Specialty nurses work behind scenes to keep everyone safe

Infection prevention specialist Julie Jacobson looks everywhere, all the time

Two nurses working in hospital setting

Nurses at Sanford Health take care of hundreds, if not thousands, of individual patients each year. That’s their job. But a handful of other nurses work behind the scenes, providing a safe environment for clinic and hospital patients — and co-workers, too.

Julie Jacobson is an infection prevention specialist at Sanford Health in Bismarck, North Dakota. She’s been working at Sanford Health for 15 years, looking out for the safety of patients and employees.

“I think infection prevention is really challenging,” Jacobson said. “I think that’s probably one of the things that draws me to this because I do like a challenge, and I think it is definitely a challenge to do this because there’s such a wide variety of things that come through the infection prevention office.”

So what does an infection prevention nurse do? Basically, look for things inside facilities that could potentially put patients and employees at risk.

“I have to keep four things in mind, and those are the things that drive me each day,” Jacobson said. “Those things are: patient safety, staff safety, public perception of our facility related to infection control and, finally, the regulations that should all fall into place, if the first three are being met.”

Constantly looking everywhere

A day in infection prevention changes all the time. That constant change is what Jacobson loves about her job.

“I look at who has been admitted into our hospital and, looking at if they are in the right isolation: ‘Do they need to be isolation? Can we get them out of isolation? What type of labs have they gotten?’ So that we understand if it’s something we need to report to the State Health Department,” Jacobson said. “Or are we seeing multiple cases that there could be an outbreak or a hospital-acquired infection that occurs?

“We look at construction rounds with all of the construction we are doing. We’ll walk through every day and make sure that we have the barriers up that the airflows are going the way they are supposed to be, that the floors are clean and that we have all of that taken care of.  And that’s in addition to the policies that we have to make sure are updated and the different meetings we attend on a day-to-day basis.”

If you see Jacobson in the hallway, she might seem a little distracted. But don’t worry, it’s part of her job.

“Our eyes are on everything all the time,” she said. “When we walk down the hall, we don’t just walk down the hall. We’re looking at the ceiling tiles, we’re looking for bugs in the lights, we’re looking for dust bunnies on the floor, we’re checking to see if people are washing their hands in and out of rooms, we’re looking to see if they’re wearing PPE (personal protective equipment) — it’s just tons of stuff all the time. That’s why it’s so exciting and so different.”

Hard work leads to award

Jacobson is one of four infection prevention specialists in Bismarck, but she says her job is impossible to do if you don’t have buy-in with frontline staff.

“This is a team thing,” Jacobson said. “It’s not just the four of us working in the office making this happen. This is the four of us working with the frontline staff. We can’t do this alone.”

She says the most rewarding part of her job is knowing that what she is doing has the potential to save people’s lives.

“We’re trying to save everybody from getting a central line infection, and we’re trying to save people from getting surgical site infections. So, we are looking at it from the big picture,” Jacobson said.

Her hard work and commitment to patient safety have earned Jacobson a prestigious award. She is one of the Soaring to Excellence Nursing Award winners at Sanford Health in Bismarck this year. She received the Distinguished Wisdom Keeper Nurse Award, which is an award recognizing her outstanding leadership, participation in and contributions to the discipline of nursing.

“Julie works tirelessly to ensure that everything she does is completed thoroughly and thoughtfully,” said Jacobson’s supervisor, Jessica Leibel. “When asked to assist, Julie is always willing to help, and our patients and staff are continually at the forefront of her mind and the driver of her everyday work.”

“I want people to realize that we want to treat people the way we would want to be treated. If we were the patient here, that’s how we have to take care of our patients,” Jacobson said.

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Posted In Faces of Sanford Health, Workplace Health

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