Kelly Romano, Director of Infection Control and Patient Safety
Einstein Untold: Unsung Heroes and Unknown Stories

Director of Infection Control Sees Its Benefits as a Patient

By on 11/11/2019
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One of an ongoing series.

Kelly Romano had her hands full: she was the primary infection preventionist working at Norristown’s Montgomery Hospital, while she was also deeply involved in planning the transition to the new hospital, Einstein Medical Center Montgomery. She was back and forth between hospitals, packing her office and handling a million details of moving.

She also was being treated for breast cancer. 

Romano scheduled chemotherapy and radiation in between work appointments. She sometimes went to meetings in fancy headwraps, but often preferred going bald. 

“I was essentially working in three different roles, but I was also a cancer patient,” she remembers eight years later. “It was a struggle. I had a 2-year-old son at home. There were days when I felt terrible and I was still coming in,” she said. 

Eventually things got better. For a while.

Einstein Montgomery opened in 2012.  Romano’s breast cancer went into remission. She could focus solely on her family and her job as Director of Infection Control and Patient Safety.

Indeed, Romano’s efforts to reduce hospital-acquired infections have been so effective that she was named a “Hero of Infection Prevention” by a national association of her peers.

Romano has overseen intense efforts to evaluate and make changes to practices, products and protocols to eliminate the opportunities for germs to fester and sicken patients. Along with her Infection Prevention team, she’s assembled a performance improvement team of five who meet regularly.  Those team members have deputized dozens of others from different specialties – wound care, vascular access, falls – who share perspectives and suggestions.  

As a result, two of the most intractable sources of hospital acquired infections have been all but eliminated at Einstein Montgomery. A change in catheter procedures helped reduce catheter-associated urinary tract infections. A change in cleansing and maintenance procedures helped reduce bloodstream infections related to central lines, which are tubes inserted into veins that go to the heart.

There was even a celebration in the critical care unit, with doughnuts, when a year passed without patients developing either of those two types of infections. 

Romano also changed the culture at the hospital, training staff and administrators in Just Culture, a formal set of standards that responds to inevitable human error by evaluating systems rather than punishing perpetrators – encouraging openness and enabling change. 

Then Romano got cancer again.

Most poignantly, during a double mastectomy in early 2018 and a subsequent hysterectomy, she witnessed firsthand how vigilant her Einstein medical care team was about adhering to the safety standards she and her team had stressed.

“Every single person who came in and out of the room washed their hands,” she said. “It was second nature to them, and it wasn’t because I was the patient.” The nurses acted quickly to remove her Foley catheter as soon as possible after surgery, and the intravenous line that was no longer being used – both of which are sources of potential infection. 

“Being on the other end and seeing how our providers give care is amazing,” Romano said. She noted that the care team performs countless bedside tasks while adhering to safety precautions that provide another layer of responsibility – all while continuing to give compassionate care and being vigilant about patient satisfaction.

“It was so impressive,” she said.

Romano is now doing well. She said she was humbled by the honor she received in early summer from the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology. And as difficult as it was balancing cancer treatment and work, she’s grateful that she had the job at Einstein to keep her going.

“It really gave me something to focus on,” she said. “I couldn’t sit home and pity myself. I wanted to fight to get up and do something and put meaning in my life.”

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