Friday Faculty Focus: Phillip Smith

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December 9th, 2016

Dr. Phillip Smith (Courtesy UNMC)

Dr. Phillip Smith (Courtesy UNMC)

On this week’s episode of Friday Faculty Focus, KNVO’s Brandon McDermott talks to the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Dr. Phillip Smith. Smith is Emeritus professor, College of Public health at UNMC.


Brandon: Dr. Phillip Smith thank you for joining me.

Dr. Smith: Thank you. Is a pleasure to be here.

Brandon: You helped to establish the Nebraska Infection Control Network. It’s going to celebrate its thirty seventh year next year. Talk about what purpose it serves and its success.

Dr. Smith: Well I’m very pleased with the development of the Nebraska Infection Control Network. When I came here I was interested in hospital infection control prevention infections in hospitals, which is an important area – it’s got more important recently. But there was really no formal organization which brought people together to collaborate and do some planning. So, we had on our board, the state Health Department, the State Hospital Association and the state nursing homes association at the university. It was a nonprofit volunteer organization and the main thing that we’ve done is develop a training program has trained about five thousand people who cannot afford to go over to national meetings.

So we have many small hospitals and small nursing homes in the Nebraska and people need to be current on what’s going on in infection control. This way, they had an affordable, consistent, reliable and intensive two-day program that’s been probably the most important thing we developed. We’ve had a number of the special conferences the research projects and other activities but I think the key has been our basic training program. So there’s a lot of turnover in infection control and people know that every spring and every fall for two days in come in to get the basics.

Brandon: You wrote to book about infectious disease control and nursing homes what inspired the book?

Dr. Smith: Well several things I’ve always enjoyed elderly people they have great stories to tell and like being around them. But it was frankly when my mother was in a nursing home in Minnesota at that time I was working it was Clarkson Hospital as their infection control specialist and while I was visiting my mother near the end of her life. I started paying attention to infection control and nursing homes which very little was known at that time. She was in a very good nursing home and they were doing things the way it should be and I thought, “This is there’s nothing written about this.”

So I went back in got interested it and developed a talk and the CDC started inviting me down as part of their hospital infection control training program. Then I also developed and wrote the first textbook an area of infection control in long-term care facilities. So, to me it was just to me a natural evolution from hospital infection control. If you look at it statistically there is 1.5 to 2 million infections that occur nationwide in hospitals per year in this country and it’s about same number of nursing homes. So they are important but they’re not as dramatic and it’s a different population so it has not received the attention it really deserved.

Brandon: How important is it is infection control, obviously in a hospital but also in an environment like a nursing home?

Dr. Smith:  It’s very important. A nursing home has challenges that hospital does not have.  It has a host, if you will, the elderly person living in a nursing home that has – because of age and underlying diseases – their immunity is weakened, they’re often confused, they may be incontinent, they wander around nursing home and can potentially cough and spread other diseases. So the nursing home also is dealing with a situation where they have much fewer resources to apply. They have less money, they have fewer infection control nurses, often infection control nurse at a hospital will have a full-time job or many big hospitals will have multiple infection control nurses. A nursing home often has somebody who has just a small fraction of an FTE (full-time equivalent) and they do many other things they do quality assurance employee health and floor nursing and many other things. So they’re stretched very thin.

Brandon: You’re most well-known for your work in the bio containment unit and care for patients with a Ebola. Talk about your effort there.

Dr. Smith: Well that’s sort of thing I fell into in to when the opportunity came along. Following 9/11 there was a flow of money to develop programs for bio-preparedness – protecting us from a biological attack from an organism. It’s tied into the smallpox vaccination program in 2002, the Anthrax attacks in 2001, and the SARS outbreak in 2003 where there were many hospital health care workers who died in Canada in the Far East because of SARS. So initially, we were focused on bio-terrorism that the terrorists would use a biological agent but eventually we came to realize it’s the same things that we could do to protect us from a biological attack could also protect us from Mother Nature. SARS, influenza all these diseases that occur on their own were just as dangerous and more likely to occur.

Brandon: Dr. Smith on kind of a lighter note here, you were Senator Ben Sasse’s guest at President Obama’s State of the Union Address in 2015. What was that like?

Dr. Smith: Well, that was a once in a lifetime experience and I’m grateful Senator Sasse. I felt like I was a person from Nebraska, who had never been to Washington before walking around gawking at the people and recognizing some of the people in the Senate and Congress and of course hearing the president speak in person was a tremendous honor. So it was a highlight of a career and I’m very grateful to have the opportunity.

Brandon: Dr. Philip Smith thanks again for coming on the show.

Dr. Smith: Thank you, Brandon.

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