology, particularly during flu season. “This system gives us an indication of activity in the community so we can prepare and remain aware,” says Braithwaite.
The impact of the flu can be detrimental to those that run the greatest risk, specifically, very young children, people over the age of 65 and anyone with a medical condition such as chronic respiratory disease, heart or kidney disease, diabetes, or a depressed immune system. TSH has taken progressive steps to improve infection control practices by moving entire facilities within the hospital to create better ventilation, constructing negative pressure rooms to help stop the spread of disease and providing improved accommodation for these patients.
Among TSH’s many initiatives to maintain leading infection control practices, internal communications vehicles are key. This includes a dedicated question and answer section in the hospital’s quarterly newsletter.
“We strive to serve as an educational resource for the health-care community and we pride ourselves on our increasing ability to keep our staff informed, trained and well prepared,” says Braithwaite. For example, the TSH Infection Control Committee serves as a regular forum for discussion and monitoring of all infection related issues. Furthermore, TSH works with the Toronto Public Health Department to promote communication and collaboration regarding the safety and health of its patient population and the community.
The Scarborough Hospital Infection Prevention and Control department consists of health-care professionals with specialized training in infection prevention and control who are committed to the enhancement of their expertise and knowledge of infection control. As the unit continues to provide consultation, education and monitoring, staff and the community remain updated on new developments in prevention policies and procedures.
“Infection control is everyone’s responsibility. Regular hand washing is key to preventing the transfer of viruses and bacteria,” reminds Braithwaite.
The Scarborough Hospital (TSH), Canada’s largest urban community hospital, delivers innovative, high quality patient care, advocates for our community’s health and wellness issues, and is a leader in research, teaching and learning. TSH is a regional treatment centre for dialysis and is renowned for its sexual assault care centre and mental health programs. Affiliated with the University of Toronto, TSH is also a referral centre for vascular surgery, pacemakers and corneal implants. For more information on The Scarborough Hospital, please visit: www.tsh.to.