February 16, 2016 | | Comments 0
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This American Hospital: HAIs resulting from exposure to lead

As I think I’ve mentioned in the past, I listen to a fair amount of public radio when I’m in the car, and this past Saturday, I stumbled (I’ve found that my errands don’t always coincide with the start and end of programs—thank the gods of radio for podcasts and other forms of re-broadcast) into the middle of a story that I found quite compelling. The program itself is called This American Life and emanates from WBEZ in Chicago; the nominal purpose of the program is to provide a forum for the airing of stories about (natch!) This American Life, which allows it to cover a lot of ground. I always find the stories pretty interesting/compelling, etc., but this past weekend’s episode really got me thinking about the ongoing struggles faced by hospitals as they try to balance security, workplace violence management, the management of behavioral health patients, education of staff in being able to effectively manage crisis situations, etc. Basically, the whole gamut of issues relating to the continuing disenfranchisement of the behavioral health patient community. There are some places that do pretty well with this, but I think the opportunities to do better far outweigh the improvements made so far (that’s as close to editorializing as I’m going to do for the moment).

As I think about it, while Joint Commission compliance is probably THE hot button item when it comes to the management of risks and conditions in the physical environment, I truly believe that, at least for the folks who are typically responsible for managing the physical environment, this topic is by far the more complicated—very much in line with the prevention of healthcare-acquired infections—and, interestingly enough, there can be a crossover, but more on that in a moment.

The story deals with a “delusional” (my quotes) patient who, in the course of his stay in a hospital (you can find out a lot of the details by listening to the episode, which can be found here) encountered a situation in which he did indeed contract an HAI because of an exposure to lead, namely a bullet fired by a police officer in this patient’s hospital room. Now (trying not to sound too old), back in my days of operational responsibility, I have overseen dealings with behavioral health patients, on-duty police officers discharging their weapons in the ED, folks injured as a result of physical encounters with patients, etc. But I have to tell you (and at least some of this is the power of the storytelling in conjunction with the story being told), the sequence outlined in the episode is about as harrowing as you could imagine: not very good decisions are made and sustained; family members are perhaps not embraced as a source of useful information (I’m trying to avoid more editorializing—but tell me the story doesn’t ring some bells with you, particularly  if you’ve had operational responsibility for security), staff are perhaps not as well-prepared as they might otherwise be—a real cluster of ugliness.

I know things are never as cut and dried as they seem to be in the aftermath; you might find the “official” response from the hospital a little curious (I did as well, but I understood the forces in play—sounds like there might still be some lingering litigation), but this type of confluence of events is all too easy to imagine. I think it’s definitely in the best interests for the safety/security community to advocate for the management of these types of patients based on the underlying causes (mental illness, behavioral health issues) and not just a panicked response to the symptoms. Yes, we will always have that quotient of patients who are just [insert epithet of your choice here]. But safe care can’t be sacrificed in the rush—safe for the patients, safe for the staff.

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Filed Under: CDC/infection controlEnvironment of careThe Joint Commission

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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 stevemacsafetyspace@gmail.com.

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