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Infection Prevention is Key to a Healthy Hospital

CMH infection preventionists

With COVID precautions changing sometimes weekly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hospitals like VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital (VCU Health CMH) rely on infection preventionists (IPs) to keep employees abreast of current requirements. IPs monitor the facility, making rounds on the units to look for violations and educate staff so everyone knows what they need to do to keep patients and themselves safe. They work with regulatory agencies to report, track, investigate and prevent hospital infections. The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology produces the American Journal of Infection Control and credentials Certified Infection Control staff to make sure all hospitals are consistently following the same rules.


Infection Prevention at VCU Health CMH

Gayle Sutton, RN, BSN, CIC, of South Hill, has worked at VCU Health CMH for 28 years and will retire this summer. She leaves behind a legacy of programs and experience to impart to the two people who are replacing her. She was instrumental in the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI)’s “Five Million Lives” campaign to reduce MRSA (staph) infections through basic changes in IP processes throughout the hospital. She served as team leader for several of IHI’s Improving Organizational Performance groups including the reduction of urinary tract infections, C. diff (bacterium causing diarrhea), staph and IV infections. She is most proud of starting the Antibiotic Stewardship team in 2013, which recently earned Gold Status from the Virginia Antibiotic Stewardship Honor Roll Program. This means VCU Health CMH met specific criteria in the education and appropriate use of antibiotics. Typically, the more antibiotics a person is prescribed, the less effective they are in treating illness. This team established interventions to limit and track antibiotic use.

Gayle loves the teaching and education part of her job. She once held a fashion show for the various levels of personal protective equipment health care workers must wear in patient rooms to prevent the spread of infection. She also dressed as “Queen Influenza” and had a bee costume made to teach kids in local schools about IP.

Having been through preparations and education for the avian flu, Ebola and Zika, none of these compared to the level of impact she would have during the COVID-19 pandemic. Having been on call 24/7 for the past year, Gayle has earned retirement and will leave the hospital in good hands.

Sandra Agostinelli, RN, BSN, CCRN, of Meredithville has worked at VCU Health CMH for seven years in the Intensive Care Unit and as an ICU nurse for more than 15 years. This January, she transitioned to the infection prevention role for the hospital. It was the perfect time in her career to move from reactive, life-saving interventions to making a difference through prevention and education. Sandra’s interest in infection prevention was sparked many years ago while participating in NIH-sponsored research projects in Washington, D.C. 

She loves collaborating with others, developing plans, and solving problems on how to improve her community’s health. Sandra is passionate about health prevention and wants to be as much of a resource to the hospital as Gayle is.

Sandra’s advice for the community is, “Be mindful of how easily infection spreads through everyday objects like cash, mobile phones, etc.” She adds that, “As simple as it seems, washing your hands and sneezing into the bend of your arm are two of the simplest things you can do to help reduce the spread of infection.”

As did Gayle, Sandra sees every department and her responsibilities encompass the entire facility. While this may seem like a daunting task to some, she looks forward to the challenges that come with infection prevention which will probably prove to be just as challenging as her previous role in the ICU.


Infection Prevention at The Hundley Center

Melissa Jones, RN, BSN, of Lawrenceville is the newest member of the infection prevention team at VCU Health CMH and primarily focuses on The Hundley Center, the long-term care and skilled nursing facility on Buena Vista Circle in South Hill. She has 18 years of nursing experience including long-term care and long-term care management. She believes you can prevent almost everything with the right knowledge and has learned a lot during the pandemic.

“Everything we were taught changed with the pandemic,” Melissa said. “There’s no textbook to follow for COVID; you can do everything appropriately and still see infections. You just do the best you can to keep up with the changes the CDC posts to prevent the spread. Thankfully, we’re now seeing COVID infection rates slow due to people getting vaccinated, continuing to socially distance, using masks and washing their hands.”

Melissa enjoys working with the elderly – there’s always at least one jokester in the bunch that keeps her laughing. “I love helping folks; the elderly need someone to be there for them in the end stages of life,” she explained. “Some of my favorite memories in my career are of my older residents.”

One of the most important parts of Melissa’s job is to stay on top of infections that pop up and finding a system to monitor and reduce infections. The long term care infection prevention world goes deeper than a hospital does simply because their patients are there longer. There’s more in-depth tracing to investigate the causes and treat the infections appropriately.


The Future of Infection Prevention

“Melissa and Sandra have the expertise, fresh perspective and drive to do a great job here,” Gayle said. “And they’re not alone. We have an IP committee that meets quarterly and is made up of an interdisciplinary team to review and revise IP protocols. VCU Health CMH has low infection rates compared to the national average and we are very proud of that.”