CEO Blog

October 18, 2021

Guest Blog: What does an IPAC professional do?

By Colette Ouellet

person washing their hands

In recognition of IPAC Week, HealthPRO invited Colette Ouellet, Director of Infection Prevention and Control at Queensway Carleton Hospital, and President-Elect of IPAC Canada, to share insights about her role and the various responsibilities and contributions Infection Control Professionals make in hospitals across Canada.

Colette Ouelette
As life begins to return to some semblance of normalcy in our COVID-19 experience, I am preparing, for the first time in two years, to go to a hockey game with my husband and his work colleagues. We’ll have an opportunity to see and talk to people in person that he has worked with only from a distance for over 18 months. Some I will be meeting for the first time, so I’m preparing. I’m preparing for the inevitable “Tell me, what do you do?” question. 

A Day in the Life

What do I do? I’m an Infection Control Professional. My job is to monitor hospital healthcare services to ensure they are safely delivered to avoid the transmission of microorganisms. I review microbiology reports and admission lists, looking for clues or organisms of concern that require additional precautions. In addition, I counsel staff, physicians, volunteers, and visitors in the effective use of personal protective equipment to act as a barrier between the person and the virus or bacteria and audit their practices. Infection Control Professionals also guide patient placement to safely impact bed flow decisions. 

Admitting a patient into hospital has a huge infection control component as we try to determine who might be infected with or incubating a communicable disease, and how we can mitigate that risk within our Canadian healthcare reality of multi-bedded rooms and barely adequate staffing complements. 

The importance of Colette’s IPAC role is echoed by HealthPRO’s own resident IPAC specialist, Katherine Ives in a recent interview.

“Infection prevention control is the core element of patient and staff safety, working to prevent unnecessary infection illnesses in hospitals and long-term care facilities,” noted Katherine. “Their work reduces patient isolation time spent in hospital, use of antibiotics, and the cost of care.”

I preach at the altar of Hand Hygiene and make sure that others are as familiar with the four moments of Hand Hygiene as I am; they include:

  1. Before contact with the patient or their environment
  2. Before an aseptic procedure
  3. After potential contact with blood or body fluids
  4. After patient environment contact

Facilities Management

Construction may not come to mind when you think of infection control, but when there is construction or renovation taking place in the hospital, I work with a multi-disciplinary team to make sure that vulnerable people aren’t exposed to potentially deadly situations. This means responding to floods, leaks, and high humidity and asking questions constantly to be assured that our HVAC and water systems are optimally monitored with all current recommendations in place for prevention from exposure to legionella and aspergillus species. 

Best Practices  

It’s essential to read and interpret best practices, guidelines, directives, and scientific articles from Ontario and across the country, as well as internationally to ensure that I’m giving the most up to date intelligence to my “customers.” I work closely with my colleagues in other hospitals and across the regional healthcare spectrum to try to maintain consistency and to share ideas, questions, thoughts, and practices. I develop policies and tools to be used in my hospital to assist all those concerned with remembering what they need to do and how to do it and share those liberally with other hospitals if they ask. Why reinvent the wheel, right?

My role also involves sitting on various committees to offer input on decisions about patient care or healthcare worker conditions; to review products and practices for cleaning and disinfecting our equipment and environment; to share tips and tidbits from the most recent guidance, and to ensure that Infection Prevention and Control stays front of mind in the conflicting priorities of day-to-day hospital life and work.

Being an IPAC professional, our jobs involve in-depth knowledge of things I never expected to understand (including the reading of blueprints and the chemical composition of disinfectant products). While that knowledge does not touch patients directly, it has profound impacts on their health and keeps them safe. 

What do I do? Well, when it comes to IPAC, the simple answer is, how much time do you have?