Delvina Ford has been hunting down microorganisms for five years at the South Texas VA. It’s a daily battle for her and her team… the Swab Squad.
Ford was recently recognized for her efforts combatting the silent and deadly killers called Hospital Acquired Infections (HAI) and other infections like COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that 1.7 million HAIs every year are responsible for the deaths of almost 100,000 patients.
Infection Preventionist Delvina Ford
Ford was awarded the 2021 Linda H. Danko Award for Excellence. The award was established in 2016 to recognize and honor VA employees who have demonstrated adherence to the highest standards of infection prevention and control in practice.
Hospital Acquired Infections might be intimidating for some people, but not Ford. “It’s intriguing because, instead of trying to look for what you can’t see, you look for what you can, something basic like hand washing,” Ford said.
Tuberculosis experience prepared her for COVID-19
Ford could not look for things “you can see” by staying in her office, so she hit the road, searching in every corner of the one-million square foot facility. “We relied on Ford to train employees and contract screeners at main entrances,” said former director/CEO Christopher Sandles.
Long before starting her career with VA, and before the coronavirus hit America, Ford chased another legendary organism, Tuberculosis, which takes a deadly second place as one of America’s worst infectious diseases. Ford said that that training and experience helped prepare her for COVID-19.
Ford was able to take the lead and collaborate closely with engineering to convert wards into COVID units. The engineering service converted multiple inpatient wards, including the relocation of several Spinal Cord Injury patients to VA North Texas.
The health care system listened to Ford’s counsel when the surge hit South Texas. The Infection Prevention team tested 64,000 Veterans, with 10 percent of them testing positive and a portion of those being admitted.
Ford also raised her hand and volunteered to test Veterans in a nearby state nursing home after COVID-19 overtook the facility.
Nurses nicknamed the Swab Squad
As the Infection Prevention leader, Ford was tasked to provide training and time was of the essence. “We swabbed all of their patients in a few days and that ended up cascading into the Swab Squad,” Ford said.
Ford was awarded the Danko Award for Excellence
Her students, 23 nurses who volunteered and received training to perform COVID-19 testing, became known as the Swab Squad.
To monitor for any further positive residents, and prevent the spread of infection, Ford sent a team to retest 134 COVID-19 negative residents in the Veterans home on April 25.
The Swab Squad also aided in 100% testing of high-risk Veterans in the South Texas VA Community Living and Spinal Cord Injury Centers.
“A passion for serving Veterans”
VISN 17 Quality Management Specialist Vicki Butler says Ford’s career is fueled by passion and that passion always comes back to one thing: keeping Veterans safe.
“She has a passion for serving the Veterans and staff,” Butler said. “As we transitioned from a ‘closed’ unit to an ‘open’ unit, she again worked closely with engineering, infectious disease, nursing, providers and senior leadership to ensure safety.”
“It starts with collaboration, and they might have picked me for the award because I tend to be outspoken,” Ford said.
Unseen staff are the superheroes
Two services she works very closely with are the Environmental Management Service (EMS) and Sterile Processing Service (SPS). “EMS is one of those superheroes that you never hear about because if they are not doing their job, we would see a lot more transmissibility,” Ford said.
Although some staff are intimidated by her oversight activities, Ford says with infectious diseases, you can never be too careful. “Sometimes the perception is that we are meddling in their stuff. Sometimes you need that extra set of eyes. When you go into a place, if you’ve always been there, you don’t see the stuff that is evident.”
Humbled by her recognition, she took a short pause to enjoy it, but knows infections are watching and waiting. “As soon as you let your guard down, any organism is going to take advantage,” Ford said.
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