November 23, 2016 | | Comments 0
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Can we count painful survey findings and new requirements as blessings?

First off, please accept my bestest wishes to you and yours for a most joyous and restful (or as restful as you want it to be) Thanksgiving holiday.

To paraphrase a certain musical ensemble, what a long, strange compliance year it’s been. Hopefully, 2016 will head off into the realm of history with a whimper (I think we’ve experienced enough “bangs” to take us well into 2017 and beyond). And so, a little casserole of safety stuff to tide you over ’til next week. First up, some risk assessment deliciousness, courtesy of NFPA 99.

I had intended to discuss this back a few weeks, but there has been a lot to discuss these past few weeks. At any rate, I was able to get a look at the CMS update portion of the Executive Briefings presentation and it appears that there was some discussion relating to the practical application of how a space is used to determine the risk category for the equipment and/or systems used to support that space. My sense of this is that it’s not so much the space itself as it is, but rather what processes, etc., exist within the space you are evaluating, using the definitions from NFPA 99. So, the methodology focuses on an analysis of facility systems and equipment based on the risks associated with failures of those systems:

Category 1—Facility systems in which failure of such equipment or system is likely to cause major injury or death of patients or caregivers

Category 2—Facility systems in which failure of such equipment or system is likely to cause minor injury to patients or caregivers

Category 3—Facility systems in which failure of such equipment is not likely to cause injury to patients or caregivers

Category 4—Facility systems in which failure of such equipment would have no impact on patient care.


So, moving to the definitions in NFPA 99, you sort the above concepts based on how the space is used:

  • Facility systems and equipment for critical care rooms would be Category 1
  • Facility systems and equipment for general care rooms would be Category 2
  • Facility systems and equipment for basic care rooms would be Category 3
  • Facility systems and equipment for support rooms would be Category 4

Each of the chapters in NFPA 99 (gas and vacuum systems, gas equipment, electrical systems, HVAC, etc.) have provisions for the different categories, as applicable, so it appears that the expectation (at least as it was presented at Exec Briefings) is that the organization of the facilities systems and equipment would reflect this methodology. To be honest, I think this may be more of an issue with re-packaging how things are equipped and maintained; maybe including the category designation on work orders, etc. I don’t know that this is going to extend to TJC’s activities, though with the bad marks it received on its CMS report card, it seems unlikely that TJC will become more reasonable…time, as they say, will tell.

Another potential complication for survey year 2017 (I’m pretty confident of this, but not yet certain about the timeline for implementation) is a broadening of the Evidence of Standards Compliance (ESC) process to include at least two more considerations. At the moment, the ESC process requires a response to the following categories: Who (is responsible for the correction); What (was done to correct the deficiency); When (the corrective action was completed); How (the corrective action was implemented and will be sustained), and Measure of Success (for those pesky “C” performance elements—to which we will bid a hearty “adieu” on January 1, 2017). I think we’re all pretty familiar with that part of the process (I can’t imagine that anyone’s had a survey with no findings in the physical environment, though I suppose the infamous “bell” curve might dictate otherwise), but there is indication that with the removal of the Measure of Success category, we will have two additional elements to document within the framework/context of the corrective action: Leadership Involvement and Preventive Analysis. At the moment, it appears that the sequence will look something like this:


Leadership Involvement:




Preventive Analysis:

I think being able to account for leadership involvement is a pretty straightforward response (I think probably the best way to frame this would be to identify the boss of whoever the “who” would be; and perhaps that boss’ boss, depending on the circumstance), but I suspect that the Preventive Analysis portion of the response could get quite complicated. As near as I can tell, it would be an amalgam of the root cause that resulted in the finding and the strategy for preventing future deficiencies, although minimizing the risk of recurrence might be a more useful viewpoint—as I like to tell folks, it’s the easiest thing in the world to fix something and the among the most difficult things to keep that something fixed. Hopefully, this will end up being no more than a little more water under the bridge, but I guess as long as findings in the physical environment remain a focus, the sustainment of corrective actions will be part of the conversation.

And on that note, I bid you a Thanksgiving to eclipse all yet experienced: gobble, gobble!

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Filed Under: CMSThe Joint Commission


Steve MacArthur About the Author: Steve MacArthur is a safety consultant based in Bridgewater, 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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