10:01 AM

St. Mary’s Infection Prevention team receives 2022 Heroes of Infection Prevention Award

Angie Silva, Erin Minnerath, Tiffany Martens (Left to Right)

St. Mary’s Medical Center is pleased to announce that associates Erin Minnerath, Tiffany Martens and Angie Silva were awarded the 2022 Heroes of Infection Prevention Award by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC). Erin, Tiffany and Angie are part of the St. Mary’s Infection Prevention team that seamlessly led the COVID-19 response at St. Mary’s.

“We were nominated for preparing our facility to successfully respond to the pandemic by delivering hands-on training to healthcare workers both inside of St. Mary's and throughout our region,” said Erin. “We were uniquely prepared because of the work we had recently done before the pandemic to prepare for a high consequence infectious disease like Ebola. Those preparations gave us a huge head start when the novel respiratory virus called COVID-19 arrived.”

St. Mary’s is the largest medical facility between Denver and Salt Lake City. The hospital is uniquely positioned and obligated to be prepared to care for patients with high consequence infectious diseases.

The infrastructure, training and leadership they had in place from working the prior two years to prepare for a high consequence infectious disease patient (like Ebola) as a federally funded Special Pathogens Assessment Hospital set them up to be successful in quickly and safely responding when the global pandemic hit our community. The infrastructure included a high-risk infection team that was already trained to handle a virus of that magnitude. They used the Bio-Containment Unit to manage personal protective equipment (PPE) and hold hands-on training sessions, PPE donning and doffing demonstrations, clinical scenarios, and skills testing for hundreds of staff – all of which helped ease anxiety in a time of great fear and uncertainty.

“When the pandemic hit, we were ready and able to train hundreds of healthcare workers in an incredibly fast amount of time,” said Erin. “Our Bio-Containment Unit is completely secured and restricted so we had this novel space that we were able to turn into a COVID-19 training playground. It was a scary and uncertain time since the data was constantly changing but we felt prepared because we were able to take all of the work we had done leading up to this and apply it to the new virus.”

They organized and directed their team to deliver specialized training for all healthcare workers at St. Mary’s so they could care for their patients using PPE best practices. The goal was to thoroughly train as many people as possible, as efficiently as possible, to prevent occupational COVID-19 exposures and infections. 

“Most healthcare workers don’t get to train in this type of hands-on interactive space,  but we were able to train hundreds of healthcare workers in a very short period of time,” said Tiffany. “The vision was about supporting healthcare workers in a very uncertain and scary time with hands-on training.”

The team not only ensured our healthcare workers were safe, confident and prepared during the challenging and unprecedented time, they acquired additional resources through a federal grant to support training for other hospitals in the region. Once the healthcare workers at St. Mary’s were educated and worked confidently with the COVID patients, the team extended their high-risk pathogen training program to seven rural hospitals across the Western Slope.

“We had the tools and infrastructure at our disposal and were very aware of what we had to utilize,” said Tiffany. “Because of the relationships we had established within our small team, as well as throughout our facility, we were able to think quickly and make really good decisions about our next steps. We turned our biocontainment unit into a PPE distribution center and then into COVID training playground to train hundreds of healthcare workers. We really had to think outside the box.”

“We not only had to control our inventory, we had to learn who was part of our public health infrastructure on a local and state level,” said Angie. “That helped move us incredibly fast through a system that allowed us to help so many people because we were that much further along. One of the biggest lessons learned was that you have to have your infrastructure in place ahead of time. You have to make sure you know who’s around you and what support they can provide.”

Moving forward, they plan to reinitiate components of the program. Their goal is to be as strong or stronger in preparation for the next pandemic, or high consequence infectious disease patient. They have the infrastructure in the form of staff, content, space and supplies to continue to train healthcare workers on emerging, novel and highly hazardous pathogens. This hands-on, in-person, return demonstration training can be adapted on an as needed basis when new pathogens threaten our population. 

“We have a lot of work to do,” said Erin. “Everyone is going to be relying on us to be able to handle a crisis, like we did in this last phase of COVID, so we’re highly motivated to recruit new people to the team,” she continued. “We want to start training and doing drills again. The pandemic really shifted our focus from readiness to response. We need to get back to the readiness phase.” 

Tiffany, Erin and Angie are humbled by the experience and credit part of their success to being surrounded by incredible people everywhere in the hospital whose hearts are in the right place.