RSSAuthor Archive for Steve MacArthur

Steve MacArthur

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

Avoiding those pesky RFIs during survey—the secret is revealed!

I recently signed up for e-mail update relative to The Joint Commission’s leadership blog and what to my wondering eyes should appear but a missive relative to avoiding RFIs in your next survey by focusing on processes relating to…wait for it…the Environment of Care and Life Safety! I don’t know that there’s a whole bunch contained in the blog that we have not discussed at various points over the years (perhaps we are members of a secret society!), but it’s always nice to hear what the folks in Chicago are thinking about.  If you’re interested (and I suspect you might very well be) you can find it here.

I’d be curious as to your thoughts in this regard. Maybe there’s something to be gleaned from an operational standpoint that is escaping my notice; it is never a bad thing to learn something new from someone’s perspective.

A cautionary tale

During a recent CMS survey, one hospital in the Northeast was cited during the inspection of the physical environment for a vent on the roof of the laboratory that was labeled “caution.” The problem—not enough information. As these folks were preparing their response, they asked me what the correct wording would be. And the answer (and I realize I haven’t used this one in a while)? It depends.

Strictly speaking, as a function of the Hazard Communication Standard, the nature of the risk of which one is being cautioned should be identified. In the case of the lab vent, it could be signage indicating that the exhaust is a biohazard or a poison, etc. When you think about it (or even if you don’t), a sign that just says “caution” doesn’t really tell enough of the story—at least in terms of how persons on the roof should be managing the risks. Many, if perhaps not most, OSHA surveyors would accept the biohazard symbol on the vent; or, alternatively, you could also include identification of rooftop hazards in your roof access protocol (I’m sure you have one of those). It sounds like there will probably have to be some follow-up discussion with the inspector to either ask him for some guidance (I’m guessing there may get some generic instruction, but not much in the way of specifics) or at least run by him what the plan of correction will entail. It would be most stinky to have your corrective action plan kicked back because they don’t like how you’ve worded the signage, etc. Fixing identified issues is one thing, but when it gets into the gray area of how you would effectively manage risk is a little bit more tenuous—way better to err on the side of caution.

What do you do when everything goes wrong?

In reflecting on the healthcare safety news items of the last 12 months, the one that gives me the most pause is the situation involving missing patient at a hospital in San Francisco last fall, solely because it seems to have been so preventable (and yes, I recognize that hindsight is 20/20), even if I also recognize it could potentially have happened at any medium- to large-sized facility.

I guess the answer to the rhetorical question is that the only thing you can do is learn from what happened and make the necessary improvements to ensure that the chances of recurrence are pretty close to zero (this is in recognition that perfection is often a nice objective, but very tough to pull off). It does appear that a number of failure modes were identified (and shared—that’s a good thing—see the story) and I’m sure there have been changes to procedures that reflect what was learned.

How often do patients go “missing”? I don’t know that we’d ever be able to gain a full sense of how many folks are unattended for any length of time. Patients go out for air (smoky air, maybe), or just want to stretch their legs inside. It’s a very slippery slope to try and control every patient’s every waking moment, at least the ones who are mobile (from a risk management perspective, we probably focus more on the movements of the less mobile patients—falls are a big deal too). I don’t think you can, from a practical standpoint, query every patient you might encounter during rounds, though I suppose you could invoke the customer service “Can I help you find something?” to ease that type of encounter. Ah well, I guess this is likely to remain an issue of some complexity, but if anyone out there in the blogosphere would care to share their thoughts and ideas in this forum, I think there would be a great deal of interest.

You’ve got the power!

Howdy, folks! I just wanted to share with you a recent development relative the changes to the emergency generator testing requirements proposed by CMS. I’m not sure how many of you folks are familiar with Dan Chisholm of MGI Consulting, Inc. Dan provides emergency power consulting services to healthcare and mission critical organizations, as well as being a member of the NFPA 110 and NFPA 99 electrical section Technical Committees.

At any rate, Dan responded to the CMS request for feedback relative to the proposed changes, which, in turn, resulted in CMS requesting from him information regarding estimated costs for performing generator tests while operating on emergency power. So, to assist in helping CMS make as informed a decision as possible in this matter (and I think it is in our collective best interests to ensure that they make a well-informed decision), Dan is asking for assistance in gathering this performance data.

When I saw this request, I offered to share the request with you folks out in the blogosphere: I would appreciate anything you folks could do to be of assistance. I recognize that isn’t necessarily within everyone’s “wheelhouse,” but if this isn’t yours, I would appreciate it if shared it with the folks in your organization who oversee the emergency power supply systems. The goal is to supply CMS with as much factual information regarding costs and environmental impact before the comment period closes on February 25.

Please email the following information to with “CMS EPSS Data” in the subject line:

1.  The total kW load supplied by all generators during a normal monthly test when all ATSs are transferred to the emergency position.
2.  The total facility square footage, excluding parking garages, supplied with emergency power.
3.  Type of facility:  Acute, CAH, or LTC
4.  Diesel or natural gas powered generators

How long can this go on?

Recently I received a question regarding the use of the risk assessment process to determine whether an environmental condition was being appropriately managed. During survey, these folks were cited for not actively monitoring temperature and humidity in a sterile storage supply room adjacent to the OB surgical procedure room (this is one location that I’ve seen cropping up in recent surveys—please remember to keep an eye on sterile storage locations). The physical layout of the space, including the HVAC equipment, basically provides the “same” environment for the procedure room (where they had been monitoring humidity and temperature), so the question became whether the risk assessment process could be used to indicate that if the temp and  humidity in the procedure room had been fine, then the sterile storage room would be fine as well.

Now if we’d been having this discussion prior to the survey finding, we might have had a little bit of leverage, but I still think it would be a tough sell, both during survey or as part of the clarification process, because up to this point, there was no performance data to support that determination (which doesn’t mean it isn’t the case, just means there’s no supporting data—a very important and useful thing to have). My advice, especially since they’d taken the hit during survey, was to collect data for 12 months (this particular facility is located in an area that has four seasons—if you’re looking at a similar situation, but you only have, say, two seasons, you might be able to get away with fewer than 12 months of data) and then make the determination that monitoring only need be occurring in one location in this space. As an additional protective measure, I also suggested they might consider submitting data to the folks at the Joint Commission Standards Interpretation Group and query whether the consistency of data supports the monitoring conditions in the entire suite and not having to monitor in each space. Surveyors are more frequently arriving with past survey results, so it’s important to make sure you are appropriate and consistently managing past findings—you don’t want to be in a position in which previously noted conditions have not been corrected.

It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times—or perhaps not

It appears that we are soon to be basking in the presence of an interesting confluence. It appears that CMS is looking very closely at requiring hospitals to conduct four-hour generator tests every year. Don’t know that that is a particularly surprising development given the focus on the reliability of emergency power, though I’m not sure how much the brain trust for NFPA 110 was consulted in this regard. At any rate, you will definitely want to take a look at the Federal Register for December 27, 2013 for the proposed rules (the emergency generator piece can be found on pages 79173-4, but the whole proposed rule has to do with hospitals and emergency preparedness; I suspect we’ll be chatting about this stuff for a while). Go to the Federal Register webpage where you can download the PDF of the proposed rule (and get yourself some snacks, it’s 120 pages long). The comment period ends on February 25, so you might want to get in on the action, the options for commenting are on the webpage.

Moving on to the other piece of this lovely regulatory (governmental?) maelstrom, we have the EPA, which is enacting fairly significant requirements for emergency generator emissions (you can find a story on this topic from Health Facilities Management magazine). You can find more information about the specifics of the emissions requirements at the EPA website.

It appears that we will be looking at additional generator testing with stricter emissions requirements—sounds like way too much fun!


It’s the most wonderful time of the year (for many safety folks)

As one year draws to a close (sometimes it takes until the end of January to be able to “close out” December), for many safety professionals, it’s time to start working on the annual evaluation of Environment of Care program. Hopefully, in reviewing performance over the last 12 months, you’ve made some improvements, but you’re hopefully also identifying the improvement opportunities that await your program in 2014.

The annual evaluation process is one to which I give a lot of thought over the year, as I look at how folks are administering the process. And I think my best advice is to think about the evaluation process as a way to tell the story of your program—unless you’re just “setting out” on the safety journey, you have a wealth of history (triumphs, frustrations, maybe one or two non-starters—remember, there are no failures as long as you learn something from them) and all-too-often, I see folks focusing only what has happened in the last 12 months without placing those 12 months into some sort of historical context. Use the evaluation of the scope, objectives, performance, and effectiveness to reflect the journey/story that has resulted in your program being where it is. I’m sure you’ve all experienced instances in which, when looking at the last 12 months, the picture you’re holding is somehow incomplete. You know you’re better/different than what you’re looking at, but how do you clarify that picture, particularly when you’ll be communicating that picture to your EoC team and probably organizational leadership?

I think if you focus on the (hi)story (I don’t think I could go back further than a couple of years—maybe five, but that would be at the very most) of your program, you’ll be able to  frame things in such a way as to really crystallize the journey. You are where you are for a reason and sometimes 12 months of activity/performance isn’t enough to provide a true appreciation for where you’ve been, where you are now, and where you are going.

A new year and a period of transition

Those of you in the audience paying close attention to the content of the blog may well have noticed a heretofore gap in “fresh” materials, so I wanted to take a moment to comment on that, to offer my wishes for this brave new year, and to update you on what’s been going on in my sphere of influence.

So, first things first: I have absolute confidence that 2014 will be an improvement over 2013—or, at the very least I will remain hopeful until proven otherwise (it’s how I roll!) And so, I offer this aspiration for your professional existence: I hope 2014 kicks serious keister!

I’m back in the swing of things (though if you know someone who is in need of a gently used EC/LS/EM consultant, please point them in my direction) and you can expect at least weekly updates in these pages, as well as (hopefully—yes, I am full of…hope! Shame on those who thought I was full of something else) an updated version of the Hospital Safety Director’s Handbook (the update will include a new title, but we’ll save that for later) to be published later this year. There been a boatload of changes in the healthcare safety landscape since the last edition was published; if you have anything you’d like to see included, now would be a very excellent time to weigh in.

And how might one weigh in? I’m glad you asked! I’ve set up an email account to handle professional communications, so if you have questions, comments, concerns, suggestions, thoughts, curses, etc., I can be reached at It has been one of the great pleasures of my existence to have gotten to know you folks over the past 10 years and I have every intention of continuing that relationship—and this community—for the foreseeable future. On that note, I’m going to close things out for the moment, but in the words of my esteemed ancestor, Dugout Doug, I shall return!

When two tribes go to war: EVS to the rescue!

A while back we discussed the two tribes that inhabit the healthcare world—the finders and the fixers. During that discussion, I advised the development of a more robust participation on the part of the finders, so the fixers can focus on the fixing, as opposed to having to go out and find stuff to fix (during safety rounds, etc.) This week I’d like to focus on a very important group in the finder tribe: the environmental services staff (EVS).

Generally speaking, at least in my experience, once they have completed a cleaning task, the EVS folks are charged with performing a visual inspection of the area that has been cleaned. Sort of like reviewing the answers to a test before you turn in the test paper—dotting the “I’s” and crossing the “t’s” as it were. So the thought I had (though it may be as much question as thought…here’s where you folks come into the picture) is to find out whether your EVS folks are checking for what might loosely be termed “maintenance issues” when they go about their cleaning rounds. I guess my overarching thought on this is that when (or maybe if…I’ll let you be the judge of that) a room is ready for occupancy (which I suppose kind of limits this to rooms cleaned after patient discharge), the room should be as “ready” as possible. This includes making sure that the place is not only clean, but the various and sundry component systems are also in good working order: TV works, lights work, toilet flushes, faucet doesn’t leak, ceiling tiles are clean and present, cubicle curtains are all hooked up, etc. It seems to me that it would be a pretty fair customer satisfier not to have to worry about whether stuff works, but that may just be me (I know I would like that…). So, what do you folks think?

If you don’t have pictures, you don’t have —!

As you are all no doubt familiar, sometimes those educational topics surrounding safety can come across as a bit dry and that dryness all too frequently ends up being the focal point of safety presentations. Now, one of the fun little quirky things that you run into when flying is that every time you get on a plane, you have to go through orientation (if only we as healthcare safety professionals could “capture” an audience as frequently as the airlines do) and sometime those orientations are very much less than compelling. And so, I thought that you might find the following offerings from NPR and The Telegraph of some interest, entertainment, and perhaps some inspiration. As I like to say during my consulting visits, this stuff doesn’t have to be torture. At any rate, I hope you enjoy these, and maybe you’ve got some homegrown footage you’d want to share (or perhaps already have shared); there’s no reason we can’t all partake of such splendor.