Sara Podczervinski

Innovating to overcome unique challenges

Sara Podczervinski, RN, MPH, CIC
Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
Seattle, WA

Sara Podczervinski has championed innovative, effective programs to protect some of the most vulnerable patients from infection.

Hired in 2005 as the infection preventionist for the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA), a large, outpatient cancer center, Podczervinski was instrumental in building the center’s infection prevention program. Collaboration and creativity have helped her overcome the unique and significant challenges associated with the cancer outpatient setting. “We have highly immunosuppressed patients and many of them receive care at multiple sites,” said Podczervinski.

Respiratory viral pathogens – a major cause of morbidity and mortality among cancer and transplant patients – are particularly troublesome because of their ubiquity. In 2007, Podczervinski led a multidisciplinary working group that developed a comprehensive program to prevent respiratory virus transmission at SCCA. For the past 9 years, she has led this proactive program, which effectively protected SCCA patients during the 2009 H1N1 epidemic and has been replicated at numerous cancer centers.

Podczervinski also has focused on protecting patients by increasing flu vaccination among SCCA staff. Over the past several years, she created a highly efficient system that vaccinates more than 1,500 employees. “What has really helped us is having a clear process and continually communicating, ‘This is a priority for us to keep our patients safe’” said Podczervinski. To help staff see the importance of vaccination through patients’ eyes, the infection prevention team created a video of patients talking about how vulnerable they feel. In 2013, the program achieved 97 percent vaccination compliance. The SCCA team has now turned their attention to increasing vaccination rates among patients and families.

Podczervinski noted that patience and flexibility have been critical to SCCA’s infection prevention success. “Some policies and programs will work and some won’t. Talk to staff on the front line and be willing to change anything that’s not working.”