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Turning point: Critical care nurse becomes IP
'We can do better than this.'
With more than 25 years experience as a critical care nurse, Barbara Jordan, RN, MSN, CCRN, could read the bleak signs and symptoms of the patient before her like a map to a destination she had been before.
"She was that disaster ICU patient that I had taken care of all my career," she recalls.
This patient was her mother.
"She went in for a standard surgical procedure," Jordan says." She had some complications and contracted C. diff. She had MRSA — she got it all. She had the virulent form for C. diff, but unfortunately, it was not recognized right away. There was no litigation or anything like that. My father would not do that, but [the infections] certainly contributed to her death."
In the aftermath of loss, Jordan had a thought that drove her to make a difference in the health care system where she had long labored: "We can do better than this." She left her career as a critical care nursing manager to become an infection preventionist.
"I am a spiritual person," Jordan says. "When this happened, I thought, 'Was this a sign from God that I should be doing different with my life?' It was funny how everything fell into place when this [IP] position came open back in my hometown of Pittsburgh. I hadn't worked here since I graduated nursing school."
She landed the job, and today is clinical director of infection control and regulatory compliance at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMS) St. Margaret. Some three years into her new field, Jordan is another newbie who took a distinctly personal path to the profession. Though she still faces the standard — unending? — learning curve, she came into a strong team propelled by both her emotional fire and a wealth of nursing experience that had included some infection control work.
"I came into a role that was very well established by a person who retired," Jordan recalls. "I was a critical care manager most of my career in various parts of the country. I had seen it from the care provider's side and from management, but not so much from the epidemiological side. But I was always part of the infection control committee, because when you are the critical care manager, you get involved in everything."
Even with an extensive background in critical care nursing and management, Jordan confessed that she was not completely undaunted by the new tasks. Still, her management background served her well in relying on a team approach to problem solving. "I may not have all the infection control knowledge — and I'm not going to profess to have it," Jordan says. That's why I have [IP colleagues] — they are the experts. I am more the leadership and guidance. I try to remove any barriers and work with others. We have such a collaborative team environment at St. Margaret's."
Though Jordan didn't say as much, those last days with her mother may have had some impact on a key area of emphasis: bringing the patient into the infection prevention process. Ongoing efforts at the hospital include using The Joint Commission's Speak Up campaign, which encourages patients to ask caregivers if they have washed their hands or should wear gloves. There are similarly themed posters in patient rooms and a patient handbook that underscores a necessary "partnership" with their caregivers.
"We are partners," she emphasizes. "They can help us by holding us to our standards. We know the right thing to do — but we don't always do it. People are in a hurry; they don't wash their hands, and then infection spreads. It is so simple, yet it is so hard to get people to do it. It is an obligation to our patients to do the right thing."