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Steve MacArthur

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.

’Tis the season…for more emergency management goodness!

Recognizing the somewhat hyperbolic nature of this week’s headline (you need only listen to current news/weather feeds to be able to determine that emergencies are not quite as seasonal as perhaps they once were…), I did want to share one more emergency management-related nugget with you (I do try to mix things up, but until I start seeing some “hard” survey results—or some regulatory panjandrum makes some sort of announcement, I’m going to keep seeding this space with various and sundry bits of stuff), this coming to us from the left coast, aka California.

While I have little doubt that you Californians in the audience are familiar with the California Department of Public Health (CDPH—four scary letters, though perhaps not as scary as OSHPD for the facilities folks in Cali) requirements for workplace emergency plans (which is highlighted in this month’s CDPH Occupational Health Watch), I think that there might well be some useful information for folks in other parts of the country (I have found, over some few years of experience, that regulatory tsunamis can start in California and find their way to all manner of locales). To be honest (and why else would we be here?), the plan elements required (or at least the ones the surveyors want to see) by the usual regulatorily-inclined suspects, are frequently not quite as useful from an operational preparedness/mitigation/response/recovery standpoint (they provide a useful structure for the aforementioned quartet, but when it comes down to doing the do, again, sometimes not so much).

At any rate, the Cal/OSHA Emergency Action Plan requirements, provide (at least in my mind—feel free to disagree) a good basic sense of the pieces to have in place that are not necessarily as patient-focused. When the fecal matters starts impacting the rapidly rotation turbine blades, it’s important to have a structure in place that addresses the employee aspect, particularly for those of you with offsite non-clinical operations (billing, finance, HR, etc.: a lot of folks don’t have enough space at the main campus for all the moving pieces that constitute a healthcare organization). So, here’s the California stuff (and please feel free to share any good stuff your state might have on the books—this is all about getting prepared and staying prepared—every little bit helps):

(b) Elements. The following elements, at a minimum, shall be included in the plan:

(1) Procedures for emergency evacuation, including type of evacuation and exit route assignments;

(2) Procedures to be followed by employees who remain to operate critical plant operations before they evacuate;

(3) Procedures to account for all employees after emergency evacuation has been completed;

(4) Procedures to be followed by employees performing rescue or medical duties;

(5) The preferred means of reporting fires and other emergencies; and

(6) Names or regular job titles of persons or departments who can be contacted for further information or explanation of duties under the plan.

(c) Alarm System.

(1) The employer shall establish an employee alarm system which complies with Article 165 (link to that info here).

(2) If the employee alarm system is used for alerting fire brigade members, or for other purposes, a distinctive signal for each purpose shall be used.

(d) Evacuation. The employer shall establish in the emergency action plan the types of evacuation to be used in emergency circumstances.

(e) Training.

(1) Before implementing the emergency action plan, the employer shall designate and train a sufficient number of persons to assist in the safe and orderly emergency evacuation of employees.

(2) The employer shall advise each employee of his/her responsibility under the plan at the following times:

(A) Initially when the plan is developed,

(B) Whenever the employee’s responsibilities or designated actions under the plan change, and

(C) Whenever the plan is changed.

(3) The employer shall review with each employee upon initial assignment those parts of the plan which the employee must know to protect the employee in the event of an emergency. The written plan shall be kept at the workplace and made available for employee review. For those employers with 10 or fewer employees the plan may be communicated orally to employees and the employer need not maintain a written plan.

 

I hope this provides you with some useful (and perhaps even thoughtful) information as we roll through emergency year 2018. I am hoping for a time of minimal impact for communities this year (I think we had just about enough last year), but the oddness of the weather patterns over the past couple of months gives me pause. (I live in the Boston area and Houston and its environs had snow before we did!)

Emergency Management Monkeyshines: All Things Must Pass…

Sometimes like a kidney stone, but nonetheless…

Before we dive into this week’s “content,” I have a thought for you to ponder as to the nature of basing future survey results on the results of surveys past (rather Dickensian, the results of surveys past): Recognizing that authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) always reserve the right to disagree with any decision you’ve ever made or, indeed, anything they (or any other AHJ) have told you in the past, how long are existing waivers and/or equivalencies good for? Hopefully this ponderable will not visit itself upon you or your organization, but one must be prepared for any (and every) eventuality. Which neatly brings us to:

In digging around past emails and such, I noticed that I had not visited the Department of Health and Human Services Healthcare Emergency Preparedness Gateway in rather a while and what to my wondering eyes should appear but some updated info and a link to CMS that I think you’ll find useful. So, the current headlines/topics:

  • Considerations for the Use of Temporary Care Locations for Managing Seasonal Patient Surge
  • Pediatric Issues in Disasters Webinar
  • 2017 Hurricane Response – Resources for Children with Special Health Care Needs
  • Supporting Non-resident/Foreign Citizen Patients
  • A new issue of The Exchange newsletter
  • A link to the CMS Emergency Preparedness Final Rule surveyor training (you can find the information available to providers here). Unfortunately, the post-test is not available to providers, but sometimes it’s like that.

It is my intent over the next little while to check out the education package, so I will let you know if I have any grave reservations about the content, etc., or if I think you need to earmark it for priority viewing.

So, kind of brief this week, but I’m sure there’ll be more to discuss in the not too distant future. And so, with the end of wintah on the horizon, I wish you a moderately temperate week!

There’s no such thing as someone else’s code: Infection control and the environment (again…)

Periodically, I field questions from folks that require a little bit (well, perhaps sometimes more than a little) of conjecture. Recently, I received a question regarding the requirements in ASHRAE 170-2008 regarding appropriate pressure relationships in emergency department and radiology waiting rooms (ASHRAE 170-2008 says those areas would be under negative pressure, with the caveat that the requirement applies only to “waiting rooms programmed to hold patients awaiting chest x-rays for diagnosis of respiratory disease”).

Right now, that particular question is kind of the elephant in the room from a regulatory perspective; there is every indication that The Joint Commission/CMS are working their way through ASHRAE 170-2008 and have yet to make landfall on this particular requirement—as far as I know—feel free to disabuse me of that notion. The intent of the requirement (as I interpret it) is to have some fundamental protections in place to ensure that an isolated respiratory contagion does not have the capacity of becoming a legitimate outbreak because of inadequate ventilation. Now, you could certainly use the annual infection control program risk assessment to identify whether your waiting rooms are “programmed to hold patients awaiting chest x-rays for diagnosis of respiratory disease” based on the respiratory disease data from the local community (and you might be able to obtain data from a larger geographic area, which one might consider a “buffer zone”).

Best case scenario results in you being able to take this completely off the table from a risk standpoint, next best would be that you introduce protocols for respiratory patients that remove them from the general waiting rooms (depending on the potential numbers, you may not have the space for it), worst case being that you have to modify the current environment to provide appropriate levels of protection. The notation for this requirement does provide some relief for folks with a recirculating air system in these areas, which allows for HEPA filters to be used instead of exhausting the air from these spaces to the outdoors, providing the return air passes through the HEPA filters before it introduced into any other spaces.

Knowing what I do about some of the ventilation challenges folks have, I suspect that it may make more sense to pursue the HEPA filtration setup than it would be to try to bring each of the spaces under negative pressure, but (going out on a limb here) that might be a question best answered by a group of knowledgeable folks (including an individual of the mechanical engineering persuasion) as a function of the (wait for it…) risk assessment process.

Ultimately, it comes down to what the Authority Having Jurisdiction chooses to enforce; that said, it might be worth having someone work through your state channels or by putting the question to the Standards Interpretation Group at Joint Commission (I suspect that their response would not be not particularly instructive beyond the usual “do a risk assessment” strategy, but there is a new person running the Engineering group at TJC, so perhaps something a little more helpful might be forthcoming). At any rate, as noted above, I’ve not heard of this being cited, but I also know that if there’s an outbreak tied to inadequate ventilation somewhere, this could become a hot topic pretty quickly (probably not as hot as ligature risks at the moment, but you never know…).

When the tough get going: Emergency Management and other considerations

First off (and apologies for the short lead time on this), but next week (February 13), CDC is hosting a webinar on the importance of assessing for environmental exposures during emergencies (and in general). While this is likely to be some useful information as a going concern, you can also earn CEUs for tuning in. A summary of the program as well as registration information, etc., can be found here. Overall, I think hospitals had a pretty good track record of emergency response in 2017, but somehow these things never seem to get easier over time…

Another issue that I see starting to gain a little traction in the survey world is dealing with concerns relating to medical gas and vacuum systems; for the most part (I’m sure there are some exceptions, but I can’t say that I’ve run into them), folks in hospitals tend to rely on contracted vendors to do the formal inspection, testing, and maintenance of medical gas and vacuum systems, which tends to keep an in-depth knowledge of the dirty details at (more or less) arm’s length. A couple of weeks ago, I received some information from Jason Di Marco of Compliant Healthcare Technologies (many thanks to Jason!) that I thought would be worth sharing with you folks. Of primary interest is a downloadable guide to medical gas systems (available here in exchange for your email address) that really gives a good overview of the nuts and bolts (as it were) of your med gas system. Jason also publishes a blog on the critical aspects of medical gas and vacuum system inspection, testing, maintenance, compliance, etc., where I found a fair amount of useful information. Again, I can see the regulatory compliance laser focus starting to turn in the direction of all the systems covered under NFPA 99 and I can also see some of those prickly surveyor types trying to pick at the knowledge base of the folks managing these processes. So, in the interest of never having too much information, I would suggest getting a little more intimate with your medical gas and vacuum systems.

You don’t have to be a weather(person)man to tell: Kicking off survey year 2018!

Your guess is as good as mine…

Just a couple of brief items (relatively—you know how I do go on, but I will try) of interest. I don’t know that there’s a common theme besides an effort to anticipate in which direction the survey winds might blow in 2018:

  •  Previously in this space, I’ve mentioned the work of Matt Freije and his team at HCInfo as they have done yeoman’s (yeoperson’s?) work in the field of water systems management and the “fight” against In response to last year’s letter of intent by CMS to take a more focused look at how hospitals and nursing homes are providing appropriately safe water systems for their patients, Mr. Freije has developed a checklist to help folks evaluate their current situations and has posted the checklist online for comment, suggestions, etc. I’m having a hard time thinking that this might not become something of a hardship for folks arriving late to the party, so if you’ve not yet embraced poking around this subject (and even if you have), you’d do well to check out the checklist.
  •  A couple of inspection items relative to the ongoing rollout of the various and sundry changes wrought by the adoption of the 2012 Life Safety Code®, some of which have yet to migrate in detail to the accreditation organization publications (at least the ones that I’ve seen), but have popped up during recent CMS surveys:
    • Make sure you fire alarm circuit breakers are clearly marked in red (check out NFPA 72 10.5.5.2 for the skinny on this).
    • Make sure your ILSM/fire watch policy/process reflects the appropriate AHJs—you need to make sure that you know for sure whether your state department of public health, et al, want to be notified. They do in California, and probably elsewhere.
    • In NFPA 25, chapters 5 and 13 indicate some monthly inspections of gauges, valves for condition, appropriate position (open or closed) and normal pressures—again, they’re not specifically listed in the accreditation manuals yet, but I suspect that they’ll be coming to a survey report near you before too long.
    • A final note for the moment in this category, NFPA 70 (2011 edition) 400.10 indicates that “flexible cords and cables shall be connected to devices and to fittings so that tension is not transmitted to joints of terminals.” Keep an eye on power strips, particularly in your IT and communications closets for those dangling power strips (and some of them aren’t so much dangling as they are pulled across open spaces, etc. I suspect you know what I mean.) I know the folks who manage this stuff think that we are just being pains in the butt, but now you may have a little codified leverage.
  •  In my post a couple of weeks ago, I don’t think I played the personal protective equipment (PPE) card with sufficient gravity; part of folks’ understanding of the hazards of using chemicals is recognizing the importance of actually using appropriate PPE as identified on the product SDS. When you think about it, the emergency eyewash station is not intended to be the first line of defense in the management of exposures to chemical hazards, but rather what happens when there is an emergency exposure. If the use of PPE is hardwired into the process, then the only time they’ll need to use the eyewash equipment is when they do their weekly testing. At that, my friends, is as it should be.

 

What it is ain’t exactly clear: Hazardous materials management and the SAFER matrix

I was recently asked to ponder the (relative—all things are relative) preponderance of findings under the Hazardous Materials and Wastes Management standard (EC.02.02.01 for those of you keeping track). For me, the most interesting part of the question was the information that (as was apparently revealed at the Joint Commission Executive Briefings sessions last fall) findings under EC.02.02.01 frequently found their way to the part of the SAFER matrix indicating a greater likelihood of causing harm (the metric being low, moderate, and high likelihood of harm) than some of the other RFIs being generated (EC.02.06.01, particularly as a function of survey issues with ligature risks, also generates those upper harm-level likelihood survey results). Once upon a time, eyewash station questions were among the most frequently asked (and responded to in this space), so it’s almost like replaying a classic

Generally speaking, the findings that they’ve earmarked as being more likely to cause harm are the ones relating to eyewash stations (the most common being the surveyors over-interpreting where one “has” to have an eyewash station the remainder pretty much fall under the maintenance of eyewashes—either there’s a missing inspection, access to the eyewash station is obstructed during the survey, or there is clearly something wrong with the eyewash—usually the protective caps are missing or the water flow is rather anemic in its trajectory). All of those scenarios have the “potential” for being serious; if someone needs an eyewash and the thing doesn’t work properly or it’s been contaminated, etc., someone could definitely be harmed. But (and it is an extraordinarily big “but”) it’s only when you have an exposure to a caustic or corrosive chemical, which loops us back to the over-interpretation. OSHA only requires emergency eyewash equipment when there is a risk of occupational exposure to a corrosive chemical (the ANSI standard goes a bit further by indicating eyewash equipment should be available for caustic chemicals as well as corrosives). A lot of the findings I’ve seen have been generated by the clinical surveyors, who are frequently in the company of hospital staff that aren’t really clear on what the requirements are (you could make the case that they should, if only from a Hazard Communications standard standpoint, but we’ll set that aside for the moment), so when the clinical surveyor says “you need an eyewash station here” and writes it up, the safety folks frequently don’t find out until the closeout (and sometimes don’t find out until the survey report is received). The “problem” that can come to the fore is that the clinical folks don’t perceive the eyewash finding as “theirs” because it’s not a clinical finding, so they really don’t get too stressed about it. So, the surveyor may ask to see the SDS for a product in use and if the SDS indicates that the first aid for eye exposure is a 15- or 20-minute flush with water, then they equate that with an eyewash station, which in a number of instances, is not (again, strictly speaking from a regulatory standpoint) “required.” Sometimes you can make a case for a post-survey clarification, but successful clarifications are becoming increasingly rare, so you need to have a process in place to make your case/defense during the survey.

The other “batch” of findings for this standard tend relate to the labeling of secondary containers (usually the containers that are used to transport soiled instruments); again, in terms of actual risk, these conditions are not particularly “scary,” but you can’t completely negate the potential, so (again) the harm level can be up-sold (so to speak).

In terms of survey prep, you have to have a complete working knowledge of what corrosive chemicals are in use in the organization and where those chemicals are being used (I would be inclined to include caustic chemicals as well); the subset of that is to evaluate those products to see if there are safer (i.e., not corrosive or caustic) alternatives to be used. The classic finding revolves around the use of chemical sprays to “soak” instruments awaiting disinfection and sterilization—if you don’t soak them, then the bioburden dries and it’s a pain to be sure it’s all removed, etc.; generally, some sort of enzymatic spray product is used—but not all of them are corrosive and require an eyewash station. Then once you know where you have corrosives/caustics, you need to make sure you have properly accessible eyewash equipment (generally within 10 seconds of unimpeded travel time from the area of exposure risk to the eyewash) and then you need to make sure that staff understand what products they have and why an eyewash is not required (strictly speaking, there really aren’t that many places in a hospital for which an eyewash station would be required) if that is the case—or at least make sure that they will reach out to the safety folks if a question should come up during survey. Every once in a while there’s a truly legit finding (usually because some product found its way someplace where it didn’t belong), but more often than not, it’s not necessary.

You also have to be absolutely relentless when it comes to the labeling of secondary containers; if there’s something of a biohazard nature and you put it in a container, then that container must be properly identified as a biohazard; if you put a chemical in a spray bottle, bucket, or other container, then there needs to be a label (there are exceptions, but for the purposes of this discussion, it is best managed as an absolute). Anything that is not in its original container has to be labeled, regardless of what the container is, the reason for doing it, etc. The hazard nature of the contents must be clear to anyone and everyone that might encounter the container.

At the end of the day (as cliché an expression as that might be), it is the responsibility of each organization to know what’s going on and to make sure that the folks at the point of care/point of service have a clear understanding of what risks they are likely to encounter and how the organization provides for their safety in encountering those risks. We are not in the habit of putting people in harm’s way, but if folks don’t understand the risks and (perhaps most importantly) understand the protective measures in place, the risk of survey finding is really the least of your worries.

It’s knowing (hoping) that this can’t go on forever: A little bit of regulatory mishegas…

It being only the third week of the New Year, it’s a little early for any trends to fully manifest themselves, so a couple of odds and ends to get you caught up on (or, upon which to get you caught up, for any hard-core grammarians in the crowd…).

The latest issue of Health Facilities Management has a couple of articles (and a risk assessment available to ASHE members—gotta love a new risk assessment) that should prove of some value/interest over the next little bit:

  •  ASHE issues update on CMS ligature-risk policy – this is basically a recap of the CMS memo issued in December (details here) but also includes mention of an environmental ligature risk tool (updated to include a worksheet for EDs) that is available to ASHE members. I’m not sure if the “hand in glove” relationship between ASHE and TJC will remain the same with the departure of George Mills, but there is every reason to feel that ASHE’s position as an advocacy group will continue. In that light, probably a good idea to check out the ligature risk tool and adopt any elements that you may not have yet considered. I still feel that you have to rule everything in as a risk until you can start ruling stuff out, but I also think that we should be checking out any and all available resources.
  • An interesting article on airflow in the OR; to be honest, I love this kind of digging around into the corners of what makes the surgical environment such a bear from a compliance standpoint and where regulatory scrutiny might be headed as a function of increasing attention to the infection control impact of the environment. I’m not suggesting you have to mimic the study, but it might help you anticipate some pointed survey questions or requests.
  • Also in the latest issue of HFM, there’s an update on the CMS interpretations relative to rolling latches and related concerns as well as a request for volunteers to assist in gathering information, policies, etc. on how folks are keeping things quiet at night.

Moving on to our friends from Chicago, in the continuing unfolding of information regarding the management of ligature risks, the latest issue of Joint Commission Online includes further guidance relating to “other” (my quotation marks) behavioral health environments such as residential treatment, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient and outpatient treatment programs. The guidance indicates that these settings are not required to be ligature resistant, but then goes on to indicate that a risk assessment should be conducted in these environments, and then policies and procedures implemented to address how to manage patients in these settings that may experience and increase in symptoms that could result in self-harm or risk of suicide. The piece also indicates that the expert panel met again in December and there will be additional guidance relating to suicide risk assessment and safe monitoring of high-risk patients. And so the conversation continues…

An invitation to the regulatory dance—and the band keeps playing faster…

About a year ago, we chatted a bit about the likely changes to the regulatory landscape under a new administration, most of which (at least those related to the changing of the guard) never really materialized to any great extent. But one thing held true—and continues as we embark upon the good ship 2018—the focus on management of the physical environment is very much at the forefront of preparatory activities.

We also chatted a bit about The Joint Commission’s previous exhortations to healthcare leaders to focus more attention on the management of the physical environment (I was going to provide a link to TJC’s leadership blog regarding our little world, but it appears that the page is not so easily found, though I’m sure it has nothing to do with revisionist history…). But it does appear that there’s no reason to think that the number (and probably types) of survey findings in the environment are going to be anything but steady, though hopefully not a steady increase. Remember, we still have two years in the survey cycle before everyone gets to have undergone their first survey with the loss of the rate-based performance elements.

Which brings us squarely to 2018 and our continuing storm of regulatory challenges; I had made a list of stuff that I believed would play some role of significance in 2017 and (strangely enough) appear to be poised to do the same in the coming year (or two…or three?!?):

 

  1. Physical environment standards remain among the most frequently cited during TJC surveys (Nine of the 10 most frequently cited standards for the period January through June 2017). Please check out the September 2017 issue of Joint Commission Perspectives for the details! Just so you know (and I do believe that I’ve mentioned this in the past), I “count” IC.02.02.01 as a physical environment standard. Yes, I know it’s under the Infection Control chapter, but disinfection, the management of equipment and supplies? That all happens in the environment!
  2. CMS, in its report card to Congress, identified the physical environment as the largest “gap” of oversight during all accreditation organization surveys
  3. Also in its report card to Congress, CMS singled out TJC as lagging behind its competition when it comes to improving identification of deficiencies relative to the Conditions of Participation. I firmly believe that the report card to Congress was the proverbial “spark” that fanned the flames of regulatory focus in the environment. I don’t know when we can expect an updated edition of the report card (I suspect that it may be a while), but knowing that CMS is “concerned” can only mean continued focus…
  4. CMS adoption of the 2012 Life Safety Code® (effective survey date of November 1, 2016) definitely did create some level of confusion and uncertainty that always accompanies “change.” And 2017 demonstrated very clearly that it’s not just “us” that have to learn the practical application of the new stuff—the surveyors have to catch up as well! I am definitely starting to see the impact of the adoption of the 2012 Health Facilities Code (NFPA 99)—if you don’t have a copy in your library, it might just be time.
  5. TJC is in the process of revising its Environment of Care and Life Safety chapters to more closely reflect CMS requirements. January 2018 continues the rollout of the standards/performance elements updates—and they’re still not done. As we’ve discussed over the last few weeks, there’s still a lot of shifting requirements (some we always knew were in place, others merely rumored).
  6. Recent TJC survey reports indicate an increasing focus (and resulting vulnerabilities) on outpatient locations, particularly those engaging in high-level disinfection and/or surgical procedures. The physical environment in all areas in which patients receive care, treatment, and services are generating up to 60% of the total physical environment findings in recent surveys. That was just as true in 2017 as in 2016—each care location in the organization has to be prepared for multi-day scrutiny.
  7. CMS published its final rule on Emergency Preparedness (including Interpretive Guidelines, effective November 2016, with full implementation of requirements due November 2017). While organizations in compliance with current TJC Emergency Management standards will be in substantial compliance with the new rule, there will be some potential vulnerabilities relative to some of the specific components of the rule. The key sticking points at the moment appear to relate to the Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) and the processes for delegating authority and leadership succession planning during extended events.
  8. Introduction of TJC’s SAFER matrix, which did indeed result in every deficiency identified during the survey process being included in the final survey report. Formerly, there was a section called Opportunities For Improvement for the single findings that didn’t “roll up” into a Requirement For Improvement. With the SAFER matrix, everything they find goes into the report. And there did seem to be a preponderance of findings “clustered” (make of that descriptor what you will) in the high risk sections of the matrix.
  9. As a final “nail” in the survey process coffin, effective January 2017, TJC will no longer provide for the clarification of findings once the survey has been completed. While this didn’t result in quite the devastation in the process as it might have first appeared (mostly because I think it forced the issue of pushing back during the survey), it also appears that clarification only during survey was not the hard line in the sand it appeared to be when this first “dropped.” That said, there very definitely seems to be a reluctance on the part of the folks at the Standards Interpretation Group (SIG) to “reverse the call on the field” once the survey team has left the building; just as there is a reluctance to vacate physical environment findings once the LS surveyor has hit the bricks. If you feel that a finding is not valid, there is no time like the present when it comes to the pushback.
  10. One unexpected “change” during 2017: The focus on ligature risks in the various environments in which behavioral health patients receive care, treatment, and/or services. We’ve discussed the particulars fairly extensively in this space and while I didn’t see it “coming,” it has certainly leaped to the top of the concern pile. The recent guidance from the regulators has (perhaps) helped to some degree, but this one feels a lot like the focus on the procedural environment over the past couple of years. I don’t think they’re done with this by any stretch…

 

In my mind, still working from the perspective of CMS calling out the physical environment as an area of concern, the stuff noted above indicates the likely result that the next 12-24 survey months will show a continued focus on the physical environment by the entire survey team (not just the Life Safety surveyor) and a likely continued plateau or increase in findings relating to the physical environment. I still believe that eventually the regulatory focus will drift back more toward patient care-related issues, but right now the focus on the physical environment is generating a ton of findings. And since that appears to be their primary function (generating findings), there’s always lots to find in the environment.

As I like to tell folks (probably ad nauseum, truth be told), there are no perfect buildings/environments, so there’s always stuff to be found—mostly fairly small items on the risk scale, but they are all citable. The fact of the matter is that there will be findings in the physical environment during your next survey, so the focus will shift to include ensuring that the corrective action plans for those findings are not only appropriate, but also can demonstrate consideration of sustained compliance over time. Preparing for the survey of the physical environment must reflect an ongoing process for managing “imperfections”—not just every 36 (or so) months, but every day.

Try to run, try to hide: Some random thoughts to open the 2018 Physical Environment campaign

I suspect that I may return to the coming changes to the Life Safety standards and EPs dealing with outpatient occupancy, but I wanted to toss a couple of other thoughts your way to start things off with a lesser potential for headaches derived from over-stimulation of the regulatory madness response.

Some of the funkiest findings that arise during survey are those relating to the euphemistic “non-intact surfaces.” The overarching concerns relate to how effectively non-intact surfaces can be cleaned/disinfected, with the prevailing logic being “not particularly well.” One of the surfaces that will encounter scrutiny during survey is the omnipresent patient mattress and I suspect a recent study by ECRI is only going to increase attentions in this regard because, to be honest, what they found is kind of disturbing. As we’ve discussed in the past, ECRI publishes an annual list of technology challenges, and #3 on the hit list this year involves the risks associated with “mattress ingress,” which roughly translates into blood and body fluids seeping into mattresses with non-intact surfaces. I think part of the dynamic at work is that mattresses are somewhat (and in some instances, very much) more expensive than in the “old days,” which decreases the ability for organizations to have a ready supply of backup mattresses for replacement activities. Of course, you have to have a robust process for identifying mattresses to be replaced and that process generally hinges on the active participation of the folks in Environmental Services. As one might imagine, this can become a costly undertaking if you’ve got a lot of cracked or otherwise damaged mattresses, but if you need some additional information with which to encourage the importance of the process, Health Facilities Management magazine has something that I think you’ll find useful.

Another one of those funky findings that I see bubbling up from time to time are those related to the use (including availability) of appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). From a practical standpoint, I know it can be a wicked pain in the butt to get folks to do what they’re supposed to when it comes to PPE use (especially when they are engaged in the inappropriate mixing of chemicals—yow!). While it is too early to tell whether this is going to be helpful or another bludgeon with which regulatory surveyors can bring to bear on safety professionals, the tag team of CDC and NIOSH have come up with a “National Framework for Personal Protective Equipment Conformity Assessment – Infrastructure” to help achieve some level of standardization relative to PPE use. It does (of course!) include the use of processes that very much resemble those of a risk assessment, including identification of risks and hazards and identification of PPE types needed to address those risks and hazards. Part of me is fearful that this is going to be just one more opportunity for field surveyors to muddy the waters even more than they are now (is that even possible? I hope not…). At any rate, this is probably something with which you should be at least passingly familiar; you can find the details, as well as the downloadable document, here.

As you’ve probably noticed over the last little while, these pages tend to focus more on TJC and CMS than most of the accreditation organizations, but I was happy (Pleased? Intrigued? Something else?) to see that the Health Facilities Accreditation Program (HFAP) had published a summary of its most frequently cited standards/conditions during 2017 in its annual Quality Report. I’ll let you look over the document in its entirety, but some of the EC/EM/LS findings were kind of interesting. In no particular orders, some topics and thoughts:

  • Business continuity: Effective recovery from an emergency/disaster is the result of thoughtful planning. The road to recovery should be clearly charted.
  • Emergency supplies: Apparently there is a move towards maintaining emergency supplies as a separate “entity”; also an inventory is important.
  • Security of supplies: Make sure there are provisions for securing supplies; I suspect this is most applicable during an emergency, particularly an extended-time event.
  • Personal Protective Equipment: Don’t forget PPE in your emergency planning activities.
  • Decontamination/Triage/Utilities/Volunteers: Make sure you have a handle on these in your emergency plan.
  • Environment of Care: Eyewash stations, ligature risks, dirty and/or non-intact surfaces, clustering of fire drills, past due inspections of medical equipment, air pressure relationships, open junction boxes, obstructed access to electrical panels, etc., risk assessment stuff, making sure that all care environments are demonstrably included in the program.
  • Life Safety: Improper installation of smoke detectors, exit/no exit signage concerns, fire alarm testing issues (not complete, no device inventory, etc.), egress locking arrangements, unsealed penetrations, rated door/frame issues.

Again, the link above will take you to the report, but there’s really nothing that couldn’t be found anywhere if there are “lapses of concentration” in the process. Right now, healthcare organization physical environments are being surveyed with the “bar” residing at the perfect level. I have encountered any number of very effectively managed facilities in the 16 years I’ve been doing this, but I can count the number of perfect buildings on the finger of no fingers. Perhaps you have one, but if you’ve got people scurrying around the place, I suspect perfection is the goal, but always a distance away…

But I never wave bye-bye: Closing out 2017 with some LSC goodies…

As noted last week, this week’s foray looks into the changes to the Life Safety chapter that will be onboarding at the turn of the new year (the details can be found here). I think (for the most part), there is nothing particularly earth-shattering in the new requirements: really just a mix of updating the NFPA standards edition numbers, some increased granularity relative to fire alarm systems, and a couple of opportunities for some quick risk assessments/evaluations to ensure that what you had is not going to get you into survey difficulty. Also (and I guess only time will tell us how important this is going to be), it is important to continue to monitor the practical applications of Chapter 43, especially when one is in the throes of changing utilization to the point of a shift in occupancy classifications. My not-insubstantial gut tells me that this has great potential for consternation in the field, including the ongoing impact of inconsistent (bordering on draconian) interpretations. Certainly some of the granularity indicated below will lessen some of the over-interpretation woes (definitive reads on square footage should help), but those hard lines drawn in the sand can also represent some challenges as you are planning and executing renovation, etc., projects. In my experience, there aren’t too many projects that remain the same (in terms of scope) through the design and build phases, so you may find yourself paying more attention to expanding project footprints.

And so:

LS.02.01.10

  • Building undergoing change of use or occupancy must be in compliance with 101-2012:43.7 (certain exceptions, as always, apply); likewise, any additions must comply with the requirements for new.
  • Any of you with non-sprinklered smoke compartments undergoing major rehabilitation are putting sprinklers in (I hope); major rehabilitation involves more than 50% of the area of the smoke compartment or 4500 square feet—whichever comes first.
  • Multiple occupancies in a building must observe the most stringent occupancy requirements—so keep those occupancy separations well-defined and tight; also, outpatient surgical departments must be classified as ambulatory healthcare regardless of the number of patients served. Those of you at organizations considering going to provider-based models need to keep those surgical procedure locations under close watch.

 

LS.02.01.20

  • Make sure your horizontal sliding doors that are not automatic closing are limited to a single leaf and have a latch or other mechanism to prevent the door from rebounding; also, there are some specific requirements for horizontal doors serving an occupant load of 10 or fewer, including operability from either side without special knowledge or effort and a couple other things. 101-2012: 18/19.2.2.2.10.2 will help you with the details.
  • Make sure that every corridor provides access to at least two approved exits; no passing through any intervening rooms or spaces other than corridors or lobbies.
  • Have you included a look at door widths in your ongoing rated door program? Existing exit access doors have to be at least 32 inches in clear width, though you can hold on to your 28-inch doors if you’re not evacuating by bed, gurney, or wheelchair. New exit access doors have to be at least 41½ inches in clear width (psych hospitals have to be at least 32 inches wide). Doors not subject to patient use, exit stairway enclosures or serving newborn nurseries can hold the line at 32 inches. Door pairs with an inactive leaf must have the inactive leaf secured with automatic flush bolts. There are a few other pieces of this, so make sure you transfer/transmit the particulars to the folks inspecting the doors.
  • Existing exit access doors and exit doors are of the swinging type and are at least 32 inches in clear width. Exceptions are provided for existing 34-inch doors and for existing 28-inch doors where the fire plan does not require evacuation by bed, gurney, or wheelchair.
  • Travel distances to exits are measured in accordance with NFPA 101-2012: 7.6.

 

LS.02.01.30

  • Laboratories using quantities of flammable, combustible, or hazardous materials that are considered a severe hazard are in accordance with NFPA 101-2012: 8.7 and NFPA 99 requirements. I’m thinking most of you are probably not in position of severe hazardousness, but if you’re thinking what I’m thinking, a little risk assessment should solidify any of the particulars.

 

LS.02.01.34

  • Make sure your fire alarm system is up to snuff relative to the applicable requirements of NFPA 70 National Electric Code and NFPA 72 National Fire Alarm Code—probably worth a conversation and some verification by your fire alarm inspection, testing, and maintenance folks. This includes a more than passing familiarity with placement and types of devices, ensuring an alternative power supply for alarm systems, etc. Make sure that manual and automatic initiation of the fire alarm system is in accordance with the noted requirements, including pull stations. Also, make sure your alarm zones are not larger than 22,500 square feet (for some reason, I think that this might provide some angst for folks…) and spaces open to corridors are provided with appropriate smoke detection.

 

LS.02.01.50

  • Make sure that any spots containing equipment using gas or gas piping are up to snuff with NFPA 54 National Fuel Gas Code and electrical complies with NFPA 70. You can maintain existing installations that are not fully compliant as long as there are no life-threatening hazards.
  • Make sure those pesky heating devices are in appropriate compliance—with both code and your organizational policy.
  • Equipment using gas or gas piping complies with NFPA 54-2012, National Fuel Gas Code; electrical wiring and equipment complies with NFPA 70-2012, National Electric Code. Existing installations can continue in service provided there are no life-threatening hazards.
  • If you have fireplaces in your facility, there are specific considerations, including carbon monoxide detection; 101-2012: 9.2.2 will give you the lowdown.
  • 101-2012 9.4 will get you the straight dope on escalators, dumbwaiters, and moving walks—and don’t forget to consult ASME/ANSI A17.1 for new and ASME/ANSI A17.3 for existing equipment.

 

LS.02.01.70

  • If you’re hanging draperies, curtains (including cubicle and shower curtains), and loosely hanging fabric in non-sprinklered compartments, then 101-2012: 10.3.1 is the compliance source. Of course, if you have sprinklers, there are exceptions…
  • No sprinkler protection? Upholstered furniture purchased on or after July 5, 2016 must meet Class 1 or char length and heat release criteria—101-2012: 10.3.2.1 and 10.3.3; mattresses purchased on or after 7/6/2016 must meet 101-2012 10.3.2.2 and 10.3.4
  • If you have a new engineered smoke control system, it must be tested in accordance with NFPA 92-2012, Standard for Smoke Control Systems. If you have an existing engineered smoke control system, it must be tested in accordance with established engineering principles.

 

Since I don’t want you to be completely comatose for your New Year’s celebrations, I will cover the ambulatory occupancy changes sometime in January (please feel free to prod me if you’d rather I do it sooner than later). And on that note, I wish each and every one of you safe celebrations and a most prosperously compliant New Year!