Ontario Construction News Editor
Infection control training must be big part of the solution to the crisis devastating Ontario’s long-term care homes
While COVID-19 has put a spotlight on the need to renovate and overhaul Ontario’s long-term care homes, effective infection control training for all staff is equally or even more important according to the province’s carpenters.
“There is a complete need for an overhaul to the long-term care system, not only in how they are designed and built, but also how they operate day-to-day,” said Mike Yorke, president, Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario (CDCO). “A critical piece of the puzzle is infection control. We need to make sure that training meets the highest of standards in terms of safety and infection control.”
Across the province, LTC facilities have been hard hit by outbreaks and deaths, highlighting the need for action and the CDCO has the answer in its Infection Control Risk Assessment (ICRA).
“The goal for the Carpenters Union is to educate,” explained Adam Bridgman, provincial carpentry training coordinator at the CDCO. “Not only our carpenter members, but anyone that is involved in construction around one of our most vulnerable population, elderly and health-care.”
“ICRA training we give the construction workforce can be critical in preventing or stopping the transfer of construction contaminate in old pipes, duct work, ceilings, floors, doors, etc., protecting frontline workers and patients, hospital workers and construction workers from biohazards that may be present before and during the construction process,” said Paul Daly, co-ordinator UBC, Toronto.
The carpenters offer training for the construction trades as well as free eight-hour awareness for IPAC professionals, project managers, estimators and supervisors.
“We want all levels of the project including outside of the protective barriers protected.
We have been a lead in construction ICRA training because we involve, educate and train all the stake holders,” Daly said.
In December, Bridgman led LTC & Seniors Homes: Safe Interiors and Renovations, an informative seminar for facility owners, operators and construction designers organized by the Canadian Centre for Healthcare Facilities (CCHF). “It was an opportunity for stakeholders to learn about what to expect to ensure their site is adequately prepared for the future,” he said.
Carpenters have offered an awareness session that is open to all healthcare workers (from RN’s, RPN’s to facility management, and maintenance). This ICRA awareness course promotes communication, awareness, and protocols for working in occupied health-care facilities.
“It’s a unique program,” Bridgman said. “It focuses on protection methods and safe work practices for the various trades and hospital personnel who are working in these types of facilities.”
The course reviews the unique health-care facility environment and the potential environmental hazards and explains the function of the ICRA teams and how the ICRA forms are used. Training focuses on renovation and additions to existing, occupied buildings.
Jason Ball, president at Ball Construction in Kitchener says the training was a great benefit for office staff and tradespeople.
“Whenever you’re dealing with infection control, you better know what you are doing and that’s what the ICRA training does,” he said. “Individuals learn the nuances of working in long-term care facilities and how to control the environment.
“We have had our employees go through the multi-day training and it was tremendous.”
Kevin Ball is one of several workers at Ball Construction who recently completed the training.
“In light of the pandemic ICRA training takes on added value,” Ball said. “It is essential for LTC and hospital staff to be able to control and contain contaminants, as well as pathogens, to ensure the safety of the most vulnerable members of society.”
Workers have a greater understanding of the means contamination, which consequently helps prevent cross contamination.
“In our current pandemic state, the ability to perform upgrades on Hospital and LTC Residences without jeopardizing the safety of those in care is extremely important. ICRA training provides the necessary knowledge and skills to accomplish these goals,” Ball said.
Demand for ICRA training is growing and the plan is to expand the ICRA across the province this month.
“Carpenters offer a very effective, hands on training course the ICRA program,” said Rita Mezei, executive director at the Canadian Centre for Healthcare Facilities. “The training covers considerations that are unique to LTC environments including working hours, noise, routing on site to reduce disruption, dust, security, special considerations for working in an occupied space.”
People living in long term care are typically severely immunocompromised and over 80 per cent have cognitive deficits – so they experience their environment differently.
“When there is any change or irritations from noise for example, it can impact their overall health more,” Mezei said. “For example, excessive noise that would be a mere irritant to some may lead to more anxiousness and depression over time. The ICRA program teaches how to ensure that the renovation limits these impacts, in an operating LTC space.”
ICRA is the only comprehensive union training course on infection control best practices in the province. The two-part program includes 24 hours of hands-on training for contractors and construction workers that covers practical building practices and protocols. A second 8-hour awareness class has been added for anybody working in healthcare, from facility engineers to project managers to healthcare staff.
In the U.S., contractors and workers are required to have ICRA certification and carpenters adapted the model to meet CSA construction guidelines in response to the fact that infections in healthcare facilities tend to go up during construction.
Paula Randazzo, president of the Healthcare and Professional Employees (HOPE-Local 2220) union, which joined the Carpenters’ Union in 2011, agrees that infection control training will help keep residents and staff safe, but only if staffing levels are increased to acceptable levels at Ontario LTC facilities.
“We are very concerned about infection control,” she said. “Even if we have a perfectly built buildings, we haven’t solved anything without proper staffing.”
As the province rolls out aggressive plans to fast-track construction of new facilities and renovations at existing homes, Mike Yorke is pushing for regulations that would make it mandatory to have an ICRA officer on every job site.
“When the province does get to the retrofitting stage, they need to do it properly, using best practices,” Yorke said. “I think facilities and builders will be demanding ICRA certification in tender documents in the future and we are ready.
“We now have thousands of trained carpenters who are ready and willing to do the work.”