NACCHO recognizes the Mobile County Health Department of Alabama as its latest Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) Champion.
The Mobile County Health Department and Prevention team is under the county’s Bureau of Disease Surveillance and Control division of the Mobile County Health Department. The team members include:
- Dr. Rendi Murphree, MS, PhD: Director and Epidemiologist of the Bureau of Disease Surveillance
- Destiny Lankster, MPA: Program Administrative Support Specialist
- Barbara Gibbs, RN, MPH: District Investigator for Mobile County
- Melanie Alford, RN, BSN: Nurse Manager for COVID-19 Data Surveillance
**Individual details on the team members’ position and roles are listed at the bottom of the page.
The Mobile County Health Department Infection Prevention Team (IPT) is small but mighty team of dedicated public health professionals who serve their community with distinction. This team is responsible for all reportable infectious diseases within their county; their work also includes providing support with TB and STIs. In addition, they also provide support to healthcare facilities in the event of outbreaks and any infectious disease clusters. The team has proven to be an infection prevention and control champion in their community centered approach to combating the impact of COVID-19.
NACCHO’s IPC Champions are passionate, well versed, and respected leaders in the field of infection prevention and control. These individuals work at local health departments and advance infection prevention and control capacity, activities, guidelines, and engagement.
Supporting Infection Prevention and Control in Underserved Communities
Like health departments across the United States, the COVID-19 pandemic caused the Mobile County Health Department to shift from their normal work to focus on COVID-19. To facilitate this, the team partnered with community organizations, local healthcare providers, K-12 schools, and other high-risk congregate settings. The IPT began reaching out to facilities and community-based organizations to better understand their needs. The team provided these organizations and establishments with case investigations, contract tracing, data entry and surveillance, outbreak testing and infection prevention education. While they were created to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, these partnerships also provided opportunities for the IPT team to discuss other services and resources offered by the Mobile County Health Department.
The IPT team was able to host over 30 outreach events in underserved areas. These events allowed the team to provide over 2,500 rapid COVID-19 tests. One population of concern included the homeless community in Mobile County. During this time, shelters were turning away COVID positive clients, as they were unprepared or unable to isolate these individuals to prevent spread. Mobile County Health Department’s IPT team stepped in, calling hotels to make lodging arrangements and working with food banks to provide food during isolation. The IPT team was able to provide lodging support, food, and hygiene products to about 700 individuals in partnership with the United Way of Southwest Alabama. Before the development of the program, there was even an instance of the county’s Health Officer driving to a hotel to pay for lodging services for some of the clients of the program.
Demonstrating Value to Build Collaborative Relationships in Healthcare
Healthcare facilities are a critical partner for any local health department, as they are a setting with specific risk factors for infections and elevated needs for IPC practices.
The Mobile County Health Department works to maintain longstanding partnerships with the facilities in their community and build on the successes from their COVID-19 response. The IPT team describes their approach to this partnership as a “servant leadership approach” and works to demonstrate how they can assist facilities and be trusted collaborators. For example, the IPT team knows that as guidance changes particularly frequently in a response like COVID-19, facilities may struggle to keep up. Mobile County’s IPT team helps facilities manage this information and stay up to date. In addition to responding once an outbreak has occurred, Mobile County’s IPT The team has worked to help long-term care facilities prepare more proactively for outbreaks by keeping regular contact on guidance updates, supply needs, and reporting regulations. As a result of this effort to build relationships, they found that those facilities were quicker to reach out for their support.
One group of facilities that were impacted the heaviest were long-term care facilities. The IPT found that many corporate and faith based long-term care facilities struggled with staffing shortages, frequent outbreaks, and a severe scarcity of testing and PPE resources. Mobile County stepped in by providing PPE and utilizing a partnership with an ambulance service to provide tests.
In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, before the Mobile County Health Department was able to build up their internal capacity to support COVID-19 IPC efforts across the community, they worked with county-employed dentists to provide IPC information to facility partners. Leveraging their existing knowledge of IPC, the dentists supported nursing homes and other congregate care settings by providing settings specific guidance as well as the initial training for their response team. The support was then extended, adding county social workers to their response team and utilizing a “see one – do one – train one” approach. This creative solution allowed the IPT team to ensure they were able to provide the services and support their partners needed to implement appropriate IPC measures.
Having since built additional internal capacity, the Mobile County Health Department is currently a participant in NACCHO’s Infection Prevention and Control Assessment Training (IPC-AT) Project. Through this project, the IPT team has trained on how to conduct infection control assessments and has been able to begin offering this service to nursing homes and other congregate care settings and facilities in their community. The team conducts video walk throughs with the staff of these facilities to help identify gaps in IPC and provide tailored recommendations. During these visits, the IPC team has encountered familiar challenges of high staff turnover in facilities and a perception that they are regulatory. To overcome this, the IPT team has relied on consistent communication and leveraged times when guidance changes to describe the infection control assessment process as an opportunity to identify and help them address infection prevention and control gaps before an issue arises.
Assessing Partner Needs for Continuous Improvement
The Team sought feedback from the partners that they assisted during their response. Partner organizations described the IPT team as “always helpful and friendly and available to talk,” giving them an overall approval score of 89.5%, a score the team aims to exceed in 2023. In addition to the recognition received from the partners they served, the IPT team also received internal recognition for their work. The team received the Mobile County Health Departments Going the Extra Mile (GEM) award for being unsung heroes during the height of the pandemic.
“It has been rewarding to see the impact of our work on facilities, their staff, and even their families that we will probably never meet. We do not need to worry that we could have done more because we did everything we could do. You cannot be afraid to fail - do not get discouraged and just dive in. It is easy to feel helpless at first but start small and build on your successes.”– Dr. Rendi Murphree
Many factors contribute to the Mobile County Health Department IPT team’s distinction as IPC Champions. The IPT team has implemented creative solutions to meet community needs, demonstrated a commitment to serving underserved populations in their community, created a culture of service, and embraced opportunities for continued expansion of their internal capacity and the support they can offer facilities. The IPT team aims to continue their distinctive service and improve upon the already exceptional IPC leadership they’ve displayed in their community.
Full Team Members Position & Roles Description:
- Dr. Rendi Murphree, MS, PhD, is the Director and Epidemiologist of the Bureau of Disease Surveillance. Serving a multi-purpose role, Murphree acts a subject matter expert on infectious diseases, disease surveillance, and other epidemiological principles. She manages the bureau’s budgets and administration in addition to creating strategic plans for team objectives. She has hosted the health department’s Facebook live series to inform the public on COVID-19 transmission and infection control. She meets with many organizational and county leaders to assist with infection prevention control and outbreaks.
- Destiny Lankster, MPA is a Program Administrative Support Specialist for the COVID-19 response division. Lankster facilitates and supports team activities through office administration, inventory management, and community outreach. She works to improve access to infection prevention resources and guidance and serves as a health department liaison with community organizations. She assists with the management of programs, such as the United Way of Southwest Alabama’s 211 Wraparound Services and local respiratory surveillance. She also works closely with long-term care facilities and high-risk congregate settings to provide guidance and supplies and to conduct ICAR assessments.
- Barbara Gibbs, RN, MPH is the District Investigator for Mobile County. Gibbs is another subject matter expert on infectious and notifiable diseases in Alabama. As the district investigator, she leads the team in conducting case investigations per established protocols and providing disease specific recommendations for control and prevention. She coordinates the collection and submission of specimens as needed for the investigation of cases. Additionally, she monitors lab reporting and updates case investigation files.
- Melanie Alford, RN, BSN is the Nurse Manager for COVID-19 Data Surveillance. She works closely with state surveillance officials to ensure county data is accurately and properly reported. This includes providing support and training for the Alabama NEDSs Base System and RedCAP reporting system. She manages COVID-19 case investigations and contact tracing. She works with local labs and health clinics to emphasize the importance of reporting of notifiable diseases and to provide guidance on specimen collection for state testing.
Submit a Nomination Today
If any of these qualities seem similar to you, please take a moment to fill out a nomination form for this recognition. These nominations can be for a team or an in individual. A member of our team will reach out to you to get any other information we might need. If you would like to submit a nomination for recognition as a NACCHO Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) Champion, please use this form.