For over 30 years Helen Musgrove and Anne Lyon have been helping hospitals control the spread of infection. They discuss riding a wave of change to form HICMR, Australia’s largest provider of infection prevention and control services.

When they met over 30 years ago, Helen Musgrove and Anne (Annie) Lyon were both registered nurses working in infection control. Theirs was a relatively new area of specialisation – but things were about to change.

“The private hospital sector was growing quickly and, to gain accreditation, they needed an efficient infection control program. The problem was many private hospitals were too small to attract and retain good people,” says Musgrove, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Healthcare Infection Control Management Resources (HICMR).

Both women had already recognised this as an opportunity for them to consult, when Australia Hospital Care approached Musgrove.

“They were going through the process of accreditation for the hospitals they owned in Victoria,” she says. “They knew my background and wanted my help. It confirmed to me that there was an emerging business opportunity so Annie and I decided to go ahead – a big step back then. On our own, I don’t think either of us would have been game enough to take it on.”

They made the right decision.

Helen Musgrove

Riding waves of challenge to become Australia’s largest provider

HICMR is now the largest provider of infection prevention and control services in Australia. Over their three decades in business Musgrove and Lyon have had to negotiate a number of challenges, including Australia’s limited market.

“Today, most of the private for-profit hospitals are owned by a handful of organisations, which limits our opportunities for diversification,” says Musgrove.

Another challenge has been finding and retaining the right staff.

“When people are dotted around the country you have to have absolute confidence in their ability,” says co-founder Musgrove. “When we do find good people we do our best to treat them well and help them feel secure in their position. Training is an important aspect of that, so we bring all our consultants to Melbourne for a two-day workshop twice a year. Most of our people have been with us for between 10 and 15 years.”

Education, training and keeping pace with legislative and technological changes have been fundamental to the growth of the business.

“Infection control has changed enormously since we started out so we have always been committed to ongoing learning,” says Musgrove. “We’re constantly modifying our services and service delivery in line with state, national and other relevant standards and guidelines. We’ve developed a range of evidence-based, automated risk assessment tools to evaluate client compliance with current standards and practices, and also have standardised tools that help us benchmark hospitals against each other. Corporate clients like to be able to see where they sit within the industry.”

Recently, HICMR worked with e3Learning to develop online training programs in two high-risk areas – reprocessing re-usable medical devices for surgery and managing flexible endoscopes used in diagnosis.

“We had been running face-to-face workshops very successfully for over 15 years but they were increasingly expensive for us to organise and for our clients to attend, particularly those who had to travel considerable distances,” says Musgrove. “Online training is a far more affordable and convenient.”

Funding new infrastructure has been another challenge – one of the pair’s earliest plans to invest in technology was almost thwarted by their bank.

“We wanted to move up from a word processor to a computer but, when we applied for a loan, they told us to go away,” says Musgrove. “We got the same reaction from two other banks – and we have no doubt it was because we were two women. Fortunately, the bank manager at NAB said he would love to have our business so we immediately transferred all our accounts, personal as well as business. We’ve banked there ever since.”

A supportive partnership

Musgrove and Lyon always assumed that they would work together.

“We started out playing identical roles but these have evolved over time,” says Lyon. “Helen and I have always known intuitively where our strengths and weaknesses lie and worked to that, never competing with each other or thinking that one was more important than the other.

“We’ve been really fortunate in having a relationship that has been so beneficial to our business and sustained us through some very tough times, including the recession in the early 90s and the global financial crisis. We don’t reflect on the past often but, when we do, we’re very proud of the fact that we have survived.”

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