Nursing home “infection control champions” are on the frontline of the aged care sector’s response to COVID-19.
Registered nurse Ai Tahara works for a major aged care provider that has experienced COVID-19 outbreaks at some facilities.
Ai’s own inner-Sydney workplace has escaped infection so far.
Her employer introduced infection control champions last year, before the pandemic struck.
Ai describes them as “key resources in the outbreak management team. They conduct regular rounds to check that correct infection control procedures are being followed.”
Ai was appointed as an infection control champion three months ago and is about to start online infection control training for COVID-19.
Training for non-COVID infectious diseases – gastro, scabies, pneumonia and urinary tract infections, for example – is limited to reading a manual.
Ai hopes her training will lead to improved observance of infection protocols.
“Infection control knowledge among staff, especially AiNs, is quite minimal,” she says.
The aged care royal commission has recommended the federal government deploy accredited infection prevention and control experts into nursing homes to provide training, assist with the preparation of outbreak management plans and assist with outbreaks.
It also recommended that all nursing homes have one or more trained infection control officers as a condition of accreditation.
Ai believes all staff need some infection control training.
“I don’t think education should only be for infection control champions. Providers know that education is vital, so why not extend it to all staff in some form?”
According to researchers Philip Russo (Monash University) and Ramon Zenel Shaban (University of Sydney), nursing home infection control officers should have access to expert resources and be capable of implementing infection prev-ention programs.
“Employers would be required to support these nurses to take the infection prevention ‘champion’ role, and under the close supervision and guidance of the accredited experts, they could prepare plans for outbreaks like COVID-19,” Professors Russo and Shaban wrote recently.
“These plans would include ongoing education around the use of PPE, procedures regarding how to manage residents who become infected, and trigger points for escalating responses.”
They said a recent survey of aged care facilities found more than half reported a lack of staff with specialised qualifications and experience in infection prevention and control.
Ai says the heavy workload borne by aged care staff is a major barrier to improving infection control.
“Our aged care minister said numbers are not the only issue with aged care, but he should know that staff increases are essential.
“Even without COVID, when you look into an incident at a nursing home, such as a fall, it often happens because of understaffing – no one is available to attend to the resident.”
Ai welcomes the call by counsel assisting the royal commission for nursing homes to be required by law to deliver minimum adequate care standards.
Counsel assisting urged the commissioners to recommend minimum staffing standards would result in average staff increases of 20 per cent from 1 July 2022 and 37.2 per cent from 1 July 2024.