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And the wind blew the echoes of long faded voices: Some Emergency Management thoughts…

While the year seemed to start out relatively quietly on the emergency front (relative being a completely relative and arbitrary term—and perhaps never more so than at the moment), it appears that the various and sundry forces of nature (and un-nature) are conspiring to send 2018 out with a bang. From wildfires out West to curiously damp weather patterns in the East to some funky temperature swings in the middle, it seems preparedness levels are as critical an undertaking as ever (and frequently coming nowhere close to being over-resourced, but I guess there’s no reason that the “do more with less” mantra wouldn’t extend to the EM world), with a likely follow-up of focus by the accreditation preparedness panjandrums (more this than this, but I’m fine with either). And one area of vulnerability that I see if the regulatory noggins should swivel in this direction relates to improvements in educating folks on an ongoing basis (the Final Rule says annual, so that determines a baseline for frequency), including some sort of evidence that what you’re doing is effective. (I see lots and lots of annual evaluations that track activities/widgets without getting down to a means of determining effectiveness—another improvement opportunity!) The other “shoe” that I fear might drop is the inclusion of all those care sites you have out in the community. There are very (very, very) few healthcare organizations that are comprised of a single standalone facility; over time, acquisitions of physician practices and other community-based healthcare delivery settings have increased the complexity of physical environment compliance, including emergency management stuff. I don’t know that I’ve run into anyone who couldn’t somehow, to one degree or another, point to participation of the offsite care locations. But it typically comes as, if not quite an afterthought, then a scenario that kind of “grafts” the offsites into the exercise. And, much as I wish community exercises would include testing of response activities in which the hospital acts in a diminished or non-capacity (there’s always this sense that we’ll just keep bringing folks to the local ED), some of the events of this year have really impacted ready access to hospital services for communities. At any rate, if you have thoughts on how you are (or could be) doing a good/better job at testing preparedness across your whole healthcare network, I am all ears and I suspect that there might be some other attentive ears as well.

In closing for this week (a little late, but this truly shouldn’t be tied to just one day or week), my thanks to all that have served in the armed forces: past, present, and future. Your sacrifices continue to mean so much to our lives and I cannot thank you enough (but with the annual Day of Thanks coming up next week, I will surely try)!

It’s been a quiet week in Lake Hazard-be-gone: Water and Legionella

Not a ton of “hair on fire” stuff in the news this week, so (yet again), a quick perusal of something from the “things to consider” queue.

It seems likely that Legionella and the management of water systems is going to continue to have the potential for becoming a real hot-button issue. I suppose any time that CMS issues any sort of declarative guidance, it moves things in a (potentially) direction of vulnerability for healthcare organizations. That said, it might be worth picking up the updated legionellosis standard from ASHRAE to keep up with the current strategies, etc. I don’t know that there’s any likelihood of eradication of Legionella in the general community (by the way—and I’m sure this is the case, but it never hurts to reiterate—those of you with responsibilities for long-term care facilities are definitely in a bracket of higher vulnerability). But there remains a fair amount of risk in the community, as evidenced by the most recent slate of outbreaks. Water is definitely the common denominator, but beyond that, this can happen anywhere at any time, so vigilance is always the end game when it comes to preventive measures.

As a final thought for the week, I wanted to share a blog item (not mine) that I found very interesting as food for thought (the concept is very powerful, though you may have a tough time convincing your boss to embrace it, as I think you’ll see): treating failure like a scientist. You can find the whole post here, but the short take is that you may have a positive or a negative result of whatever strategy you might employ—each of which should be considered data points upon which you can make further adjustments. Not everything works the way you thought it would, but rather discarding something outright if it doesn’t succeed, try to figure out the lesson behind the failure to make a better choice/strategy/etc. moving forward. The blog covers things more elegantly than I did here, but I guess my closing thought would be to have the courage (maybe “luxury” is the better term) to really learn from your mistakes—if we were perfect, there would never be a need for improvement.

Time to bust a cap in your…eyewash station?!?

Howdy folks! A couple of quick items to warm the cockles of your heart as winter starts to make its arrival a little more obvious/foreboding (at least up here in the land of the New English) as we celebrate that most autumnal of days, All Hallows Eve (I’m writing this on All Hallows Eve Eve)…

The first item relates to some general safety considerations, mostly as a function of ensuring that the folks who rely on emergency equipment to work when there is an emergency are sufficiently prepared to ensure that happens. It seems that lately (though this is probably no more true than it usually is, but perhaps more noticeable of late) I’ve been running into a lot of emergency eyewash stations for which the protective caps are not in place. Now I know this is partially the result of too many eyewash stations in too many locations that don’t really need to have them (the reasoning behind the desire for eyewash stations seems to lean towards blood and body fluid splashes, for which we all know there is no specific requirement). At any rate, my concern is that, without the protective caps, the eyewash stations are capable of making the situation worse if someone flushes some sort of contaminant into their eyes because stuff got spilled/splashed/etc. on the “nekkid” eyewash stations. The same thing applies to making sure the caps are in place for the nozzles of the kitchen fire suppression system (nekkid nozzles—could be a band name!—can very quickly get gunked up with grease). We only need these things in the event of an emergency, but we need them to work correctly right away, not after someone wipes them off, etc. So, please remind the folks at point of care/point of service/point of culinary marvels to make sure those caps are in place at all times.

The other item relates to the recent changes in the fire safety management performance element that deals with your fire response plan. Please take a moment to review the response plan education process to ensure that you are capturing cooperation with firefighting authorities when (periodically) instructing staff and licensed independent practitioners. One of the ages-old survey techniques is to focus not so much on the time-honored compliance elements, but rather to poke around at what is new to the party, like cooperation with firefighting authorities (or 1135 waiver processes or continuity of operations plans or, I daresay, ligature risk assessments). It would seem that one of the primary directives of the survey process is to generate findings, so what better way to do that than to “pick” on the latest and (maybe not so) greatest.

Have a safe reorientation of the clocks!

I may not be perfect, but I’m perfect for you: CMS rates the accreditation organizations!

Another mixed bag of stuff for you this week, leading off with a quick spin through CMS’ report card to Congress.

While the numbers have shifted around a little, infection control is making a move on the outside, but the physical environment is still the big point of focus, though you can see where the two are starting to cross over at a greater frequency. I think issues relating to ligature risks are going to be a very sharp focus, particularly with CMS surveys. Although it is interesting to note that (at least at the moment) when ligature risks come up in the CMS survey process, those risks have been cited under the Patient Rights Condition of Participation (each patient has a right to receive care in a safe setting), so we may see Patient Rights at the top of the heap next year. One way you can avoid that little dance of ignominy is to make sure that you have completed a comprehensive ligature risk assessment in those areas in which you are managing behavioral health patients, including mitigation strategies for items that cannot be immediately corrected and solid anticipated completion dates. They are taking ligature risks very seriously because of the potential for harm to patients and you don’t want to have a whole lot of open-ended plans of correction. It almost comes down to a sense that everything that exists is a potential risk to be managed and while I am hopeful that cooler heads will prevail, right now this is a very, very hot topic.

One other thing to note with the report card is a section that deals with an analysis of survey disparity relating to Life Safety Code® compliance and health and safety considerations. I’ve looked at the contents of this section, including their conclusions and recommendations, and I have a hard time thinking that this is ever going to go away as a survey focus. While I tend not to rely on absolutes when it comes to periods of time, I can say quite confidently that there will always be stuff to find during a survey. You can look today and find stuff, you can look tomorrow and find different stuff, you can look the day after and—you guessed it! Stuff happens; people do stuff we don’t want them to, including unauthorized field modifications. The list is literally and figuratively endless. I know they have to find something, but as a collective, I think most hospitals are very well maintained and managed as a function of the physical environment. But if the big “C” knocks on the door (and I guess we have to include the minions as well), there’s going to be a list of stuff. Our job is to keep that list to a minimum. Good luck with that!

A hospital in trouble is a temporary thing: Post-survey blues!

As you might well imagine, based on the number of findings floating around, as well as CMS’ continuing scrutiny of the various and sundry accreditation organizations (the latest report card is out and it doesn’t look too lovely—more on that next week after I’ve had a chance to digest some of the details), there are a fair number of organizations facing survey jeopardy for perhaps the first time in their history. And a lot of that jeopardy is based on findings in the physical environment (ligature risks and procedural environment management being the primary drivers), which has resulted in no little chagrin on the part of safety and facility professionals (I don’t think anyone really thinks that it would or could in their facility, but that’s not the type of philosophy that will keep the survey wolves at bay). The fact of the matter is (I know I’ve said this before, though it’s possible that I’ve not yet bent your collective ears on this point) that there are no perfect buildings, particularly in the healthcare world. They are never more perfect than the moment before you put people in them—after that, it is a constant battle.

Unlike any other time in recorded history, the current survey epoch is all about generating findings and the imperfect nature of humans and their interactions with their environment create a “perfect storm” of opportunities to grow those numbers. And when you think about it, there is always something to find, so those days of minimal to no findings were really more aberrant than it probably seemed at the time.

The other piece of this is the dreaded adverse accreditation decision: preliminary denial of this, termination of that and on, and on. The important thing to remember when those things happen is that you will be given (well, hopefully it’s you and not your organization sailing off into the sunset without you) an opportunity to identify corrective action plans for all those pesky little findings. I can’t tell you it doesn’t suck to be in the thick of an adverse accreditation decision because it truly, truly does suck, but just keep in mind that it is a process with an end point. There may be some choppy seas in the harbor, but you have the craft (both figuratively and literally) to successfully make landfall, so don’t give up the ship.

Shine on you crazy fire response plan!

On the things I’ve been doing over the past couple of weeks has been reading through the EC/LS/EM standards and performance elements to see what little pesky items may have shown up since the last time I did a really thorough review. My primary intent is to see if I can find any “Easter eggs” that might provide fodder for findings because of a combination of specificity and curiosity. At any rate, while looking through the fire safety portion of the manual, I noticed a performance element that speaks to the availability of a written copy of your fire response plan. That makes sense to me; you can never completely rely on electronic access (it is very reliable, but a hard-copy backup seems reasonable). The odd component of the performance element is the specificity of the location for the fire response plan to be available—“readily available with the telephone operator or security.”

Now, I know that most folks can pull off that combo as an either/or, but there are smaller, rural facilities that may not have that capacity (I think my personal backup would be the nursing supervisor), so it makes me wonder what the survey risks are for those folks who don’t have 24/7 switchboard or security coverage. At the end of the day, I would think that you could do a risk assessment (what, another one!?!?!?) and pass it through your EC Committee (that kind of makes the Committee sound like some sort of sieve or colander) and then if the topic comes up during survey, you can push back if you happen to encounter a literalist surveyor (insert comment about the likelihood of that occurring). As there is no specific requirement to have 24/7 telephone operator or security presence (is it useful from an operational standpoint to do so, absolutely—but nowhere is it specifically required), I think that this should be an effective means of ensuring you stay out of the hot waters of survey. For me, “readily available” is the important piece of this, not so much how you make it happen.

At any rate, this may be much ado about nothing (a concept of which I am no stranger), but it was just one of those curious requirements that struck me enough to blather on for a bit.

As a closing note, a quick shout-out to the folks in the areas hit by various and sundry weather-related emergencies the past little while. I hope that things are moving quickly back to normal and kudos for keeping things going during very trying times. Over the years, I’ve worked with a number of folks down in that area and I have always been impressed with the level of preparedness. I would wish that you didn’t have to be tested so dramatically, but I am confident that you all (or all y’all, as the case may be) were able to weather the weather in appropriate fashion.

Everybody here comes from somewhere: Leveling the post-survey field

Well, if the numbers published in the September Perspectives are any indication, a lot of folks are going to be working through the post-survey Evidence of Standards Compliance process, so I thought I would take a few moments to let you know what has changed since the last time (if ever—perhaps your last survey was a clean one) you may have embarked upon the process.

So, what used to be a (relatively) simple accounting of Who (is ultimately responsible for the corrective action), What (actions were taken to correct the findings), When (each of the applicable actions were taken), and How (compliance is going to be sustained) has now morphed into a somewhat more involved:

  • Assigning Accountability (for corrective actions and sustained compliance)
  • Assigning Accountability – Leadership Involvement (this is for those especially painful findings in the dark orange and red boxes in the SAFER matrix – again, corrective actions and sustained compliance)
  • Correcting the Non-Compliance – Preventive Analysis (again, this is for those big-ticket findings – the expectation is that there will be analysis of the findings/conditions cited to ensure that the underlying causative factors were addressed along with the correction of the findings)
  • Correcting the Non-Compliance (basically, this mashes together the What and When from the old regimen)
  • And last, but by no means least, Ensuring Sustained Compliance

This last bit is a multifocal outline of how ongoing compliance will be monitored, how often the monitoring activities will occur (don’t over-promise on those frequencies, boys and girls; keep it real and operationally possible), what data is going to be collected from the monitoring process, and, to whom and how often, that data is going to be reported.

Now, I “get” the whole sustaining correction “thing,” but I’ve worked in healthcare long enough to recognize that, while our goal may be perfection in all things, perfection tends not to exist within our various spheres of influence. And I know lots of folks feel rather more inadequate than not when they look at the list of findings at the end of survey (really, any survey—internal, external—there’s always lots to find), which I don’t think brings a ton of value to the process. Gee thanks, Mr. Surveyor, for pointing out that one sprinkler head with dust on it; gee thanks, Ms. Surveyor, for pointing out that missing eyewash check. I believe and take very seriously our charge to ensure that we are facilitating an appropriate physical environment for care, treatment, and services to be provided to patients in the safest possible manner. If I recall, the standards-based expectation refers to minimize or eliminate, and I can’t help thinking that minimization (which clearly doesn’t equal elimination).

Ah, I guess that’s just getting a little too whiny, but I think you see what I’m saying. At any rate, be prepared to provide a more in-depth accounting of the post-survey process than has been the case in the past.

The other piece of the post-survey picture is the correction of those Life Safety Code® deficiencies or ligature risk items that cannot be corrected within 60 days; the TJC portal for each organization, inclusive of the Statement of Conditions section, has a lot of information/instruction regarding how those processes unfold after the survey. While I know you can’t submit anything until you’ve been well and truly cited for it during survey, I think it would be a really good thing to hop on the old extranet site and check out what questions you need to consider, etc., if you have to engage a long-term corrective action or two. While in some ways it is not as daunting as it first seems, there is an expectation for a very (and I do mean very, very) thorough accounting of the corrective actions, timelines, etc., and I think it a far better strategy to at least eyeball the stuff (while familiarity is said to breed contempt, it also breeds understanding) before you’re embroiled in the survey process for real.

Pay a great deal of attention to the man behind the curtain: More ligature survey stuff!

This week’s installment is rather brief and (at least for the moment) is germane only to those folks with inpatient behavioral health units. During a recent TJC survey of a behavioral health hospital, I was able to catch a glimpse into the intentions of the information revealed last November (holy moly, it’s almost been a year!). I have to admit that the “cadence” of this particular guidance was a little confusing to me at the time, but now I “get” it.

In discussing the recommendations regarding nursing stations (nursing stations with an unobstructed view so that a patient attempt at self-harm at the nursing station would be easily seen and interrupted), the article in Perspectives goes on to indicate that areas behind self-closing/self-locking doors do not need to be ligature-resistant. The consideration that I want to share with you is that a self-closing/self-locking door is not the same as a door that is always locked (maybe you figured that out as a proactive stance, but I always considered control over locked spaces to be sufficiently reliable, but it would seem not to be the case). At any rate, if you take the guidance at its word, if you have a space on your behavioral health unit that has ligature risks contained therein, then you best have doors that self-close and lock. You may have a lot of doors that secure ligature-present spaces that do not self-close and lock; if that’s the case, you may want to reach out to the Standards Interpretation Group for official feedback on this. All I can tell you is that it’s been cited in at least one recent survey and it does reflect the content shared last November (I think it would have been my inclination to separate the nursing station concept from the “other” areas for the sake of clarity, but I can see where things “fall” now that it’s come up during a survey), so it’s definitely worth some consideration in your “house.”

I’ve been there, I know the way: More Executive Briefings goodness

You’ve probably seen a smattering of stuff related to the (still ongoing as I write this) rollout of this year’s edition of Joint Commission Executive Briefings. As near as I can tell, during the survey period of June 1, 2017 to May 31, 2018, there were about 27 hospitals that did not “experience” a finding in the Environment of Care (EC) chapter (98% of hospitals surveyed got an EC finding) and a slightly larger number (97% with a Life Safety chapter finding) that had no LS findings. So, bravo to those folks who managed to escape unscathed—that is no small feat given the amount of survey time (and survey eyes) looking at the physical environment. Not sure what he secret is for those folks, but if there’s anyone out there in the studio audience that would like to share their recipe for success (even anonymously: I can be reached directly at stevemacsafetyspace@gmail.com), please do, my friends, please do.

Another interesting bit of information deals with the EC/LS findings that are “pushing” into the upper right-hand sectors of the SAFER matrix (findings with moderate or high likelihood of harm with a pattern or widespread level of occurrence). Now, I will freely admit that I am not convinced that the matrix setup works as well for findings in the physical environment, particularly since the numbers are so small (and yes, I understand that it’s a very small sample size). For example, if you have three dusty sprinkler heads in three locations, that gets you a spot in the “widespread” category. I don’t know, it just makes me grind my teeth a little more fiercely. And the EP cited most frequently in the high likelihood of harm category? EC.02.02.01 EP5—handling of hazardous materials! I am reasonably confident that a lot of those findings have to do with the placement/maintenance of eyewash stations (and I’ve seen a fair number of what I would characterize as draconian “reads” on all manner of considerations relating to eyewash stations, which reminds me: if you don’t have maintenance-free batteries for your emergency generators and you don’t have ready access to emergency eyewash equipment when those batteries are being inspected/serviced, then you may be vulnerable during your next survey).

At the end of the day, I suppose there is no end to what can be (and, clearly, is) found in the physical environment, and I absolutely “get” the recent focus on pressure relationships and ligature risks (and, soon enough, probably Legionella–it was a featured topic of coverage in the EC presentation), but a lot of the rest of this “stuff” seems a little like padding to me…

If it’s September, it’s time for Executive Briefings!

I suspect that, over the next few weeks, as I learn of stuff coming out of the various and sundry Joint Commission Executive Briefings sessions, I’ll be sharing some thoughts, etc., in those regards here in the ol’ blog.

The first thing to “pop” at me was some information regarding Chapter 15 (Features of Fire Protection) in NFPA 99 Health Facilities Code (2012 edition) relating to the management of surgical fire risks. If you’ve not had a chance to check out section 13 of said chapter, I think it will be worth your while as there are a couple of things that in the past one might have described as a best practice. But, with the official adoption of NFPA 99 by CMS, this has become (more or less, but definitely more than before) the law of the land. From a practical standpoint, I can absolutely get behind the concepts contained in this section (I’m pretty comfortable with the position that any surgical fire is at least one more than we should have), but from a strict compliance standpoint, I know that it can be very challenging to get the folks up in surgery to “play ball” with the physical environment rules and regulations.

As one might expect, the whole thing breaks down into a few components: hazard assessment; establishment of fire prevention procedures; management of germicides and antiseptics; establishment of emergency procedures; orientation and training. I think the piece of this that might benefit from some focused attention relates to the management of germicides and antiseptics, particularly as a function of the required “timeout” for the germicide/antiseptic application process. And yes my friends, I did say “required”; Section 15.13.3.6 indicates (quite specifically) that a preoperative “timeout” period shall be conducted prior to the initiation of any surgical procedure using flammable liquid germicides or antiseptics to verify that:

  • Application site of flammable germicide or antiseptic is dry prior to draping and use of electrosurgery, cautery, or a laser
  • Pooling of solution has not occurred or has been corrected
  • Any solution-soaked materials have been removed from the operating room (OR) prior to draping and use of electrosurgery, cautery, or a laser

Now, I will freely and openly admit that I’ve not done a deep dive into the later chapters of NFPA 99 (though that’s on my to-do list), so I hadn’t bumped into this, but I can definitely see this being a potential vulnerability, particularly in light of the recent FDA scrutiny (and it goes to Linda B’s question in follow-up to a recent blog posting—I probably should have turtled to this at that point—mea maxima culpa). At any rate, nothing in this section of NFPA 99 is arguable unless you don’t have it in place and a surveyor “goes there,” so perhaps you should be sure that your OR folks are already “there” sooner rather than later.

Two closing items:

  • The good folks at the Facilities Guidelines Institute have provided a state-by-state resource identifying which states have adopted the FGI guidelines (completely, partially, not really). You can find that information here.
  • Also,  Triumvirate Environmental is presenting a couple of webinars over the next little while that might be of interest. The one this week (sorry for the short notice) deals with the recently established by EPA’s Hazardous Waste e-Manifest Program and then the week after next, there’s a program on Best Practices to Optimize Your Waste Documentation Program. While I can’t call these crazy risky survey vulnerabilities, EC.02.02.01 is still percolating around the top of the most frequently cited list, so it never hurts to obtain greater familiarity with this stuff.

Enjoy your week safely!