‘Cover your mouth when you cough. Sneeze into your elbow. Wash your hands for at least 2 minutes.’
We’ve all heard these sayings thousands of times, but Anitra Scott has said them thousands of times this year alone.
As the Infection Control Preventionist for two skilled nursing facilities, Scott has been incredibly busy since the beginning on the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There’s a lot of people. In just our two nursing facilities I'm tracking over 300 people. Making sure that quarantines, isolations, and testing are all done correctly. Making sure that we accurately track every COVID-19 case, every possible infection of any kind, and Flu season is coming up too.”
Scott spends most of her workdays walking the halls of her facilities, talking with staff and residents before firing up her laptop to look over any new regulations that may have been announced by the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) or the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
Though Scott is technically in charge of infection control and prevention, she says it is truly a team effort to keep our communities safe. Nurses and other staffing members have specific masking requirements based on vaccination status, COVID-19 tracking status of the county, and outbreak status of the facility. Residents are also asked to help slow infections, either by wearing a mask or minimizing the number of surfaces/objects they touch.
“I almost feel like a mom,” Scott said. “Having to constantly remind people to put their masks over their nose, not to cough into their hand, or even to go wash their hands after they do cough or sneeze in them. Asking people to follow certain residents around to clean after them because they have to rest their hand on the wall while walking or something like that.”
Scott became an infection preventionist for Voyage Long Term Care after working for the state of Oklahoma as a surveyor. Since joining the team in 2021, Scott has helped both Oak Hills Care Center and Edmond Health Care Center navigate the constantly changing regulations.
“State surveyors have a great understanding of our regulatory requirements in long term care,” Chief Operations Officer Kip McElwee said. “And they are able to help bridge the gap with employees to ensure our communities do our best every day to meet those expectations.”
Scott considers herself lucky having gained the necessary training and education to become a preventionist through her time with the Oklahoma State Department of Health. Training and education which Scott has taken and distributed to our communities.
“Education is a huge part of the job.” Scott explained. “I didn’t expect there to be as much teaching as there is. I’m teaching staff members about super-immunity, residents about how different diseases travel and can be stopped. It’s a never-ending teaching opportunity that I’m glad to take on.”
All the reminders to properly wear masks or wash hands aren’t always met with smiling faces and compliance, however.
“There has been some push back,” Scott said. “Even now, two, almost three years into the pandemic, people don’t want to wear masks or don’t want to get vaccinated, which is completely their choice, but then they don’t want to comply with testing requirements.”
Starting in 2019 the CDC began to require an infection preventionist to be employed full time at a nursing facility. This has caused a small disparage in those who have the required training course to fill the positions.
“It wasn’t a popular job before the pandemic,” Scott said, laughing a little. “So, when it became necessary there just weren’t enough people for every facility.”
COVID-19 had a huge effect on senior communities and nursing homes as most, if not all, residents in facilities are immunocompromised, however Scott says the role hasn’t changed much since the beginning of the pandemic.
“It’s a lot more paperwork.” Scott explained. “With how quickly everything was moving, especially in the first year of the pandemic before the vaccine was widely available, many nursing homes went into effectively a complete lock down. Now that we’ve had a bit more time to figure out what all is going on, and a lot more time to get comfortable going out again, its mainly tracking paperwork. Tracking the various kinds of vaccines, the number of shots needed, masking differences when the home is outbreak versus the county being in outbreak.”
Scott says despite some of the stress and hardship of the job, she wouldn’t give it up.
“I love educating, I didn’t know that about myself before this job.” Scott said. “And to the future generation of infection preventionists all I have to say is study, study, study. You have to know so much, and I promise you, 95% of what you’re learning in your classes will come up in the field. There are so many resources for you to use and I really encourage you do so, so that you can be the best and do the best for your community.”
International Infection Preventionist week is October 16 through 22 this year, so make sure to show your love to those who have dedicated their time and lives to keeping our residents and loved ones safe.
From everyone at Voyage Long Term Care, Oak Hills Care Center, and Edmond Health Care Center: Thank you, Anitra, for your dedication to us and our health.