Or, oh me of little faith…
Another somewhat hodgepodge-ish coverage of sundry and assorted niceties this week. For some reason, this week has resulted in a lot of ideas flying around in my noggin (I suspect you might have weeks like that too, from time to time), but I think there’s a sufficiently common theme for these to hang together. Hopefully some level of cogent thought will hold sway…
First up, a discussion about topics relating to cleaning, and by extension, cleanliness. Health Facilities Management recently published an article regarding a three-year study aimed at identifying ways of improving patient room cleaning (my philosophy on that is that we need to consider more than just the cleaning of patient rooms, but more on that in a bit). The article covers some of the process breakdowns observed during the study, and speaks to the inclusion of housekeeping staff in unit meetings, etc., to enhance the sense of the importance of their roles in the process of providing care to the patient by making sure the environment is clean. I think you folks know that my primary background is in the EVS (from the EVS world?) and I have never needed to be “sold” on the importance of the frontline housekeeping staff in supporting the care environment. I know from experience that it’s a tough job and I can tell you with absolute certainty that there is way more stuff in the typical patient room to clean than their used to be. (I only had to periodically dust off the abacus, etc.) The article provides some interesting data on the cleaning of various surfaces in the room, but I’ll let you see those for yourself. In looking at the data, it does make me ponder how much of a leap of faith it is to leave a restroom without having a paper towel (or some such) in hand to twist the ol’ door knob. I just can’t bring myself to stride right out without a thought in the world—but I see folks do that all the time and only about half of them wash their hands…
One of the things I’ve been seeing in survey country is a focus on what I will call the concept of the patient-ready room; this goes beyond the regimen of daily cleaning of surfaces, etc., and gets to the land of discharge cleaning, etc. I think one of the key conversations you can have in your organization is to figure out what a “patient-ready room” means and to start educating folks. Some things to consider: making sure the waste containers are empty; making sure that everything in the room works (just as you would yip if you had a hotel room where stuff wasn’t working properly—or at least I hope you would yip); making sure there are no stained ceiling tiles, etc. Again, this room is going to be somebody’s home—it may only be for a day or so—but think about someone flat on their back and only having the TV and that stain on the ceiling to look at. And they’re probably not going to say anything while they’re staying with you (I suspect that most folks are just to amped up about being there to speak up much), but they may very well remember that ceiling tile if they get a satisfaction survey. And don’t get me started about schmutz on the floor or on the bed rails; I see it happen far too often and I don’t know if too many organizations that can’t do a little better with that.
As a final thought in this realm, I know a lot of folks have secured the areas under sinks to prevent storage, etc. If your organization prohibits under-sink storage, it’s probably the simplest solution to keeping them (whoever “them” might) out. But I ask you this: how often are you opening up those areas to see what’s going on? It seems like lately I’ve been running into a fair number of conditions bordering on Roquefort—or perhaps a Gorgonzola or Stilton. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean there isn’t something growing under those pesky sinks—and if the water intrusion isn’t enough to leak down below, you may have no reason to look. But I’m thinking you might want to think about thinking about setting that up as a process. Just sayin’…
As part of our (seemingly) never-ending quest to find topics of interest for you folks, we turn to the fascinating world of utility systems management, in particular, the management of aerosolizing water systems. As a safety generalist, I am always on the lookout for resources that will help increase my understanding of certain subjects and I try to pass on to you those that I find most useful (particularly over time). That said, I feel I have been somewhat remiss in not alerting you to a resource that I have been following for a fairly long time (it might even extend back to my days as a hospital safety manager—so we’re talking well into the safety Mesozoic era—love those birdsongs!). While the focus is Legionella prevention and education, there’s a lot of information regarding the management of risks associated with the aforementioned aerosolizing water systems—possibly the most risky (in terms of potential impact on patients, staff, and visitors) of the various high-risk utility systems.
The resource of which I am speaking is HCInfo; one of the highlights (at least for me) is that you can sign up for periodic e-mail updates; I find the updates, at the very least, to be thought provoking. The most recent blog posting on the site covers the potential impact on litigation relative to cases of Legionnaire’s disease in the wake of CDC’s release of its guidance for developing a water management program to reduce Legionella in buildings (you can find that august offering here). As noted in the blog entry, the CDC has come up with some very specific recommendations that could very well be the next bludgeon used by our regulatory friends. While the focus of the blog is on the litigious nature of things, there are a couple of take-home messages:
- “You should develop a water management program to reduce Legionella growth and spread that is specific to your building” (page ii of the CDC toolkit);
- “Legionella water management programs are now an industry standard for large buildings in the United States (ASHRAE 188: Legionellosis: Risk Management for Building Water Systems June 26, 2015. ASHRAE: Atlanta).”
- “This toolkit will help you develop and implement a water management program to reduce your building’s risk for growing and spreading Legionella.” (page ii of the CDC toolkit)
- “Environmental testing for Legionella is useful to validate the effectiveness of control measures.” (page 21 of the CDC toolkit)
So, while not quite “marching orders,” there is enough certainty lurking within the pages of the toolkit to push for having some sort of plan in place for the management of your aerosolizing water systems (TJC has had a long-standing requirement to minimize pathogenic biological agents in aerosolizing water systems, the CDC toolkit may increase specific focus on this area). The one area that would seem to represent something of a sea change is the “useful”-ness of environmental testing for Legionella. Back in 2003, when CDC published its Guidelines for Environmental Infection Control in Health Care Facilities, there was just enough wiggle room to more or less dismiss the need to do environmental testing for Legionella (to test or not to test, that is the question—and it appears to hinge on what one might consider due diligence). I think partially due to the amount of bureaucratic language in the recommendations section, the sense was that the regular testing was not only just optional, but not really recommended (again, lots of room for interpretation). The current toolkit language definitely makes the case for testing as a means of validating the effectiveness of your control measures. But (as always appears to be the case), it is up to the individual facility to determine frequency, etc. But there is a way to get to that:
One of the key components of the CDC toolkit is (wait for it…) a risk assessment of your facility to help determine the applicable risks in your facility. The question then becomes: how long before our regulatory fiends (oops, friends!) start asking pointed questions about what we’ve been doing in this regard. As always, I provide this as information, but as the survey process continues to evolve (mutate?) in how infection prevention concerns are covered, this one really feels like something we need to button down as soon as possible. No doubt there are those of you who have already embarked upon this journey, so if you have any useful war stories that you could share, I’m sure everyone would benefit from your insight. I think this stands a good shot at being next in the line of hot button survey topics—and it’s an important one. My prediction is that everyone will be in reasonably good stead relative to the recommendations in the toolkit (this could be a very timely—and useful—performance improvement initiative for the EOC Committee), but I would encourage you to take whatever steps are required to be certain that you are in good shape.
As I think everyone is aware, there has been a lot (okay, perhaps quite a lot) of focus during our pas de deux with the regulatory survey groups running around our hospitals on the various and sundry environmental conditions (temperature, humidity, air pressure relationships) for which there are various and sundry requirements (we’ve discussed those general considerations in the past, but if you need a refresher, feel free to dig through the archives at Hospital Safety Center). But a recent issuance from the CDC really starts to point to some of the ways in which the whole air pressure thing can actually influence the effectiveness of the management of immunocompromised patients as a function of air pressure relationships. There’s also an interesting study done by the folks at Johns Hopkins that speaks to the amount of time the doors to surgical procedural rooms are open during cases. I think we can all agree that keeping the doors shut during cases should probably be on the list of good ideas, but I suppose there can be a lot of coming and going—enough to de-pressurize the room. I’ve always felt that it is important to have some sense of how long it takes to de-pressurize and re-pressurize some of these critical areas; you want to make sure that folks are checking the pressure relationships when you have your greatest chance of success, recognizing that these rooms all “breathe” to one extent or another (and some of them come very close to wheezing…).
At any rate, information like this will likely only increase the attention paid to these areas during our survey encounters, with the added dynamic of this information being representative of the time-honored “smoking gun.” So, certainly acting on the CDC’s recommendation that immunocompromised patients not be placed in negative-pressure environments is something we can implement right away, but you’re probably going to want to come up with some sort of methodology for identifying those patients that rule in for that demographic (I’m thinking that our patients would tend more towards the immunocompromised side of the coin than not). We certainly don’t want to inadvertently put patients at elevated risk for infection, etc., by placing them in an inappropriate environment, so I think my immediate advice would be to look really closely at the information from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center cases. If the end result looks an awful lot like a risk assessment, then I think you’re in the right place—and your patients will be, too!
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.
A couple of weeks ago, HCPro’s Accreditation Insider featured an article that addressed a study published by the American Journal of Infection Control on compliance by nurses with the many and varied requirements of the Bloodborne Pathogens standard.
I guess I’m of two minds about the study; it is a somewhat smallish sample size (116 nurses were studied), though presumably statistically valid (not being wicked up on the whole statistical analysis thang, I wouldn’t even presume to presume, but I’m thinking that it would hardly have been worth publishing if it were not of some note). I think in my heart of hearts that (at this point) I would have hoped for better compliance numbers but again I’m not certain that I was particularly surprised that gloves aren’t worn all the time, hands are not washed as often as is necessary (e.g., after taking care of patients, after taking off gloves), and face shields are not worn as often as would be advisable given the risks (no big surprise on the face shields—it is a struggle, struggle, struggle—not just for the potential of an exposure to blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM to those among you that are acronymically inclined), but also for potential chemical exposures. (Everybody wants a freaking eyewash station “in case”, but nobody wants to use appropriate PPE to ensure that “case” doesn’t occur—jeepers!)
I haven’t had a chance to actually read the study (yes, I know—shame!), but the article in Accreditation Insider doesn’t really get into what the compliance barriers might have been (I honestly don’t know if the study gets into some of the causative factors), which I think would have been instructive. Apparently, the study concludes with a recommendation for stricter enforcement of compliance policies and to address problem areas with better monitoring and staff education. Now, those are fine things indeed, but kind of begs the question as to what constitutes better monitoring and staff education. I will go on the record here (I don’t think I have previously, but if I have, mea maxima culpa) as no particular fan of computer-based learning. I “get” that it is more convenient for folks to do and thus, generally results in better “compliance” when it comes down to numbers of folks completing the required “modules,” etc. And I also “get” that it is compliant from a regulatory standpoint (BTW, just because I “get” something doesn’t necessarily mean that I am convinced that such claims are valid). What I don’t find as I travel the highways and byways of healthcare facilities is evidence that this process results in an enhancement of staff competence and knowledge. I don’t necessarily think of myself as a Luddite (in fact, I’m pretty okay with a lot of technology), but I don’t know that convenience is the yardstick by which we should be measuring the effectiveness of education. Rant over…
Before I hop along, I do have one favor to ask (and it sort of relates to the above). I understand that, from a sterile processing perspective, it is important to do some sort of enzymatic pre-treatment of soiled instruments so the OPIM doesn’t get all caked and hardened on the surface of said instruments. The favor (or question) is this: Has anyone identified a product that will appropriately pre-treat instruments but not require emergency eyewash equipment? If you have a risk assessment of that determination, that would be very cool. I’m running into another uptick in the proliferation of eyewash stations—I’m a great believer in having them when they are appropriate, but I’m no fan of eyewash stations “in case” (that sounds somewhat familiar…where have I seen that before?). Any feedback would be most appreciated.
Happy Mardi Gras for those of you disposed towards that kind of celebratory activity…
Not so very long ago, The Joint Commission and ASHE announced the creation of an information resource to assist with all those pesky EC/LS findings that have been reproducing like proverbial rabbits (here’s coverage of that announcement and coverage of those rapidly reproducing findings).
Well, since that announcement, the elves have been very busy cobbling together bits and pieces of this and that, with the end result being a rather interesting blend of stuff (please note that I did not employ the more severe descriptor—stuff and nonsense), with titles like “Is Your Hospital’s Air Ventilation System Putting Your Patients At Risk?” (this one’s in the Leadership module, so I guess they’re asking the question of organizational leadership). I truly hope that your response to that particular query would be “absolutely not,” but I’ve also been working this part of the street long enough to know (absolutely, if you will allow me a brief moment of hyperbole) that there are few absolutes when it comes to the management of the physical environment.
Which leads me to the follow-up thought: Recognizing that there is always the potential for the performance of air ventilation systems to drift a little out of expected ranges, at what point does the performance of air ventilation systems actually put patients at risk? And perhaps most importantly, have you identified those “points” in the performance “curve” that result in conditions that could legitimately cause harm to our patients? And please know that I understand (in perhaps a very basic sense, but I think I can call it an understanding) how properly designed and maintained HVAC systems contribute to the reduction of HAIs, etc. But with any fluid situation, there is an ebb and a flow to conditions, etc., that, again, may veer into the “red” zone from a compliance standpoint. But let me ask you—particularly those of you who have experienced out-of-range conditions/values—have those conditions resulted in a discernible impact on your infection control rates, especially those relating to surgical site infections?
BTW, I’m asking because I really don’t know what you folks are experiencing. And, for those of you that have identified shortcomings on the mechanical side of things, are your Infection Control folks keeping a close (or closer) eye on where those shortcomings might manifest themselves as a function of impact to patients? From the information posted in the Portal (I think I’m going to capitalize), remedying compliance issues in this regard is a simple four-step process (You can find the example of improved compliance there). Who knew it would be so easy? (I could have had a V8!) I don’t think anyone in the field is looking at this as a simple, or easy, task.
At any rate, despite the best efforts of the Portal, until we have buildings (and staff) that are a little closer to perfect, I think we’re going to continue to see a lot of EC/LS findings during survey. Ohboyohboyohboyohboyohboy!
Also, as I think about it, please be sure to check out the Clarifications and Expectations column in the September issue of Joint Commission Perspectives; there are some interesting points to be gleaned, the particulars of which we will cover in a wee bit, so watch this space!
As it happens, I like to share topics and concerns that I encounter while engaged in consulting activities in many of the nooks and crannies of these United States, and I’ve recently run into a common theme that I think warrants your consideration, if not action (though it may ultimately come to just that). But it does appear that this particular vulnerability has reared its shaggy head because of an improving condition relative to infection control concerns—I guess there really is a dark cloud to go with every silver lining.
Over the years, hospitals have been struggling with the management of Clostridium difficile, a very pesky germ typically identified by its street name: C. diff. And one of the key struggles therein revolves around the cleaning of the environment of patients with C. diff, for which the CDC recommends the use of an EPA-approved spore-killing disinfectant in rooms where C. diff patients are treated. And one of the more common (probably most common, but I can’t say that I’ve collected a ton of data in this regard, so this is merely an impression; feel free to validate or not) products used is one euphemistically known as the “yellow top” disinfectant wipes (I’m sure you’ve seen them, but if you’re not sure, you can find images, etc., here).
At any rate, over the past couple of weeks, I have run into a fair number of expired containers of these disinfectant wipes, enough so that it really kind of jumped out at me (and this has been the case in different parts of the country: north, south, east, and west). Inevitably, when one finds a confluence of vulnerabilities, it tends to become a topic of conversation at the various organizations in which the expired products were found (it’s always nice to be able to make some sort of determination relative to a root cause). And the results of those conversations of late leads me to the (completely unscientific) conclusion that hospitals and other healthcare organizations appear to be making some inroads in the management of C. diff patients, resulting in a reduced need for this particular product (uniformly, this product has been earmarked solely for use in cleaning C. diff patient environments, and not much else). Hence, the increased number of expired containers of this product.
So, good news on the management of C. diff patients and their environment, and the identification of an opportunity relative to the management of product expirations. I suppose you could make the case that it is ever thus when it comes to the management of conditions in the physical environment, but if your organization is using this particular product (or, I suppose, whichever disinfectant wipes you’re using for C. diff patients), you may want to issue an APB to ensure that folks are keeping an eye on those expiration dates. Yes, I know that they are, but this could legitimately be described as a recent development…just trying to keep you ahead of the curve.
As the flu season commences, the specter of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) and its “presentation” of flu-like symptoms is certainly going to make this a most challenging flu season. While (as this item goes to press) we’ve not seen any of the exposure cases that occurred in the United States result in significant harm to folks (the story in Africa remains less optimistic), it seems that it may be a while before we see an operational end to needing to be prepared to handle Ebola patients in our hospitals. But in recognition that preparedness in general is inextricably woven into the fabric of day-to-day operations in healthcare, right off the mark we can see that this may engender some unexpected dynamics as we move through the process.
And, strangely enough, The Joint Commission has taken an interest in how well hospital are prepared to respond to this latest of potential pandemics. Certainly, the concept of having respond to a pandemic has figured in the preparation activities of hospitals across the country over the past few years and there’s been a lot of focus in preparations for the typical (and atypical) flu season. And, when The Joint Commission takes an interest in a timely condition in the healthcare landscape, it increases the likelihood that questions might be raised during the current survey season.
Fortunately, TJC has made available its thoughts on how best to prepare for the management of Ebola patients and I think that you can very safely assume that this information will guide surveyors as they apply their own knowledge and experience to the conversation. Minimally, I think that we can expect some “coverage” of the topic in the Emergency Management interview session; the function of establishing your incident command structure in the event of a case of EVD showing up in your ED; whether you have sufficient access to resources to respond appropriately over the long haul, etc.
Historically, there’s been a fair amount of variability from flu season to flu season—hopefully we’ll be able to put all that experience to work to manage this year’s course of treatment. As a final thought, if you’ve not had the opportunity to check out the latest words from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the subject, I would direct your attention to recent CDC info on management of patients and PPE.
I suppose, if nothing else, the past few weeks of our encounter with Ebola demonstrates something along the best laid plans of mice and men: it’s up to us to make sure that those plans do not go far astray (with apologies to Robert Burns).
Touching back with the topic of healthcare worker attire increasing the potential for cross-transmission of bacteria during the working day, one of the recommendations that the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) made in its Healthcare Personnel Attire in Non-Operating-Room Settings guidance document is in regards to the continued use of white coats for professional appearances (I suspect it may be a while before the culture shifts sufficiently away from the vision of the kindly physician in the white coat). And that recommendation may very well set some teeth grinding for hospital facilities folks: “Facilities should provide coat hooks for clinicians to hang their coats up before patient contact.”
Coat hooks… isn’t that grand!?! Now I suspect that many, if not most of you, can recall those heady days when hand sanitizer dispensers first graced our facilities and how easy it was (and that little phrase can’t drip with enough irony) to figure out where those little buggers should be installed. I suspect that we’re looking at a similar cluster of decisions if this recommendation gains traction. When I first read this recommendation, I conjured up this image of a hospital corridor with rows of white coats hanging outside the patient rooms. In the Boston vernacular, that would look “pissah!” I don’t think you’ll be able to install the hooks in the room, because what would you do if it’s a precaution patient? I’m getting heartburn just thinking about it. Those of you with alcove spaces outside of your patient rooms should be okay (and may already have provisions for this), but, as we know, alcoves don’t generate a heck of a lot of revenue and so are frequently abandoned during design phases. No doubt the “hospital of the future” will have accommodations for this, but the “hospital of the now” might not be so fortunate.
In a recent edition of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology for America (SHEA) published an expert guidance document exploring the effect healthcare worker clothing has in the cross-transmission of pathogens. The document, titled Healthcare Personnel Attire in Non-Operating-Room Settings uses existing medical literature, perceptions of healthcare worker attire from patients and clinicians, evidence for contamination of attire and potential cross-contamination, hospitals policies and some survey information from SHEA members, with the intent being to learn about how clinicians balance their professional appearance and traditional attire with the prevention of pathogen transmission. The long and short of it is that there are a number of garment items—the ubiquitous white lab coat, neckties, and footwear—that can become contaminated with bacteria during the course of clinical care. Pretty much anything a clinician might be wearing could come into contact with bacteria, etc. during the course of patient rounding and other such activities—all surfaces, that at least as a function of an active work day in a hospital, are pretty difficult to clean/disinfect as you go. Sleeves of lab coats, the fronts of scrubs if you lean in to examine a patient (routine exams; precaution patients are already provided for in this regard), etc. all represent an opportunity for bacteria to transfer to those surfaces.
I can certainly see the legitimacy of the thought and can also see how this could be a contributing factor in the pervasiveness of healthcare-acquired infections, so it will be interesting to see what follow-up studies indicate as better practices. I guess base skin is the easiest “surface” to clean/disinfect as you go, though I somehow don’t think that tank tops will ever be adopted as professional garb. Maybe in the tropics…