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Your Environment. Your Health.

Helping Workers Respond to Infectious Diseases Safely

Lisa McCormick, Dr.P.H.

March 14, 2019

Lisa McCormick, Dr.P.H.

McCormick, associate dean for public health practice for the UAB School of Public Health, focuses on preparedness education training programs and expanding emergency preparedness competencies.
(Photo courtesy of Deep South Biosafety Consortium)

Lisa McCormick, Dr.P.H., has been working on emergency response and public health preparedness her whole career. She is co-director of the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) Deep South Biosafety Consortium, which is funded by the NIEHS Worker Training Program (WTP).

The Deep South Biosafety Consortium develops and delivers training to equip public health and healthcare workers with the skills and knowledge needed to protect themselves and their communities from potential exposure to contaminated materials or infectious diseases. Infectious diseases are caused by microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, or parasites, and can often be passed from one person to another.

As part of the Consortium, McCormick and colleagues work with both state and local public health departments and communities across the Deep South region of the United States on public health preparedness and response. This area, including Alabama, Mississippi, and the Florida Panhandle, includes many rural and medically underserved areas.

According to McCormick, when the WTP launched the new Ebola Biosafety and Infectious Disease Response Training Program in 2016, the UAB Hospital had previously experienced a false alarm with a patient thought to have Ebola. First responders quickly expressed concerns about their lack of preparedness.

“The concerns of people on the front lines are what really sparked our interest in developing the Deep South Biosafety Consortium as a way to address issues and find solutions to better protect first responders and healthcare workers,” she noted. “The goal of our program is to increase these workers’ awareness of how infectious diseases like Ebola can be spread while they’re working and what they can do to protect themselves from exposure.”

Leveraging Partnerships to Expand Reach

UAB Training Program team

The UAB Training Program team, pictured from left to right: White, McCormick, Viles, and Kidd.
(Photo courtesy of Deep South Biosafety Consortium)

The Deep South Biosafety Consortium relies on integrated partnerships to teach workers who may encounter infectious diseases how to use personal protective equipment (PPE) and prevent the spread of disease. McCormick works closely with program co-leaders Marjorie Lee White, M.D., director of the UAB Office of Interprofessional Education and Simulation at UAB focusing on healthcare sector workers; Healthcare Training Manager and Lead Healthcare Instructor for Alabama and Florida, Andres Viles; and Program Manager Elena Kidd.

By combining McCormick’s background in training public health workers with the expertise of White and Viles, the Consortium is reaching professionals across many health sectors to enable them to respond safely to infectious disease situations. Additionally, they partner with the Alabama Fire College Workplace Safety Training Program to expand their reach to first responders and the University of Mississippi Medical Center to reach healthcare workers in Mississippi.

Andres Viles holds a bottle of glogerm

Viles, right, holds a bottle of glogerm which is sprinkled on participant’s PPE. A black light is used to determine if there are any areas of contamination from the doffing process.
(Photo courtesy of Deep South Biosafety Consortium)

“Combining all these perspectives and areas of expertise really is an ideal partnership,” noted McCormick. “Together we’re able to get the full spectrum of target audiences that would be involved in response to an infectious disease outbreak both before a patient is admitted to a hospital and after they are in a hospital setting.”

Raising Awareness and Building Practical Skills

The Deep South Biosafety Consortium has several training modules geared towards specific worker populations, including emergency first responders, public safety and law enforcement workers, healthcare workers, and mortuary workers. They also offer training modules for students in the field of healthcare, such as nursing students at Tuskegee University, a historically black college in Alabama.

The Consortium’s integrated training ranges from short online courses to increase general awareness to in-person trainings that use innovative, hands-on activities and in-depth practice sessions that give workers the practical skills they need to perform their jobs safely.

Glogerm on hands with gloves

Glogerm helps trainees visualize simulated infectious disease contamination while performing their work duties.
(Photo courtesy of Deep South Biosafety Consortium)

For example, operations-level trainings use practice and repetition to reinforce key concepts for selecting PPE, putting it on and taking it off, called donning and doffing, while preventing cross-contamination. These exercises are enhanced with a tool called glogerm, which simulates contamination with an infectious material and allows trainees to visualize how easily infectious diseases can be spread without using the appropriate procedures.

“Simulation training is ideal to help workers understand how to perform their jobs safely,” said McCormick. “It allows them to practice activities they must perform on the job while keeping themselves and patients safe.”

Creating a Lasting Resource for the Future

In addition to preparing workers to respond to Ebola, McCormick stressed that their Consortium extends to many other health threats as well. “Our training program is relevant to all kinds of infectious diseases, including influenza, the measles, or whatever the next outbreak is. We need our first responders and healthcare workers to be prepared to keep themselves and their communities safe.”

Healthcare practitioners participate in operations-level training

Healthcare practitioners participate in operations-level training, which allows them to practice performing work-related activities while wearing appropriate PPE.
(Photo courtesy of Deep South Biosafety Consortium)

By preparing workers in a variety of roles to respond safely to infectious diseases, the Consortium is also serving as an important resource for the Deep South region now and in the future. For example, they offer train-the-trainer modules that equip people with the knowledge, skills, and tools needed to lead trainings within their own organizations and to others in their field of work. McCormick said this approach allows them to expand their reach and have a larger impact beyond the workers that they train directly.

The Consortium has published a variety of resources, including a donning and doffing checklist, a train-the-trainer best practices guide for training implementation, and an instructor rubric, all of which are freely accessible as valuable resources for workers across various sectors.

“Our Consortium is allowing training resources to be made available across the Deep South region to prepare workers to respond to public health crises, particularly in areas of the region that are understaffed and historically don’t have access to these kinds of training programs.”

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