Department Spotlight: Infection Prevention

By: Alana Ridge

January 31, 2023

A team of infection preventionists pose outside in a garden for a group photo.

Hygiene in healthcare is an essential backbone to providing the safest, most optimal care to every patient. From everyday handwashing techniques and getting all necessary vaccinations to surveilling our health system before the onset of outbreaks, at Renown Health, creating and maintaining a low-infection environment is a group effort.

From ensuring fundamental infection prevention practices are carried out to identifying process improvement opportunities, Renown’s Infection Prevention (IP) department is here to help care teams be successful in their role. This effort is led by members who are devoted in sharing evidence-based best practices to our patients, employees, healthcare organization partners and community.

Making “Zero” A Reality

Reducing healthcare-associated infections is possible when core infection prevention practices are incorporated into the daily care of our patients. These team members are dedicated to Renown’s commitment to creating a culture of Excellence, caring for our healthcare environment, and our care teams.

“Often times, when asked what we do in our work it can be a challenge to answer because unpredictability is built into almost every day; and in that, we as a team must divide and conquer,” said Susanne James, Manager of Infection Prevention.

Every day, each team member is assigned a day to perform required surveillance activities. Whether they are reviewing patients’ infections and isolation and evaluating lab orders for possible infectious processes or reporting communicable diseases to the local health authorities and the CDC, every Infection Preventionist participates in improvement projects and address issues as they arise.

The Infection Prevention team plans, organizes, manages and evaluates the Infection Prevention Program and ensures IP policies reflect current best practice. They work closely with all departments at Renown in order to achieve high levels of standards that are implemented to reduce transmission of infection.

“As a team, we perform ‘Infection Prevention Environment of Care Rounding’ on all units and departments to ensure our environment complies with regulatory requirements,” said Erika Clark, Operations Analyst at Renown Health. "We work together with Facilities and Site Practice Leaders to ensure a safe environment.”

The pandemic challenged all Renown teams to find creative solutions for issues no one ever imagined. Our Infection Prevention department worked tirelessly alongside Renown's Hospital Incident Command Structure (HICS) and care teams in creating several lines of defense against COVID-19, including:

  • Launching Renown's Alternate Care Site to meet the need for critical patients.
  • Bringing on the new lab tests and specimen collection criteria.
  • Managing demand for personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Bringing vaccines to staff and then to the community.
  • Managing ill employees and our visitors.
  • Keeping all locations informed on pandemic status and changes (which were occurring at breakneck speed).

These initiatives enabled Renown's care teams to focus on providing the safest care possible to patients saving countless lives. This solidified the fact that together, the team can accomplish anything.

“Infection Prevention is proud to be a valued and respected member of the care team,” said Susanne James. “We appreciate being a trusted resource and take this responsibility seriously as this enables us to provide staff the best possible tools to be successful.”

Fight the Good Fight Against the Spread of Disease

Educating patients and providers plays a huge part on the Infection Prevention stage. This team provides educational materials on a range of topics, some of the most important are, proper hand hygiene and the use of PPE. All these materials can be found throughout our health system and serve as an important reminder – infection prevention starts with all of us.

“We partner with every aspect of the health system – environmental services, nutrition services, lab services, facilities, pharmacy, physical therapy and occupational therapy, respiratory care, patient access, security, nurses, providers and quality...just to name a few!” said Susanne James.

Our Infection Prevention team also partners with Washoe County Health District and other public health agencies to report – and in turn, stop the spread of – diseases and exposures. These close partnerships poise our team to do what we do best: Fight the Good Fight.

“I greatly appreciate everyone in the IP department for sharing their expertise as I learned a new position,” said Erika Clark. “I love working with my team and how closely we work with other departments to ensure excellence in all we do.”

Our health system is ever-changing. But according to the experts in our Infection Prevention department, the three main ways to prevent illness and disease that remain the same time and time again are to:

  • Clean your hands. Hand hygiene is the most effective way of preventing the spread of infections. The CDC recommends washing your hands with warm soap and water for 15-20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Clean your hands often and assist our patients to do the same. Learn expert hand-washing advice here.
  • Get vaccinated. Immunizations are one of the top methods you can embrace the fight against preventable diseases, such as COVID-19, flu, measles, tetanus and more. Discover how you can get vaccinated with Renown.
  • Keep germs from spreading. Practice good hygiene by covering your cough or sneeze or wearing a mask and sanitizing frequently touched spaces. Stay home if you feel ill to prevent the spread of illness and infection. Be sure to bring up any illness concerns with your primary care provider.

“Every aspect of our health system has an infection prevention component, and we work daily to ensure our staff, patients and visitors are providing and receiving care free from potential harm or infections,” said Susanne James. “We are often the first call staff make when they have questions, concerns or just need someone to help improve process or outcomes.”

Reveling with Renown

Proudly defining themselves as a “small but mighty” team, the six-person Infection Prevention department moves mountains to ensure the safety of anyone who walks through Renown’s doors. The tight-knit nature of this team can be felt from miles away, and to them, being “small but mighty” is not a hindrance, as they have the support of the IP Champions and the entire health system.  

“I originally came to Renown in 2018 as a nurse traveler, the facility and people I worked with immediately made an impact on me,” said Brian Stroud, Infection Preventionist at Renown Health. “My wife and I chose Renown and Reno due to the positive impact the people had on us. Everyone is welcoming, helpful and caring. Now, I am a full-time employee, and the team has made my transition into infection prevention trouble-free."

Renown’s mission of providing a genuine difference for the health and wellbeing of the community is heightened and echoed by the Infection Prevention team.

“I chose Renown because of the reputation Renown has earned in the community because of the excellent care and level of services provided,” said Shannon Oriola, Infection Preventionist at Renown Health. “I absolutely love this team and my Renown family!”

“What brought me to Renown was the opportunity to acquire diverse skills which then motivated me to pursue my master’s degree,” added Paul DeLeon, Infection Preventionist at Renown Health. “What keeps me here is the people – Renown attracts hard working, ethical and caring people.”

"My wife and I loved coming out to the Nevada mountains on vacations," added Russ Laarman, Infection Preventionist at Renown Health. "After being in Michigan for 47 years, we took the plunge and made NV our home. The experience has been great! I work with a great team that is very knowledgeable and works hard to ensure positive outcomes for our patients and colleagues at Renown.”

Their pride shines through with their own individual accolades, both inside and outside of work. This past year:

  • Shannon Oriola received a scholarship from the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) for “improving outcomes through knowledge and practice,” which provided her with a $1,000 scholarship to attend the annual APIC conference in Indianapolis.
  • Paul DeLeon earned his Certification in Infection Control and Prevention from APIC.
  • Erika Clark completed Renown’s High Potential program, a six-month program that gives employees hands-on learning experience with several competencies, including emotional intelligence, effective communication, building successful relationships and organizational knowledge.
  • Brian Stroud and his wife Charla became official Nevada residents.
  • Russ Laarman scaled Mount Whitney.

...And the list keeps growing!

Charged with the goal of keeping disease spread at bay, our Infection Prevention team remains vigilant and dedicated to their mission. Their commitment to Renown and to keeping our health system clean and healthy proves the age-old saying true: not all heroes wear capes.

“I’m so very proud of the work Infection Prevention does every day, working with the vast teams throughout the health system to improve lives,” said Susanne James. “We would like to thank all of you for protecting the health and safety of your colleagues, our patients and the community.”

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For information regarding vaccinations, including flu shots, how to make an appointment, and more, please explore the available options at Renown Health.
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