It’s 5 pm on a Friday. Five residents are presenting with diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. The director of nursing (DON) has already left for the weekend. The facility’s infection preventionist’s last day was Wednesday and no one has been hired yet. The DON tells the staff to call the medical director who orders stool cultures for Clostridiodies difficile, and foodborne illness.

By 7 pm, 10 residents have the same symptoms.

The staff report back to the DON. The DON is not sure what to do but knows that the facility’s former IP is still in town. She calls her. The former IP says that it might be norovirus and that the state Department of Health’s (DOH) after-hours number should be called. The number is in the infection control manual for reportable diseases. The IP also says there is a policy for norovirus, but no one knows where to find it.

This is an example, based on real events, of an infection prevention and control (IPC) program that has not outlived a person. Staff did not know what to do and the DON did not know she should call the DOH. Nobody knows what report forms are required to report the outbreak to the DOH and they don’t know the phone number of the DOH epidemiology branch to report the outbreak. This facility’s IP practices were dependent on a single person, not facility practice.

A strong, well-run IPC program costs more time than money. An initial investment toward training a facility’s IP and instituting a well-developed program is well worth the money and will save funds in the long run (which also means saving lives) for long-term care facilities (LTCFs). The right approach means not having to break the bank to install an effective IPC program.

How can this be done? Does a LTCF need a full-time certified IP on staff? No. What it needs is a well-developed program that belongs to the facility and not to a person. People come and go. There is no reason to redevelop your IPC program every time a person leaves the facility. Building a strong infrastructure is the key to a good long-standing program.