KITCHENER -- Stopping the spread of infection is the top priority for an infection control practitioner working at Kitchener's Grand River Hospital.

“I got into this role for exactly what’s happening now,” Christine Mitchell said. “I love what I do.”

As an infection control practitioner, Mitchell monitors COVID-19 cases and the isolation of patients.

“We monitor and surveil and make sure the right isolation is in place, that the isolation stays in place, that we do very timely reviews to get those patients off of isolation, because patients in isolation, that’s difficult," she said.

Mitchell also teaches infection control measures to front-line staff, such as what kind of personal protective equipment they need and how to interact safely with patients.

“If we don’t follow those practices we have the ability to transmit organisms between patients and staff,” she said.

Mitchell has worked in health care for more than 20 years and said the COVID-19 pandemic is an eye-opener on the importance of infection control.

“When I look back at SARS many years ago when I worked, infection control became a really important event at that time,” she said. “What I see with this pandemic, it’s very obvious that hospitals need to have a strong and robust infection control program. When we look at what’s happening in long term care, including acute care, it’s very evident that there’s not often enough staff other than to deal with the day-to-day events and certainly not ready to deal with a pandemic of such a large scale.”

Mitchell said supporting staff with changing protocols and procedures during the pandemic has been one of the biggest challenges on the job. There are, however, some rewards.

“Some of the most uplifting moments about working through a COVID outbreak is seeing patients recover,” she said. “The other thing that impresses me is how front-line staff have really come together to work hand-in-hand with the infection control department.”

At home, Mitchell said her son had to self-isolate at one point and she cancelled a trip out of the country when the pandemic began.

“I was fortunate enough to stay well throughout this and follow guidelines and hope that’s what keeps me safe for however long the pandemic lasts,” she said.

Mitchell added it’s important for everyone to follow public health recommendations – like physical distancing.

As for what she thinks of members of community who consider her and other health-care workers heroes:

“I’ve never considered myself a hero,” she said. “I got into nursing many years ago and then infection control because it’s my passion.”