Jean Barth, MPH, RN, CIC

Location: Rochester, MN

Title: Director

Company/Organization: Mayo Clinic Rochester 

First Certified: August 2014

1. When did you realize that COVID-19 was truly a public health disaster? 

My Infection Prevention and Control office took our first real action on January 21st (“maybe we should put together a webpage for Wuhan in case it becomes something”) and in late February, I remember being at a hospital leadership meeting and someone was talking about the Wuhan virus like it was Ebola (onesie-twosie cases) and we (IPAC) said “I think we need to start talking about this likes it’s pan flu and prepare like it’s going to be a problem the rest of this year.” (lead balloon)

2. What was your greatest challenge when working to limit the spread of COVID-19 in your facility? 

Ha. Just one? I could say supply shortages or changing guidelines or so many decisions based on the information we had at that second (all true), but fighting the politics, both internally and externally was an unexpected challenge. I was ready to handle the rest, I was not ready to defend the tenets of public health along the way. If anything was going to break me, it was going to be that.

3. How did you adapt or change your processes to overcome these challenges? 

We kept going back to the science that we had and the principles of infection control. My team is phenomenal; they simply took each day as it came and did their very best to help patients, staff and each other.

4. What was your greatest success in implementing COVID-19 guidance? 

We have not had one employee death from COVID-19. That is certainly not all attributable to IPAC, but I am certain the situation would have been worse had we not put what we did in place.

5. Did you make any unexpected partnerships during the pandemic? 

So very many. We have a running list of superstars from many departments who went above and beyond throughout this pandemic. It was such a delight when they would pop up – someone coming forward and saying “hey, I think I can help with that”. I am eternally grateful to them. I need to take some time to tell them how much their help mattered.

6. How did your existing partnerships affect your response? 

They were invaluable. It has always been an integral part of infection control to make partnerships; we could not accomplish what we need to alone. I am proud of our field for how we work with others. And for this pandemic, those partners really showed up for us, and hopefully us for them.

7. Were you called upon to work in an unexpected healthcare or community setting? 

I volunteered for the employee vaccine clinic, but otherwise was in my normal setting, in extraordinary circumstances.

8. How did your certification prepare you to face the challenges of an emerging novel respiratory infection?

Between my certification and ten years in infection control, I knew what had to be done. Even when it was extremely hard, I was confident in my competence and ability to act, as well as my team (of certified and experienced professionals). Importantly, I was heard and valued for my and my team’s expertise. That has been a wonderful experience during this terrible time.

9. Is there anyone you would like to honor, why do you want to honor him or her? 

There was a cadre of powerful women who worked day and night, leading with strength and competence, often behind the scenes, that I am honored to have gone through this with. Of particular note, Dr. Priya Sampathkumar was a powerhouse and a voice of reason who relentlessly worked to do the right thing, to protect our patients and staff.