There’s no fun in H1N1

Who can resist the opportunity to learn more about infection prevention and control and flu prevention when it means participating in the chocolate pudding challenge, playing infection control BINGO or Pin the Tail on the Donkey – infection control style?

The high priority status of infection prevention and control comes from the top at The Credit Valley Hospital. Michelle DiEmanuele assumed the president and CEO position at Credit Valley in August 2008. Almost immediately, she proclaimed infection prevention and control as a priority for the organization for our work not only on pandemic flu planning but in everything we do every day for our patients, our community, our staff and physicians.

This year’s Infection Prevention and Control Awareness Week activities at Credit Valley dubbed ‘The Power of One – Your Role in Infection Control’ had a higher profile and a greater level of interest than in recent years. The week-long offering of information and activities drew an extraordinary level of participation by staff not only because of the current second wave of H1N1 but also because the invitation to get more information was an irresistible one – it was fun!

In order to reach audiences with important information in a way that would resonate, it had to be interactive and personal and maybe even fun. “We decided to take a light-hearted approach to a serious matter because there is so much information in the media and in the community – we need to get the best information to our staff so that they can practice it and feel confident in the measures we are taking to protect them, their patients, their families and the community,” says Marianita Lampitoc, manager, infection prevention and control department.

The week’s activities featured visual and interactive events such as the chocolate pudding challenge whereby staff members don and doff the appropriate personal protective equipment required for contact with a patient on additional precautions. The presence of chocolate pudding on the health-care provider’s gloved hands ensures there is absolutely no undetected contact between the soiled/infected hands and any other area since the pudding is less forgiving of an infraction than invisible germs and transfer of infection might be. The exercise demonstrates the importance of proper technique in order to avoid unintentional exposure, cross-contamination and potential infection.

Staff had multiple opportunities to benefit from information about H1N1 through morale-building, fun events available at accessible times and offered in common areas to involve as many employees as possible. The Pin the Tail on the Donkey – Infection Control Style was by far the most entertaining event whereby staff were challenged with the task of applying personal protective equipment to a life-size cardboard replica of the hospital’s engineering team leader while blindfolded. The challenge was offered in the middle of the dining room over the lunch hour. The exercise was an educational and entertaining demonstration that both enlightened and entertained participants and spectators alike.

This approach is one that has proven effective at Credit Valley. Digital signage screens located throughout the hospital feature a public service announcement that provides instruction on proper cough and sneeze etiquette. The actors demonstrate their very dramatic technique which is then graded by an Olympic-style results judging panel. The accompanying scenarios have a comedic bent as well. The penetration of the message using this approach proved that in an age of information overload, a unique, even light-hearted approach to a very serious matter is one that is well-received. Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a staff member at Credit Valley who isn’t aware of proper cough and sneeze etiquette as a result of the vignettes aired on the strategically placed monitors, including the ones located in the hospital’s main lobby and outside the popular coffee shop. As well, our infection prevention and control officer, Dr. Alicia Sarabia illustrates proper hand hygiene, while urging viewers to clean their hands frequently and she and our CEO urge staff, patients and visitors to get the H1N1 and seasonal flu shots.

Despite the barrage of information and statistics available through the headlines, the burden to educate health-care providers and communities does not belong to the media. It is the responsibility of public health departments to disseminate reliable information – the same work is reflected in hospitals.

The use of humour and games is a unique way to keep the message at the forefront for our health-care providers, our patients, their visitors and the community at large. While there is nothing fun or light about the pandemic flu and the challenges ahead, the key is to engage and educate and so far, it’s working!