This is part of a series of stories profiling members of the Niagara Health team and the work they are doing as part of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meet Marianita Lampitoc, Manager of our Infection Prevention and Control team.
As a seasoned healthcare leader and front-line IPAC practitioner for more than 17 years, Marianita Lampitoc’s knowledge of infectious diseases of global significance has been tried and tested during SARS, H1N1, MERS-CoV, Ebola and now COVID-19 pandemic.
Marianita, who joined Niagara Health three years ago as our Manager of Infection Prevention and Control, leads the team of infection control experts. Her team’s focus every day is preventing healthcare-associated infections through ongoing vigilance with the highest standards of infection prevention and control. This work includes robust surveillance, analysis and reporting, providing education, and ongoing collaboration with patients, staff, physicians and partners on various initiatives.
Describe your role during the pandemic?
My role as the system lead for all IPAC programs is unchanged under normal times or during a pandemic. That principle is to reduce the risk of transmission or incidence of infection. I am responsible for planning, assessing, implementing and providing leadership on effective infection prevention and quality control programs across Niagara Health. I work with our IPAC practitioners, IPAC physicians and Infectious Diseases team, provide subject-matter expertise and guidance to our senior team, clinical leadership, clinical support services staff and physicians in matters related to COVID-19 precaution and cohorting requirements. My responsibilities also include creating solutions to processes and workflow challenges and evaluating personal protective equipment (PPE), ensuring proper use and conservation strategies. I collaborate with regional, provincial and federal healthcare partners to make sure all practices and procedures related to COVID-19 are rooted in evidence-based infection control principles. My role also requires management of all outbreaks and epidemiologic events at NH, in collaboration with other experts. This is important so the hospital remains a safe environment at all times and especially over the course of the pandemic.
Why are PPE conservation strategies so important?
Niagara Health is doing everything possible to keep our staff and physicians safe. The global shortage of PPE has added a new layer of focus and concern to make sure our team is safe. As our work to secure additional PPE continues, for me it is so critical that we practice conservation and responsible stewardship of the PPE we have. My role is to ensure our staff are wearing the appropriate PPE when needed and to develop recommendations that will help extend the life of PPE. For example, there is growing evidence regarding various methods of extending the use of certain PPE, limited re-use, cleaning, disinfection and reprocessing of certain PPE, including face shields, N95 masks and surgical masks.
How does COVID-19 differ from other respiratory illnesses?
For me, it’s how highly contagious COVID-19 is and how quickly it can spread, compared with other viruses. Despite the information that is known and available out there, the reality is that there are still many things we do not know. This is why we must be vigilant and maintain best practices in infection control to keep our patients, staff and physicians safe and protected.
What triggers a COVID-19 outbreak on a unit?
An outbreak of COVID-19 is declared in conjunction with Niagara Region Public Health. At Niagara Health, an outbreak is defined based on one healthcare-associated case of COVID-19 identified in a patient or staff member. Prior to declaring an outbreak, events leading to potential transmission or strong link to another case are carefully reviewed by members of the outbreak team.
What do you and your team do to manage an outbreak?
Our team works with our clinical and support staff, Occupational Health and Safety team and Niagara Region Public Health to monitor outbreaks closely and we adjust safety measures as required to respond to the outbreak. Some of the enhanced safety measures we put in place may include temporarily closing the unit in question to new admissions and transfers, placing all patients on precautions, use of appropriate PPE and following up with patients, staff and physicians who may have had direct contact with the person who tested positive as a precaution – known as contact tracing.
How does contact tracing work?
Contact tracing allows us to identify and monitor individuals who may have had potential exposure to someone who is infected with COVID-19. Our IPAC team conducts contact tracing for patients who are currently in hospital, and our Occupational Health and Safety team follows healthcare workers who may have been exposed. The process involves determining where the infected patient was in the hospital and what procedures they received within a given timeframe. This helps identify who the patient may have come in contact with. Patients we determine have been exposed are placed on droplet/contact precautions, monitored for symptoms over a 14-day period and tested for the virus, if appropriate. When we identify staff who came in contact with the infected patient or another staff member, based on the level of exposure and symptoms, our Occupational Health and Safety team will provide recommendations. That may include self-isolating, monitoring for symptoms and testing, if appropriate. Niagara Heath provides information to Niagara Region Public Health on patients who have been discharged for appropriate follow up and monitoring.
How has the pandemic impacted you personally? What are your days like?
For the past several months, the IPAC team has been working around the clock at an unprecedented rapid and continuous pace. The increased demand for IPAC expertise and support has posed additional challenges to the program. As the situation evolves in managing COVID-19, personally, it’s been really hard to strike a balance between work and family life. However, I always believe that we are healthcare workers for a reason. The strong commitment to serve and protect is alive in all of us. In a pandemic, for IPAC professionals, this is what we’ve been trained to do. It’s an opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills to help those who are in need.
Describe the work of your IPAC team during the pandemic?
Not a single moment passes by that my team and I don’t do our work without thinking, “What is the best way to protect our patients and staff?” Every step is something that we critically evaluate to ensure that we provide the most appropriate yet reasonable and evidence-based recommendations. I’m proud of how our team and all staff and physicians are stepping up in what is a challenging time for everyone. I’m honoured to be part of such a caring, dedicated and committed team of healthcare professionals.
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