Maria Cristina Hucalla, RN

Location: Wayne, NJ

Title: Infection Control Coordinator

Company/Organization: Preakness Healthcare Center

First Certified: Prospect

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

Back in January 2020, I was preparing for my yearly schedule for Infection Prevention Inservice when I read upon the outbreak of an emerging Pathogen in China. Then came the first case of Covid found in Washington. I knew it was just a matter of time when it will get to the facility. I immediately devised a lesson plan to teach about Covid-19 as how we knew it then.

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

I work in a 406 bed Long term care facility where residents are free to do the activities they would like and once the first Covid Case got into our facility, the biggest challenge was to curtail all activities and quarantine. The family is another challenge because they now can not visit their loved one. The 3rd challenge is the compliance to masking and PPE. The fourth challenge is the ever-changing Policies. The 5th challenge is the staff who looks at you for answers.

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

Keeping up with the CDC and the Department of Health notifications and Directives, always communicating with the families and residents. Sending notification to staff, making frequent rounds and be transparent. Device plans to appreciate the staff coming to work everyday without regard to the risk that they are facing. Checking on residents more frequently, providing activities virtually or by TV in house.

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

The residents and families full understanding about the risk and reasons why we do the things we do. Our complaints fell to the lowest percent as compared to other years. But I must say that of the 406 residents we have, we only lost 37 residents to this disease. I think source control had the biggest impact and making the residents and staff be aware why we are doing the things we do. Also, before CDC implemented Universal masking, we had implemented the wearing of masks

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

Yes. The biggest partnership is with our families and residents. We have the county to back us up with the testing and the vaccination. You will be surprised how your staff will respond to adversity. To date I am very grateful, I have staff that did not flinch at the site of Covid.

6. How did your existing partnerships affect your response?

Tremendously, Early testing, equate to early isolation of Covid, therefore limited exposure to the residents.

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

No, I am the only Infection Preventionist in this facility, I yet have to take a day off for vacation, they have not impose any extra time that I already put in for my facility

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

I am not yet certified, however with this unprecedented event, I have committed myself to certify as I study my reviewer, there are many things that I didn’t know and for my sake I have to know and find solutions to the problems which I can best do if I am certified.

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

My administrator. She worked so hard to prevent our residents and staff from being infected. She work all hours of the day, even from home. As far as I can remember she hasn’t taken a vacation either and she is at the facility almost everyday including weekends at the height of the pandemic. She also supports my commitment to sit for the CIC exams.