Protecting quality of life for senior living residents through HSC’s ICARE initiative

April 16, 2024 • News

By Sally Crocker

Cervantes 20240117 143815Through HSC’s ICARE – Infection Control Advocate and Resident Education – program, Dr. Diana Cervantes and School of Public Health students are helping to protect the quality of life for residents in nursing home communities.

Dr. Cervantes is an associate professor, population and community health, and Master of Public Health epidemiology program director at The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth School of Public Health, as well as a TCOM assistant professor of internal medicine and geriatrics.

She’s always had a special interest in protecting the rights of older adults and the care they receive where they live, becoming a certified long-term care ombudsman for the State of Texas in 2021. Texas’ ombudsman initiative is part of a U.S. Health and Human Services program that helps nursing home and long-term care residents advocate for their rights while protecting their health, safety and welfare.

As part of this initiative, Cervantes has developed the ICARE program with HSC’s Center for Older Adults to promote Whole Health by integrating infection control in nursing home communities with residents’ rights. The initiative includes events like the recent infection control fair provided to more than 50 staff members at a local nursing home community. Cervantes – along with several SPH Master of Public Health students and one PhD student – helped staff achieve part of their required, annual infection control, resident rights and quality improvement training in a fun and informal way, with knowledge and skills stations presented in a festival-like environment.

The training fair featured seven stations, with activities based around environment of care, handwashing, personal protective equipment, emergency and disease outbreak preparedness, antibiotic stewardship and vaccines, and more.

The staff received handouts, took quizzes, played an infection control “caught red handed” game, and tried their skills at a “wheel of caution” booth where they were challenged on how to address certain germ or disease conditions in their nursing home community.

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“Our goal was to stimulate engagement with the staff, rather than simply providing handouts and information,” Cervantes said. “For each station, 94% or greater of the participants reported that they learned something to help them do their job better. 92% and 94%, respectively, reported that they now better understand the role of resident rights or quality assurance and process improvement in infection prevention.”

SPH student Himani Modi said being a part of the ICARE fair provided her with valuable experience and knowledge in infection prevention, which directly aligns with her career goal of becoming a hospital infection control epidemiologist.

“By participating in the fair and gaining expertise in the key components of infection control, I have acquired practical skills and insights that will be beneficial in my future role,” Modi said. “Volunteering for the ICARE fair was prompted by my passion for health care and a desire to contribute to infection prevention efforts. I believe in the importance of education and training, especially in environments like nursing homes where vulnerable populations reside.”

SPH doctoral student Brittany Krenek, MPH, said, “The more I worked on ICARE, the more fulfilled I felt.”

“This population is extremely vulnerable and susceptible to a variety of health issues. Creating and conducting events like this one helps to increase residents’ quality of life by ensuring there is proper understanding of not only infection prevention and control, but also their personal rights. This aging population took care of us for so long, it is our turn to make sure they are well taken care of,” she added.

MPH student Anup Patel explained that volunteering for the ICARE fair provided hands-on experience in public health outreach and education, a vital component in helping SPH students prepare for their future careers.

“I learned effective communication strategies for conveying complex infection prevention information to diverse audiences. I also gained a deeper understanding of the importance of community engagement in promoting public health initiatives,” Patel said.

“Events like the ICARE fair are crucial in raising awareness of infection control practices, providing education to reduce the spread of infectious diseases – and supporting nursing home staff, fostering community engagement and collaboration, and offering opportunities for networking and education. By also educating residents, we empower them to take proactive measures to protect themselves within their environment,” he added.

As part of its updated curriculum for long-term care ombudsman training, Texas will now be incorporating HSC’s ICARE infection control and prevention program into its certification model.