Wednesday, 21 July 2021 11:14

HHD adopts Project Firstline as new line of defense against COVID, other infectious diseases

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The Houston Health Department has adopted a new tool in its fight for public health. Project Firstline is an online course that helps educate about ways to combat COVID and other infectious diseases.

The Houston Health Department recently introduced another professional development tool to fight COVID-19 and other infectious diseases and viruses.

Project Firstline is an online infection prevention training program comprised of six course topics that cover infection prevention and control and why it is still important and relevant during COVID-19 and post-pandemic times.

“When Houston’s healthcare workers take advantage of Project Firstline’s infection prevention training, they become equipped with the knowledge and skills to better protect themselves and their facility,” HHD Senior Community Liaison Gwendolyn Goins said. “That knowledge can then be shared with their infectious disease threats, such as COVID-19.”

The training program began in April with 10 participants attending the live virtual classes and currently has eight active participants taking the on-demand classes offered on the Talent Management System. Their job roles range from epidemiologists to nurses, contact tracers and health administrators.

Project Firstline is a CDC-led and sponsored training opportunity that is voluntary and costs nothing to health care agencies. Goins said the infection prevention training was designed by health care professionals for health care workers and has been fully vetted and approved as an effective training tool.

“HHD is an avid supporter of well-being and health advocacy for all Houstonians, which is why we wanted to be a part of this dynamic program,” she said.

Azar Gaminian, a senior public health educator with HHD’s Office of Chronic Disease, Health Education and Wellness, was among those who took the training course and said she found it useful.

“The main points the CDC wanted to emphasize in this course are why we practice infection prevention and control and why it is important,” she said. “The material is about skill building; it focuses on why we do these things. It’s a good space for the participants to have these discussions and share with others about their experiences and how it relates to their own work environment."

“I think with COVID-19, it really showed some of the gaps that were there. All the things we asked people to do to prevent COVID like washing your hands, etc., we found that people got complacent. This course is meant to re-emphasize why these things are important,” Gaminian said.

Rhonda Morries, a public health nurse with HHD, said she believes it is crucial that health care workers know how to better protect themselves from transmitting COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, as well as knowing how it is spread.

“This is an ongoing education and refresher for health care workers on the frontline or employees to be more aware of how infectious diseases are spread, how to prevent spreading it to others and how we can better protect ourselves,” Morries said.

One of her concerns about COVID-19 is the public getting lax in their attitudes after receiving their vaccines.

“We really need to do this because what you don’t know can affect you. After getting their vaccines, people have started letting their guards down. They’re not doing simple things like washing their hands or using hand sanitizer. And by not doing that, infection and transmission rates go back up. We cannot stop educating people on how to prevent themselves from getting this,” Morries said.

Project Firstline offers many options based on the health organization's needs. An assessment completed by participants is used to tailor the training. Groups or individuals can register for the online courses and view them live or watch pre-recorded sessions.

As COVID-19 restrictions are eased, in-person courses will also be made available, Goins said.

Right now, there are six hour-long courses being offered with more on the way. That’s at least six hours of professional development specifically dedicated to infection prevention knowledge that is now available to healthcare workers at no cost.

Participants receive an email certificate based on their level of course completion: one-, three- and six-hour levels.

Goins said HHD is encouraging health care to require their employees to participate in it.

“Everyone working at a health care facility should take this infection prevention training. It is free, accessible, tailored and interactive, and will provide the knowledge and skills needed to protect themselves and others against infectious diseases like COVID-19,” she said.