Veterans need to know their VA hospital is free from contamination and disease. Here’s what a special team at a Vermont medical center is doing to keep you safe.

At every VA hospital and medical center in the nation are those with the title of infection preventionist. These professionals, hidden from the spotlight, often work around the clock.

In the photo above, infection preventionists collaborate with Facility Management Service personnel to install proper barriers for the negative pressure treatment areas.

John (JP) Flanigin, Joanne Lafreniere and LeeAnne Heeremans do not wear capes, but are a super team at the White River Junction VA Healthcare System. Full-time registered nurses, they have a combined 64 years experience.

Case manager Bridgette Mignogna joins the team during these unprecedented times to help battle COVID-19.

Infection preventionists LeeAnne Heeremans and JP Flanigin show a VA nurse how to properly don personal protective equipment.

Veteran patients protected from the spread of disease

Behind every infectious process is an infection preventionist team. These people consult clinicians at their facility and infection preventionists at other facilities. Also, they consult with expert organizations to ensure the appropriate steps are taken to prevent and control transmission of disease. These expert organizations include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

They are active members on hospital committees ranging from high sterility compounding in pharmacies to air handling and water qualities. Also, they advise on bloodborne pathogen exposures and guide staff regarding personal protective equipment.

“We work collaboratively across the healthcare system, not just on policies” Flanigin explains.

An example of this was facilitating a course on Infection Control Risk Assessment to the facilities management service to ensure they have a better understanding of how they, too, can be an asset in reducing contamination across campus.

This has been a tremendous help when working with contractors and construction projects on campus. The infection prevention team sets standards prior to initiating a job. It also inspects to ensure the standards are followed, and adjust them, if suitable.

Standing up infection command center

As early as February, infection preventionists approached the White River Junction VA leadership team. They felt it was important to stand up the hospital command center, knowing the spread of COVID-19 would eventually make its way to Vermont.

They received full support and the collaboration across all services began immediately. Every decision pivoted on the input and knowledge base of the infection preventionists.

The White River Junction VA Healthcare System community is grateful for these hidden heroes of the COVID-19 response efforts. The training, consultations and flexibility they offer have been instrumental in the day-to-day operations of the medical center, even prior to the pandemic.

Infection preventionists save lives every day, even if you do not see them at the bedside. Oh, and WASH YOUR HANDS!

Katherine Tang is a public affairs officer at White River Junction, Vermont.

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