Elizabeth Bouwens chose to pursue nursing as a career largely because she knew she would always be employed.
While at nursing school, she decided to become an obstetrical nurse at her hometown community hospital. It would become more than a job.
“I soon found nursing to be rewarding and satisfying to know I was making a difference in these young mothers’ lives,” said Bouwens, the infection preventionist at Newark-Wayne Community Hospital, an affiliate of Rochester Regional Health System.
For more than 35 years, Bouwens also has been a charge nurse, night shift clinical coordinator and facility supervisor.
At the Wayne County facility, Bouwens has led infection prevention. During her tenure, hospital-acquired infections have decreased 37 percent. Cases of Clostridium difficile, a deadly bacterial infection typically found in hospitals, have dropped 67 percent, and central line infections have been completely absent for more than two years.
In addition, Bouwens has led the charge encouraging staff member participation in hand washing and influenza vaccination programs—the most effective means of preventing the greatest infection risks.
As a result of the efforts, participation in these programs is at an all-time high at the Newark hospital, with 94 percent washing their hands regularly and 99 percent lining up for the flu shot.
Bouwens also was instrumental in creating “safe zones” in patient rooms. The well-marked, three-foot zone just inside the entrance of the patient’s room allows hospital personnel to check in with the patient safely and effectively but maintains enough distance to reduce the risk of spreading infection.
The idea was accepted as a best practice by RRHS and is now in use at Rochester General Hospital and its other affiliates.
Bouwens said that in her role there is never a dull moment.
“There are unexpected outbreaks, new emerging superbugs (and/or) new ways to keep our patients safe from harm,” she said. “There is always new information to learn and then disseminate to team members.”
Infection preventionists must also advocate for their patients, families and team members, she said. “With all that we need to do, it makes the day go by faster with a great sense of accomplishment.”
She has been instrumental in other ways. For one, she helped launch the health system’s electronic medical records system. For two years, Bouwens was part of an administrative team that guided each phase of the implementation while overseeing staff training to help make a smooth transition from paper to electronic medical records.
While she was busy with administrative duties, she also made a commitment to help with patient care wherever she was needed.
Bouwens is currently working toward national certification in infection prevention. Locally, she is a member of the regional chapter of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology.
Deborah Stamps, vice president and chief nursing officer, described Bouwens as one of the most enthusiastic, well-organized, focused and admired individuals with whom she has worked.
“Her clinical outcomes, commitment to the profession, intellectual ability, leadership and her conscientious determination to excel in every role she undertakes are of the highest caliber,” Stamps said.
3/20/15 (c) 2015 RBJ Health Care Achievement Awards. Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email [email protected]