December 15, 2017 | | Comments 0
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On the nth day of Christmas, CMS gave to me: Ligature risks revisited

As you will no doubt recall, back at the beginning of November, The Joint Commission released guidance relative to survey expectations and ligature risks, splitting things into guidance for behavioral health units/hospitals and then some separate items for expectations in non-behavioral health settings (emergency departments, inpatient units). The information release indicated that there were some folks from CMS involved in the (what will apparently be ongoing) discussion on what healthcare organizations can expect over the next little while as the challenges of managing all variations of the behavioral health patient population. What wasn’t clear at the time (at least to me—and it’s still not) was whether CMS’ participation in that process could be interpreted as an at least tacit endorsement of the guidance statements.

And now (well, this past week), CMS issued its own thoughts relative to its expectations, including indication that more will be forthcoming (in approximately six months’ time, so let’s just say sometime next summer). The Survey & Certification memorandum outlines the current slate of expectations (yours and theirs), starting with the pretty much unassailable notion that: “Ligature risks compromise Psychiatric Patients’ right to receive care in a safe setting.” I think we can all agree that that is a reasonable assertion with which to start a conversation.

The memo also goes on to outline the CMS definition of a ligature risk: “(a) ligature risk (point) is defined as anything which could be used to attach a cord, rope, or other material for the purpose of hanging or strangulation. Ligature points include shower rails, coat hooks, pipes, and radiators, bedsteads, window and door frames, ceiling fittings, handles, hinges and closures.” For me, the only surprise was that the example list didn’t say “include, but are not limited to.” I’m used to the regulatory rapscallions leaving themselves an “out” when it comes to this kind of stuff. While the list is pretty comprehensive, I think it stops a little short of all-inclusive, but perhaps as a function of the designated behavioral health environment, it will do. Which leads to the next highlight: this particular guidance is “primarily aimed at Psychiatric units/hospitals.” I guess that means that guidance for non-BH areas like regular emergency departments and acute-care hospital inpatient units that might have to manage behavioral health patients—maybe in the summer, but not really clear on that. It will be interesting to see how future guidance will dovetail (or not) with the TJC stuff.

So, as we wait for the next installment, it appears that it will be left in the hands of the folks on the ground (CMS regional offices, state survey agencies, accreditation organizations) to “the identification of ligature and other safety risk deficiencies, the level of citation for those deficiencies, as well as the approval of the facility’s corrective action and mitigation plans to minimize risk to patient safety and remedy the identified deficiencies.” At least for the moment, we know how TJC is going after this issue, but everything else is somewhat in the land of gray.

A couple of other items covered include time frame for correction of deficiencies (you have to fix things in the time frame identified by the surveying body, unless it is determined that it is not reasonable to expect compliance within the designated time frame, then only CMS can grant additional time for correction); the specific direction that ligature risks do not qualify for Life Safety Code® (LSC) waivers (because ligature risks are not LSC deficiencies); and if you do get to take additional time for corrective actions, monthly electronic progress reports—including substantiating evidence of progress towards compliance—will be the task. It would seem that the monthly check-in, particularly as a function of providing “substantiating evidence of progress” will help to keep the fires of progress burning bright in the hearts and minds of folks charged with making the necessary corrections. As a function of that, I’ve heard of some anecdotal accounts of surveyors indicating that there is a six-month grace period for corrective actions as long as you can substantiate that the corrections will take that long, but the word from Chicago is that is not the case. I have certainly witnessed long lead times for procurement of ligature-resistant door hardware and such, but that’s not enough to delay the reporting of progress process.

The Survey & Certification memorandum includes an attachment that outlines the current guidance to surveying agencies/organizations. I would encourage you all to give that a thorough look-see (and perhaps a dramatic reading instead of the traditional “’Twas the night before Christmas”—bet it puts the kiddies to sleep PDQ). Doubtless, I will weigh on some of the particulars as they leap out at me (much like those leaping lords) in the coming weeks, but I think I’ve gone on long enough for the moment. That said, I will leave you with these two passages from the guidance attachment:

  •  “In order to provide care in a safe setting, hospitals must identify patients at risk for intentional harm to self or others, identify environmental safety risks for such patients, and provide education and training for staff and volunteers.”

 

  • “Although all risks cannot be eliminated, hospitals are expected to demonstrate how they identify patients at risk of self-harm or harm to others and steps they are taking to minimize those risks in accordance with nationally recognized standards and guidelines.”

Certainly nothing we haven’t talked about in the past in regards to an endless supply of subjects, but kind of interesting to see this included in a missive from the palace…

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Filed Under: CMSEnvironment of careHospital safetyLife Safety Code

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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 stevemacsafetyspace@gmail.com.

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