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IPAC News: In Conversation with Dr. Mary Vearncombe

Reflecting on 10 Years of PIDAC

Congratulations on reaching a ten-year milestone as chair ofthe Provincial Infectious Diseases Advisory Committees-Infection Prevention and Control (PIDAC-IPC). From those ten years, what is the work you are most proud of, and what have been your greatest challenges?

Dr. Vearncombe: Looking back over the last ten years, I am most proud of the library of PIDAC-IPC best practice documents. They are not only evidence-based and current, but also readable for front-line infection-control professionals. The documents are created and updated in real time thanks to the commitment of staff (formerly at the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, now at Public Health Ontario) and the dedication of PIDAC-IPC members, who give many thousands of volunteer hours. Taken together, the best practice documents serve as an electronic textbook for both new and experienced infection control professionals.

My greatest challenge has been harnessing the passion of PIDAC-IPC committee members. That passion is also PIDAC-IPC’s greatest strength, and it leads to extensive discussion; but the discussion does not necessarily respect agenda time allotment. Still, passionate discussion makes our documents stronger and, in the end, PIDAC-IPC always resolves issues by consensus; we have never had to vote on a scientific point.

What do you remember most about the early days of PIDAC as Ontario learned from its experience with SARS?

Dr. Vearncombe: The early days of PIDAC after SARS were invigorating, especially to those of us still recovering from that difficult epidemic. That time was a window of opportunity for infection prevention and control to move from being a neglected poor cousin of health care to being an integral part of daily practice. We functioned under the Strategic Planning and Implementation Branch (SPIB) of the ministry, and it was a pleasure to work with so many bright and creative people around the PIDAC tables—both SPIB staff and PIDAC members. In health care, we are not often able to build new systems; PIDAC was a great opportunity to create not only best practices, but also a system for consultation—from the provincial level at the PIDAC main advisory table to the grass-roots level with the Regional Infection Control Networks.

How has PIDAC contributed to Ontario’s preparedness for the next novel respiratory infection?

Dr. Vearncombe: PIDAC has greatly strengthened Ontario’s potential to respond to the next novel respiratory infection. Routine Practices and Additional Precautions (including Annex B, Best Practices for Prevention of Transmission of Acute Respiratory Infection) has penetrated well into the health care community. With surveillance for acute respiratory infection as part of the fabric of health care IPAC practices, containment of a novel agent such as Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) becomes normalized and achievable.

What advice would you like to give those who will continue in IPAC leadership roles in Ontario?

Dr. Vearncombe: The PIDAC brand has become recognized from coast to coast to coast because of our best practices’ currency, accessibility, and readability, but most importantly because of their evidence base. That brand recognition and respect will continue, because the very capable people leading and contributing to PIDAC-IPC have the same ongoing commitment to evidence-based IPAC practice.


Dr. Mary Vearncombe
Dr. Vearncombe is a Medical Microbiologist and is Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. She is an Associate Professor in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto.

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Page last updated: 2014-09-04 11:18 AM
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