Brenda Ehlert, BS, MT (ASCP), MBA, CIC 
Ascension Wisconsin 
Oshkosh, WI 

Exemplary Leadership Unifies Infection Prevention Across Healthcare System 

When Ascension Wisconsin (AW) integrated four healthcare systems as one, Brenda Ehlert’s vision and collaborative approach united the organizations’ multiple, independent, and diverse infection prevention and control (IPC) programs. Her leadership generated a standardized, outcomes-driven IPC program that has dramatically reduced healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) across the AW system. 

As the director of infection prevention for AW – which comprises 24 hospital campuses and more than 100 clinics – Ehlert is the matrix leader for 14 infection preventionists. “As soon as we came together as Ascension Wisconsin, I made a commitment to meet each of them in person,” Ehlert said. “I wanted to tell them this was their program. This was our program.” 

To standardize practice and optimize resources across the market, leaders formed an Infection Prevention Council (Council) that includes representatives from all four legacy healthcare systems. This outcomes-driven group guides development, prioritization, implementation, and measurement of HAI reduction across AW, and they work to ensure the organization aligns to Ascension’s national guidelines. Within the Council, work groups address specific HAIs, assigning leads from across the market to spur ownership, accountability, and creativity.  

“We focused first on creating a hand hygiene policy for the market, and it took us six months to complete,” Ehlert said. “We all knew standardization was essential, but we didn’t realize all of the nuts and bolts that would go into it. After the first policy though, we got much faster.” 

Ehlert’s leadership – along with the committed work of the Council – has resulted in consistent reductions in multiple HAIs across the AW system. The AW team’s work has also supported Ascension’s national program targeting best practices for standardization.  

“COVID-19 showed us the value of standardization and the success of our efforts,” Ehlert said. “We were able to share staff across facilities and implement consistent protocols.”