Sasha Gbedemah, MSN, RN, is the Infection Prevention Program Manager at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Hurst-Euless-Bedford in Bedford, Texas. She is also an infection prevention consultant for the National Nursing Home COVID-19 Action Network, a partnership of the Agency for Healthcare Research Quality, the University of New Mexico’s ECHO Institute and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. She is board certified by the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology Inc. and serves on the Board for the Dallas-Fort Worth Chapter of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology.
Ms. Gbedemah has served on the ABIM Infectious Disease Board since July 2021.
What are some of the challenges of infection prevention that most people don’t think of? How has that changed for better or worse since the COVID-19 pandemic?
It’s mostly being the subject matter expert for the inevitable. Emerging diseases are constantly changing, and sometimes it is difficult to keep up. Infection prevention specialists also oversee other areas that many people may not know about such as construction within hospitals, performance improvement and liaising with local health departments.
New emerging disease outbreaks come to our attention, such as Marburg virus disease, and we have to research to make sure the hospital is safe and everyone is informed about infection prevention practices, where cases are high, what the threat level is, and so on. We have to consider what measures we are putting in place to screen travel from these countries, or question if we are adding new countries to the screening list based on where the disease is prevalent. You have to become aware of these things and act immediately.
We also oversee construction in the hospital. Immunocompromised patients have a higher risk of acquiring infectious diseases, so we have to protect them from anything that’s in our environment in addition to providing the best care.
As a nurse, you have also elected to be board certified. What does board certification for health care professionals mean to you?
Board certification holds a high value for me. I hold a Certification in Infection Control from the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology. An essential knowledge basis is necessary for stakeholders to accept the policies and procedures that we put in place. Board certification gives your stakeholders peace of mind that you know what you’re talking about. As an infection preventionist, you study to cover every topic so you have basic knowledge in every area and you know where to find information. Whenever you’re faced with a challenge, that certification demonstrates a standard to leadership and stakeholders so they feel comfortable following any policy you put forth for the hospital. It’s important to remain abreast of your field and current.
You completed a preceptorship in Ghana. What did you take away from that experience and how do you apply it today?
I am from Ghana and I really wanted to see how medical professionals practiced there. I got in touch with one of the largest teaching hospitals in Accra and arranged to follow some providers. I was able to view some cases in surgery and to follow some patients through their plan of care. I also spoke with the nursing staff and saw how they take care of their patients.
The resources there are not as great as they are in America. What I learned is that certain things the physicians did were similar to what we do here in America utilizing basic medical practices— the way they cared for their patients, the way they treated their patients and the way they made their diagnosis. I observed a brain surgery and saw how they were able to perform the surgery just by markings—as opposed to utilizing robotics—and that was amazing to watch. They’re great about utilizing what they have to decipher what they need to do for their patients.
What I took away from that experience is that though certain measures may not be in place or as up to date as they are in the United States, there is still much to learn from international providers and nurses. It was humbling, too, that even though I was there as a preceptor, they asked what I did and how they could learn from me. We were learning from each other.
In your work with the National Nursing Home COVID-19 Action Network, what lessons did you learn about infection prevention for older adults? What kind of challenges or misconceptions still persist?
I quickly learned that basic infection prevention practices among nursing homes and long-term acute care settings have a long way to go in order to benefit this growing population. Challenges that exist include staffing within these agencies and the most prominent misconception I experienced is the willingness for these nursing homes to implement practices suggested. Most of these agencies want to learn and change accordingly, but circumstances beyond their own control do not always allow for change to occur.
What is the most important way your physician colleagues can work with nursing and other professionals to contribute to infection prevention?
It’s important to continue having conversations and collaboration. We have a lot to learn from each other.
There are silos in the hospital setting—what we could do better is break down those silos. In the years I’ve been in this field I’ve seen a transition toward this and I’ve seen people start to work together across silos. We have division meetings now and make sure there are stakeholders from every discipline at the table. Performance improvement in the hospital works best when every member is at the table so someone can speak to a process and offer suggestions for areas of improvement to achieve resolution.
What has surprised you about working with the Infectious Disease Board? How has your service as a Specialty Board member impacted your clinical work?
It’s been great. What surprised me most about the Specialty Board is how valued my input is in regard to all matters discussed. As a non-physician Specialty Board member, I expected to feel uncertain about offering my experience or opinion, but this has not been my experience at all. My work with the Infectious Disease Board has also impacted my clinical work tremendously, especially when working with specific populations. I have also had the opportunity to offer basic knowledge on the how the LKA works as many physicians that I work with have inquired about LKA.
What do you want diplomates to know about you and the work you’re doing?
From an infection prevention standpoint, I want them to know that we appreciate everything they’re doing. Physicians sacrifice a lot of their lives for the sake of their patients. It’s a thankless job. We hear stories of patients being happy but physicians don’t always get a chance to hear that. I want to thank the physicians and I want them to know that their partnership with other health care professionals will only elevate the practice. I am here as a person willing to bridge that gap and be available to learn from them, because what we do is all about continued learning.