New Professional Development Opportunities for Local Health Department Staff in Infection Prevention and Control

By Christina Baum, Program Analyst, Infectious Disease, NACCHO and Sara Chang, Program Analyst, Infectious Disease, NACCHO
IIPW15_ButtonAd_web_SquareInternational Infection Prevention Week (IIPW), October 18-24, 2015, comes at an ideal time to highlight the importance of training and certification in addressing emerging infectious diseases, such as Ebola and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). Such professional development opportunities strengthen the ability of public health systems, facilities, and professionals to prepare for and respond to disease outbreaks. Now, local health department staff have increased opportunities for professional development thanks to updates to the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology, Inc.’s (CBIC®) Certification in Infection Prevention and Control (CIC®) exam.

Local health departments are on the frontlines of protecting their communities every day from infectious disease threats. They prevent the spread of infections in healthcare and other settings in many ways, including:

  • Identifying, notifying, tracking, and referring affected people to screening or treatment services;
  • Coordinating and exchanging information with the state health department, medical providers, hospitals, other healthcare facilities, and other stakeholders;
  • Conveying complex information in a clear and timely manner; and
  • Addressing concerns and questions from the community and media.

In a climate of ongoing budget cuts and increasing demands and expectations, maintaining and enhancing the capacity of local health departments and their workforce is vital to preventing healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) from occurring and spreading in communities. Training and professional development opportunities, such as those offered through CBIC®, are and will continue to be crucial in supporting local health departments to improve infection control and prepare for, investigate, and respond to outbreaks across the nation.

On July 1, 2015, CBIC® updated the eligibility requirements for taking the CIC® exam, broadening the previous emphasis on healthcare setting infection control to include other settings, such as local health departments. The new criteria enable professionals in other settings accountable for infection prevention and control to more easily justify certification and take advantage of this valuable resource. The exam is now open to individuals who meet the following qualifications: are accountable for the infection prevention and control activities/program in their settings and this is reflected in their current job descriptions; have a post-secondary degree (e.g., associates’ or baccalaureate degree) from an accredited academic facility; and have had sufficient experience in infection prevention and control that includes identification of infectious disease processes, surveillance and epidemiologic investigation, and preventing and controlling the transmission of infectious agents. For more information, please visit http://www.cbic.org/.

Training and professional development resources and opportunities such as those through CBIC® have been critical for local health departments’ work in strengthening infection prevention and control. NACCHO, through a five-year agreement with CDC, is providing technical assistance to demonstration projects in three local health departments that exemplify how supporting local expertise and building capacity can effectively prevent and reduce HAIs and strengthen infection prevention and control efforts.

DuPage County Health Department in Wheaton, IL engages long-term care facilities and acute care hospitals to better understand their needs and support the prevention of HAIs, particularly those resulting from multi-drug resistant organisms. Education in infection prevention and control enhances health department staff knowledge and expertise, better enabling them to assist healthcare partner agencies with identifying and addressing barriers with infection prevention and control, providing resources on topics like influenza and antibiotic resistance, and collaborating more effectively to prevent HAIs.

The Florida Department of Health in Orange County in Orlando, FL supports their epidemiologists in obtaining training and certification in infection prevention and control. As Florida requires any disease outbreak, including those that are healthcare-associated, be reported and investigated, having epidemiologists that are trained in infection prevention and control is essential to enable them to respond effectively and communicate and coordinate with infection control partners.

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s role in investigating HAI outbreaks has steadily increased since 2012, when reports of carbepenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae clusters in local long-term care facilities demanded the health department’s attention and assistance. Conducting outbreak investigations and providing assistance and expertise for local healthcare facilities requires a workforce that is knowledgeable in infection prevention, disinfection, and environmental cleaning, which is why they support their staff through infection prevention training and certification.

“Prior to receiving infection control training and my CIC®, HAI investigations were challenging because we lacked the confidence and understanding of what was significant in the healthcare setting,” said Jennifer Gutowski, Surveillance Coordinator with the Acute Communicable Disease Program at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. “We now feel that we are much more of a resource to the healthcare community in Philadelphia and have engaged in infection control assessments and education to a greater degree.”

For more information about CBIC® educational opportunities, please visit http://www.cbic.org/. For IIPW resources, visit http://professionals.site.apic.org/.

About Sara Chang

Sara Chang is a senior program analyst for NACCHO’s Infectious Disease team. She works with local health departments on such topics as emerging infectious diseases, infectious disease prevention and control, and healthcare-associated infections. Twitter: @changsara

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