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Past APIC prez sees field under transformation
'. . . Infections kill people that we love.'
Having been in infection prevention in one capacity or another since 1981, Denise Murphy, RN, MPH, CIC has seen the field affected by everything from the AIDS epidemic, the rise of drug-resistant pathogens, and the increasing influence of consumer advocates and lawmakers. She has seen it all and seen enough.
The aforementioned trends can be expected to continue and intensify, but ultimately it is something intangible that is causing the final tipping point toward transformation: A societal "loss of trust" in health care.
"Administrators are looking at this now as a multifactorial problem that hits us in our heart — our mission to take care of patients," Murphy says. "It is hitting our bottom line, tying up our beds, and limiting our ability to grow. I have been one of the pioneers of making the business case and publishing the financial impact of HAIs, but the most important bottom line is that infections kill people that we love."
More top health care administrators such as Murphy are becoming directly involved in infection prevention, though few carry the portfolio of experience in the field that she does. Having sat for the first certification exam in 1983, she has kept her IP roots while building an extensive background in health care administration in the quality arena. We recently caught up with Murphy at her new job as vice president for quality at the Main Line Health System in Bryn Mawr, PA. The idea of the IP executive has become a reality with Murphy, and she is actively helping others follow a like path through leadership training at the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC).
"I'm very interested in mentoring infection preventionists into higher levels of leadership roles, but at the same time protecting the specialty, the content expertise that they have," she says.
"We are seeing a real transformation," Murphy adds. "Because of the consumer movement and because of all the attention that legislators and the media have given infection prevention, people that run hospitals at the highest levels are reading week in and week out about the horrible deaths and impact of things like MRSA."
One result is that infection prevention is moving from the purview of a single department to something "hard-wired" throughout the health care system, she says.
"[Administrators] are not just looking at the resources that are needed in the specialty programs of infection prevention, but they are saying to risk managers, quality managers, and directors, 'What are you doing to help with this? Do we have everybody working on this?'" Murphy says. "I am seeing every hospital in this region making infection prevention one of the strategic priorities that everyone is incented on."
IPs are at the table, and with that new power comes a corresponding responsibility. "Infection preventionists are being called in front of hospital boards and asked to report what they are doing to protect our community," Murphy says.
Characteristically, she recommends seizing the moment. "[Tell them, for example], "Here's what we are doing in the hospital to find MRSA as it comes in the hospital in order to take care of it so we can protect people,'" she says.
The critical role of prevention cannot be lost in endless data collection, something that threatens the field as more and more infection rate disclosure laws are passed, she adds.
"We have got to supply the technology and the right level of resources to deal with the reporting, then put the infection preventionists on the front lines," Murphy emphasizes. "You can't stick these talented IPs at a computer and have them do nothing but reporting and expect infection rates to go down. In fact, infection rates will go up because the reporting is better."