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Cheri Fast, RN Project Manager, South Dakota Project Firstline

May 20, 2021 12:00PM ● By Med Magazine

Healthcare workers are the first line of defense against current and emerging infectious diseases and effective infection control measures is their best weapon. To help make sure South Dakota's medical providers are adequately armed, The South Dakota Foundation for Medical Care is partnering with the CDC and the SD Department of Health on Project Firstline to conduct a statewide survey of healthcare workers. The aim of the survey, which launched on April 1 with a goal of 2,000 respondents, is to identify gaps in infection control knowledge so that training can be developed to fill them. 

MED spoke with Project Manager Cheri Fast for more on the project and what it has revealed so far. 

MED: What is Project Firstline?

CF: Project First is a national training collaboration for infection prevention and control The commitment is to prepare frontline healthcare workers and the public health workforce to protect themselves, their patients, and the community from infectious diseases like COVID-19. One thing this pandemic has taught us is that we were not prepared. We have gaps in infection control and knowledge.

MED: What kind of response have you had so far? 

CF: About 1,400 people have responded to the online survey [as of May 6]. Many of them are nurses and they are from all different settings, including nursing homes, assisted living, dialysis centers, critical access hospitals, clinics, acute care settings and others. Preliminary results show that about 80 percent of respondents have had basic infection control training on hand hygiene, PPE, COVID, and environmental cleaning. But survey results also clearly show that they want more training and they want better training. The science keeps changing and they can't keep up. 

MED: Have there been any surprises?

The biggest surprise is that, while 75 percent of respondents say they understand the importance of these protocols, fewer than half say they feel comfortable explaining it to their patients or colleagues. I think it is really alarming that we can't even explain why we do infection control, or we are uncomfortable with it. The other interesting thing is that 80 percent of nurses say that they perform infection control duties, but 90 percent of them don't have any specialized infection control training. 

MED: Why is it important for providers to take this survey?

CF: Our patients depend on us to give them our best, every day, every shift, with every encounter. We might have infection control knowledge, but we have to be able to consistently to practice it. This survey will show us where the gaps are so that we can fill them. This is also South Dakota's opportunity to let our voice be heard at the CDC. That is critical.

MED: What happens after the survey?

CF: This is a 15-month project. The next phase will be focus groups, which we hope to start by July. The other thing is that we are forming a South Dakota chapter of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC). This will allow us to learn from each other. Anyone with an interest in being a part of the advisory group can contact me at [email protected].

MED: Was there anything else that stood out to you in the survey?

CF: Another interesting thing is that, even though hand hygiene is the number one way to transfer infection, no one wants more education on it. I think we are so busy in our practices taking care of people, that we sometimes overlook something this simple. But our influenza numbers are down so much and it is probably because we are hand sanitizing. We know that hand washing makes a difference, so we really need to hold each other accountable.

MED: Do you think this issue is bigger than COVID-19?

CF: This initiative came about because of COVID 19 but it is about so much more. The actions that we take every day can make a difference. This year's influenza numbers are a perfect example. We have made strides by staying home when we're sick and taking other infection control precautions. 

MED: What is next for you personally?

CF: In addition to my work with Project Firstline and setting up our APIC chapter, I am working on my CIC certification through the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology.There are not very many people with the CIC certification in South Dakota.

CLICK HERE to access the Project Firstline survey

CLICK HERE to learn more about the project and the South Dakota Foundation for Medical Care.