August 02, 2011 | | Comments 0
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How soon is now, how safe is safe enough?

During a recent Joint Commission survey, a concern was raised because the hospital’s pediatrics and OB units were not “equipped” with the same security system, etc. I’m not certain whether the result was a specific finding, but the question, in and of itself, is instructive when it comes to the science of assessment.

First off, I’ve never actually seen the areas in question, so I will engage in a little bit of conjecture, but I think the general themes can be applied in your house, particularly if you don’t have a whole lot of pediatric patient volume. Now certainly, the historical focus on abduction prevention has been primarily on the security of newborns, which I think we can all agree is a vulnerable patient population. That said, there are certainly risks involved in providing for the security of pediatric patients (and maybe some adult patients as well—it’s getting kind of crazy out there in the world), risks that would have to include abduction.

From a regulatory standpoint, there is very little specific guidance beyond the caveat of ensuring that you are not compromising life safety concerns as you install security systems. Locking doors in egress paths can be tricky and, in virtually every instance I can think of, the process was much more complicated than was originally presumed, but that’s a story for another day. We know what the result will be if our security efforts are not sufficient/appropriate, etc.: something will happen and that something will not be good. But that raises the somewhat rhetorical question of whether you can “rest” based on nothing bad happening. Is that a legitimate conclusion to make? Variations on this theme have become very noticeable during surveys this year. Maybe it’s something identified by a vendor that you haven’t gotten around to fixing, maybe it’s a new piece of technology that you have budgeted for next year, but that’s going to take time to purchase, install, educate staff, etc. Maybe (as is more or less the case in the recent survey mentioned above) from an operational standpoint, your pediatrics unit is in a small part of a regular medical/surgical unit and the geography of the space does not lend itself to the same security measures as you have on your OB unit.

These are all real life occurrences and each has its own security or EC implications that need to be managed. But (and this is a sizable one), you have to be able to articulate where you are in the process and how you are making sure that any elevated risks that are the result of not being able to do something right now are being appropriately managed. I hate to say this, but it’s been coming up far too often in surveys this year for this to be ignored: you absolutely need to discuss and document the management of these types of risks, including those all-important interim measures (if they are needed). Otherwise, you leave yourself vulnerable to a survey finding for which it is very difficult to negotiate a “settlement” either during survey or as part of the clarification process.

There are no standards that specify a time frame for completion, a technology enhancement, etc. That’s the responsibility of each organization to manage. But with that responsibility comes the obligation to manage any associated risks in fairly transparent fashion (I think I’ve managed to avoid invoking the transparency card until now): frontline point of care/point of service staff need to be able to articulate how we are managing risk until such time as solutions can be implemented. If they can’t, the risk of a survey finding rises exponentially. It’s no longer enough for leadership to know what’s going on, the folks in the field have to know, too. Pediatrics staff need to articulate how they are managing abduction risks for their patients. And if you have pediatrics in the ED, there needs to be some competency there as well. We can’t always do what we want when we want to do it, which is the reality of healthcare. But we do need to understand and share the risk implications of all those decisions and non-decisions.

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Filed Under: Emergency management


Steve MacArthur About the Author: Steve MacArthur is a safety consultant with The Greeley Company in Danvers, Mass. He brings more than 30 years of healthcare management and consulting experience to his work with hospitals, physician offices, and ambulatory care facilities across the country. He is the author of HCPro's Hospital Safety Director's Handbook and is contributing editor for Briefings on Hospital Safety. Contact Steve at

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