Ambulatory Surgical Centers: Preparing for the Next Day or the Next Pandemic

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Ambulatory surgical centers (ASC) were a main topic at the AORN 2023 Conference, and Erica Smith, MBA, PhD candidate, tells ICT about her presentation on the importance of infection control and prevention in the ASC.

Ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) are continuing to grow, and more surgeries are being performed there. However, infection prevention is still a top issue to keep patients safe, every day and in preparing for the next pandemic, Erica Smith, MBA, PhD candidate in public health, Surgical Solutions Market Developer at Henry Schein Medical, during her presentation at the Association of PeriOperative Nurses (AORN) 2023 Conference in San Antonio held from April 1-4, 2023.

“I know most people see the importance because infection prevention is starting to be one of the top issues or topics at events like [the AORN conference].” She said in an exclusive interview with Infection Control Today® (ICT®). “But I don't want them to feel overwhelmed. I hope they took from my presentation that it needs to be done. But that it can easily be done. It's just a matter of making sure everyone is in [adherence to infection control best practices]. If we have to constantly remind [them], but making sure that we are washing our hands for at least 15 to 20 seconds—not 10 seconds thinking it's okay, making sure we are using our surfaces effectively with the correct contact time or making sure our autoclaves are being tested weekly and tested (or on preferably on a daily basis, not just weekly).”

Smith admits that following every infection control guideline can seem overwhelming on top of the other requirements in caring for patients. Still, the guidelines are there to protect the patients and the staff, whether it is the average day or in the middle of a pandemic. “It may seem like a lot. But with the proper risk assessments done with the proper exposure manual and operating manual, we can easily accomplish these [objectives]. Even if we are short-staffed, even if there is high turnover, we still have the basics in place to continue to have proper infection prevention.”

One major reason the infection control requirements are overlooked is health care worker burnout, which comes from staff shortages and how it affects patient care. “As I mentioned in the presentation, I asked if they have an infection preventionist in their ASC, and I said it's not uncommon for the person to say no because they say, ‘I barely have staff to do regular staffing.’”

Smith says she sees staff shortages all the time in her work. “There have been plenty of times I go into a surgery center, with work, and in the field to check in on [clients], trying to talk to the, let's say, the office administrator at the time, and many times they say, ‘Oh, she is staffing, [but] she's helping in sterile processing, or the [operating room] because we're short staffed. ‘And so burnout in that turnover right now is probably going to be the hardest challenge.”

Whether the shortage and turnover rates will ease in the next few years is still unknown. In fact, Smith says, “It may get a little worse because [COVID-19] really took a toll on everyone. But I'm hoping—reaching out to the future—to see how many more people we can get into the health care industry. I hope that within the next decade, I don't see that burnout as much as we are right now.”

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