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Reefing a sail at the edge of the world…

What to do, what to do, what to do…

A couple of CMS-related items for your consideration this week, both of which appear to be rather user-friendly toward accredited organizations. (Why do I have this nagging feeling that this is going to result in some sort of ugly backlash for hospitals?)

Back in May, we discussed the plans CMS had for requiring accreditation organizations (AOs) to make survey results public, and it appears that, upon what I can only imagine was intense review and consideration, the CMS-ers have elected to pull back from that strategy. The decision, according to news sources, is based on the sum and substance of a portion of Section 1865 of the Social Security Act, which states:

(b) The Secretary may not disclose any accreditation survey (other than a survey with respect to a home health agency) made and released to the Secretary by the American Osteopathic Association or any other national accreditation body, of an entity accredited by such body, except that the Secretary may disclose such a survey and information related to such a survey to the extent such survey and information relate to an enforcement action taken by the Secretary.

So, that pretty much brings that whole thing to a screeching halt—nice work of whoever tracked that one down. Every once in a while, law and statute work in favor of the little folk. So, we Lilliputians salute whomever tracked that one down—woohoo!

In other CMS news, the Feds issued a clarification relative to the annual inspection of smoke barrier doors (turns out the LSC does not specifically require this for smoke doors in healthcare occupancies) as well as delaying the drop-dead date for initial compliance with the requirements relating to the annual inspection of fire doors. January 1, 2018 is the new date. If you haven’t gotten around to completing the fire door inspection, I would heartily recommend you do so as soon as you can—more on that in a moment. So, good news on two fed fronts—it’s almost like Christmas in August! But I do have a couple of caveats…

I am aware of 2017 surveys since July in which findings were issued because the inspection process had not been completed, and, based on past knowledge, etc., it is unlikely that those findings would be “removable” based on the extended initial compliance date. (CMS strongly indicates that once a survey finding is issued in a report, the finding should stay, even if there was compliance at the time of survey.) So hopefully this will not cause too much heartburn for folks.

The other piece of this is performance element #2 under the first standard in the Life Safety chapter. (This performance element is not based on anything specifically required by the LSC or the Conditions of Participation—yet another instance of our Chicagoan friends increasing the degree of difficulty for ensuring compliance without having a whole mess of statutory support, but I digress.) The requirement therein is for organizations to perform a building assessment to determine compliance with the Life Safety chapter—and this is very, very important—in time frames defined by the hospital. I will freely admit that this one didn’t really jump out at me until recently, and my best advice is to get going with defining the time frame for doing those building assessments; it kind of “smells” like a combination of a Building Maintenance Program (BMP) and Focused Standards Assessment (FSA), so this might not be that big a deal, though I think I would encourage you to make very sure that you clearly indicate the completion of this process, even if you are using the FSA process as the framework for doing so. In fact, that might be one way to go about it—the building assessment to determine compliance with the Life Safety chapter will be completed as a function of the annual FSA process. I can’t imagine that TJC would “buy” anything less than a triennial frequency, but the performance element does not specify, so maybe, just maybe…

We hold these truths…

In the wake of the high-rise fire in London a few weeks ago, those of you with high-rise facilities are probably going to experience some intensified attentions from your local fire folks (it’s already started in Houston). Any time there is a catastrophic fire with loss of life, it tends to result in an escalation in the interests of the various AHJ’s overseeing fire safety. While I suspect that your facilities are not at risk to the extent the conditions at the Grenfell Tower appear to have been, it is very likely that your locals are going to want to come out and kick the tires a little more swiftly/demonstrably than they have in the past. And, since we are responsible for a fair number of folks who are not (or at least less than) capable of getting themselves out in a fire, I think there is a very strong possibility that scrutiny will extend to non-high-rise facilities as well. I think we can say for pretty much certain that the regulatory folks probably didn’t miss this as a news story, and it’s not a very big leap to want to apply any lessons learned to how their areas of responsibility would fare under intensified scrutiny.

As a related aside, one of the challenges that I periodically face in my consulting engagements is the pushback of “it’s always been like this and we’ve never been cited” or something similar. My experience has been that a lot of times, the difference between a good survey and a not-so-good survey can be the surveyor taking a left turn instead of a right, etc. We have certainly covered the subject of imperfect buildings and how to find them (they are, after all, everywhere you look), so I won’t belabor the point, but this probably means that the focus on the physical environment is going to continue apace, if not (and I shudder at the thought) more so. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, folks—let’s get those sleeves rolled up!

Finally, as a head’s up, there’s going to be a webinar in August hosted by HC Info on strategies for meeting the CMS guidance (almost makes it sound helpful, doesn’t it) relative to the management of legionella risk that we covered a few weeks back. (Apparently space is limited, so you might want to get right on this: http://hcinfo.com/legionella-compliance.)

Something (nothing official, just an intense feeling) tells me that this is likely going to be a significant survey focus over the next little while, so I’m in favor of gathering as much expert information, etc. as possible. Again, while I have no reason to think that most folks are not appropriately managing these types of risks, I also know that the survey expectation bar appears to have been raised to an almost impossible-to-attain level. To echo the motto of the Boy Scouts—Be Prepared!

Horrors beyond contemplation

It is impossible to capture, or even comment on, the events that transpired at the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center in New York at the end of last month with anything less than abject horror. There have been lots of news stories about the various events that contributed to what happened, so I will let you investigate the causative factors on your own. But having checked out the available information, I can’t help but feel almost powerless when it comes to being able to provide any sort of guidance relative to the compliance aspects of preparing for such an event.

I think I can say, without much fear of contradiction, that this is likely to create an additional focal point for TJC surveys this year (so, keeping count, we have ligature risks; management of environmental conditions including temperature, humidity, air pressure relationships; intermediate- and high-level disinfection activities; workplace violence, including active shooter). But I still keep coming back to Sentinel Event Alert #45, “Preventing violence in the health care setting,” and I keep pondering the import of that one word: preventing.

Much as we have discussed in the past with a whole bunch of topics, at what point can we say that we have reduced the risk associated with X, Y and/or Z to the full extent possible? It would be an amazing thing to be able to put in place measures and strategies that could actually prevent something (really anything) bad from happening, but I have yet to encounter many instances in which prevention is actually achieved. Do we work towards that as a goal every moment of every day? Absolutely! But I don’t know how you “prevent” what happened at Bronx-Lebanon.

Until we have sufficiently sophisticated early detection for armed persons, aberrant behavior, etc. (we can’t have metal detectors at the front door of everyone’s home, can’t do a behavioral health assessment at everyone’s front door either), the purpose of looking at this is to ensure that there is an appropriate response, be it de-escalation or run, hide, fight. From what I gather, the response at Bronx-Lebanon was in keeping with appropriate levels of preparedness. As is usually the case with human beings, I suspect that there will be valuable lessons learned in reviewing what happened, but the fact of the matter is that this could have been so, so much worse.

At any rate, we know this is likely to be a focus during survey (information from a survey just this past week indicates a very significant focus on the management of violent events), and I think one of the most important preparation activities is to share information with the healthcare safety community. To that end, I wanted to alert you to an opportunity to do just that: next week, on Thursday, July 20, 2017, HCPro will present a webinar, “Emergency Preparedness for SNFs: How to Plan for, Respond to, and Recover From an Armed Intruder/Active Shooter Event.” While the title indicates a focus on skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), the general concepts are very much applicable to all healthcare environments and, truthfully, couldn’t be more timely.

I’ve worked in healthcare long enough to recall a time when this level of violence occurred in environments other than health care, but I think we have to operate under the thought that it is only a matter of time before our organizations come face-to-face with the reality of 21st Century existence. Although I wish it were otherwise, not focusing on preparing is no longer an option.

If brevity is the soul of wit…

Hope everyone enjoyed a festive and (most importantly) safe Independence Day—with any luck, today (July 5) does not mark the end of summer (as some do say) so much as it marks the beginning of the end of spring (up here in the Northeast, spring was loath to depart, but it does seem that pre-autumn weather has finally made a commitment to spending some time in the northern hemisphere).

I was looking recently at past blog posts for a reference to the CMS stance on law enforcement interactions with patients as a function of restraints and patient rights—always a fun topic—and I noted that the posts used to be a mite briefer than tends to be the case of late. (You can be the judge of whether my decline in brevity has left me soulless or witless.) I absolutely recognize that there’s been a lot of stuff to cover over the past 18 months with the firestorms of compliance that swept the healthcare environment, which has (no doubt) promoted some of the “volume” of bloggery. But it has caused me to wonder whether I am consuming the compliance elephant in sufficiently small bites to be of use to you folks out there in the field. As near as I can tell, the purpose of this whole thing (as much as I enjoy having a place to pontificate) is to provide information and thoughts on what is happening at the moment to you, my faithful audience of safety folk. And (as near as I can tell) it never hurts to ask one’s audience whether this works for you—please feel free to give me an e-dope slap if you think the “Space” has gone intergalactic in a less-than-useful way. At any rate, I am going to experiment with smaller bites of information in the coming weeks so you’ll have more time for other things—perhaps outdoors…

As far as news goes, things are relatively quiet as we observe the anniversary of CMS’s adoption of the 2012 Life Safety Code. Hopefully you all have done your NFPA 99 risk assessments; polished off those door inspections and are speeding towards the completion of activities relating to initial compliance with the Emergency Preparedness Final Rule. Health Facilities Management This Week discussed some prepublication EC/LS standards relating to the testing of emergency lighting systems; inspection and testing of piped medical gas and vacuum systems; and updating pertinent NFPA code numbers. The pre-pub stuff is aimed at behavioral health care, laboratory, nursing care center, and office based surgery accreditation programs. You can find the details here: https://www.jointcommission.org/prepublication_standards_%E2%80%93_standards_revisions_to_environment_of_care_and_life_safety_chapters_related_to_life_safety_code_update_/

(I guess some of those links are about as brief as I am…)

Thanks, as always, for tuning in—I really appreciate having you all out there at the other end of the interweb…see you next week!

Is this the survey we really want?

Moving on to the type of pain that can only be inflicted at the federal level, a couple of things that might require an increase in your intake of acid-reducing supplements…

As it appears that CMS doesn’t love that dirty water (and yes, my friends, that is a shameless local plug, but it is also a pretty awesome tune), now their attentions are turning to the management of aerosolizing and other such water systems as a function of Legionella prevention. Now, this is certainly not a new issue with which to wrestle, which likely means that the aim of this whole thing, as indicated in the above notification—“Facilities must develop and adhere to policies and procedures that inhibit microbial growth in building water systems that reduce the risk of growth and spread of Legionella and other opportunistic pathogens in water”—is something with which we are abundantly familiar. But I will admit to having been curious about the implied prevalence in healthcare facilities as that’s the type of stuff that typically is pretty newsworthy, so I did a quick web search of “Legionella outbreaks in US hospital.” I was able to piece together some information indicating that hospitals are not doing a perfect job on this front, but the numbers are really kind of small in terms of cases that can be verifiably traced back to hospitals. When you think about it, the waters could be a bit muddy as Legionella patients that are very sick are probably going to show up at your front door and there may be a delay in diagnosis as it may not be definitively evident that that’s what you’re dealing with. At any rate, sounds like a zero-tolerance stance is going to be, but the Survey & Certification letter does spell out the instructions for surveyors:

Surveyors will review policies, procedures, and reports documenting water management implementation results to verify that facilities:

 

  • Conduct a facility risk assessment to identify where Legionella and other opportunistic waterborne pathogens (e.g., Pseudomonas, Acinetobacter, Burkholderia, Stenotrophomonas, nontuberculous mycobacteria, and fungi) could grow and spread in the facility water system.
  • Implement a water management program that considers the ASHRAE industry standard and the CDC toolkit, and includes control measures such as physical controls, temperature management, disinfectant level control, visual inspections, and environmental testing for pathogens.
  • Specify testing protocols and acceptable ranges for control measures, and document the results of testing and corrective actions taken when control limits are not maintained.

I have little doubt that you folks already have most, if not all, of this stuff in place, but it might not be a bad idea to go back and review what you do have to make sure that everything is in order. And if you are interested in some of the additional information (including some numbers) available, the following links should be useful:

Moving on to the world of emergency management, during the recent webinar hosted by CMS to cover the Emergency Preparedness final rule, one of the critical (at that time, more or less unanswered) questions revolved around whether we could expect some Interpretive Guidelines (basically, instructions for surveyors in how to make their assessments) for the EP Final Rule. And to what to my wondering eyes should appear, but those very same Interpretive Guidelines.  I will feely admit that the setup of the document is rather confusing as there are a lot of different types of providers for which the Final Rule applies and not all the requirements apply to all of the providers, etc., so it is a bit of a jumble, to say the least. That said, while I don’t think that I am sufficiently well-versed with the specific EM requirements of the various and sundry accreditation organizations (HFAP, DNV, CIHQ, etc.), I can say that those of you using TJC for deemed status purposes should be in pretty good shape as it does appear that one of the early iterations of the TJC EM standards was used in devising the Final Rule, so the concepts are pretty familiar.  A couple of things to keep in mind in terms of how the CMS “take” might skew a little differently are these:

 

  • You want to make sure you have a fairly detailed Continuity of Operations Plan (CoOP); this was a hot button topic back in the immediately post-9/11 days, but it’s kind of languished a bit in the hierarchy of emergency response. While the various and sundry performance elements in the TJC EM chapter pretty much add up to the CoOP, as a federal agency, it is likely that CMS will be looking for something closer to the FEMA model (information about which you can find here), so if you have a CoOP and haven’t dusted it off in a while, it would probably be useful to give it the once over before things start heating up in November…
  • As a function of the CoOP, you also want to pay close attention to the delegation of authority during an emergency, primarily, but not exclusively the plan of succession during an emergency (I found the following information useful and a little irreverent—a mix of which I am quite fond). It does no good at all for an organization to be leaderless in an emergency—a succession plan will help keep the party going.
  • Finally, another (formerly) hot button is the alternate care site (ACS), which also appears to be a focus of the final rule; the efficacy of this as a strategy has been subject to some debate over the years, but I think this one’s going to be a source of interest as they start to roll out the Interpretive Guidelines. At least at the moment, I think the key component of this whole thing is to have a really clear understanding (might be worth setting up a checklist, if you have not already) of what you need to have in place to make appropriate use if whatever space you might be choosing. I suspect that making sure that you have a solid evaluation of any possible ACS in the mix: remember, you’re going to be taking care of “their” (CMS’) patients, so you’d better make sure that you are doing so in an appropriate environment.

And then came the last days of May…

There’s been a ton of activity the past few weeks on both the Joint Commission and CMS sides of the equation (and if you are starting to feel like the ref in a heavyweight prize fight who keeps getting in the line of fire, yup, that’d be you!) with lots of information coming fast and furious. Some of it helpful (well, as helpful as things are likely to be), some perhaps less so than would be desirable (we can have all the expectations we want as to how we’d ask for things to be “shared,” but I’m not thinking that the “sharers” are contemplating the end users with much of this stuff). This week we’ll joust on TJC stuff (the June issue of Perspectives and an article published towards the end of May) and turn our attentions (just in time for the solstice—yippee!) to the CMS stuff (emergency preparedness and legionella, a match made in DC) next week.

Turning first to Perspectives, this month’s Clarifications & Expectations column deals with means of egress—still one of the more frequently cited standards, though it’s not hogging all the limelight like back in the early days of compliance. There are some anticipated changes to reflect the intricacies of the 2012 Life Safety Code® (LSC), including some renumbering of performance elements, but, for the most part, the basic tenets are still in place. People have to have a reliable means of exiting the (really, any) building in an emergency and part of that reliability revolves around managing the environment. So, we have the time-honored concept of cluttah (that’s the New English version), which has gained some flexibility over time to include crash carts, wheeled equipment, including chemotherapy carts and isolation carts that are being used for current patients, transport equipment, including wheelchairs and stretchers/gurneys (whichever is the term you know and love), and patient lift equipment. There is also an exception for fixed (securely attached to the wall or floor) furnishings in corridors as long as here is full smoke detector coverage or the furniture is in direct supervision of staff.

Also, we’ll be seeing some additional granularity when it comes to exiting in general: each floor of a building having two remote exits; every corridor providing access to at least two approved exits without passing through any intervening rooms or spaces other than corridors or lobbies, etc. Nothing particularly earth-shattering on that count. We’ll also be dealing with some additional guidance relative to suites, particularly separations of the suites from other areas and subdividing the areas within the suite—jolly good fun!

Finally, Clarifications & Expectations covers the pesky subject of illumination, particularly as a function of reliability and visibility, so head on over to the June Perspectives for some proper illuminative ruminations.

A couple of weeks back (May 24, to be exact), TJC unveiled some clarifications. I think they’re of moderate interest as a group, with one being particularly useful, one being somewhat curious and the other two falling somewhere in the middle:

ED occupancy classifications: This has been out in the world for a bit and, presumably, any angst relating to how one might classify one’s ED has dissipated, unless, of course, one had the temerity to classify the ED as a business occupancy—the residual pain from that will probably linger for a bit. Also (and I freely confess that I’m not at all sure about this one), is there a benefit of maintaining a suite designation when the ED is an ambulatory healthcare occupancy? As suites do not feature in the Ambulatory Occupancy chapters of the LSC, is it even possible to do so? Hmmmm…

Annual inspection of fire and smoke doors: No surprise here, with the possible exception of not requiring corridor doors and office doors (no combustibles) to be included. Not sure how that will fly with the CMSers…

Rated fire doors in lesser or non-rated barriers: I know this occurs with a fair degree of frequency, but the amount of attention this is receiving makes me wonder if there is a “gotcha” lurking somewhere in the language of the, particularly the general concept of “existing fire protection features obvious to the public.” I’m not really sure how far that can go and, given the general level of obliviousness (obliviosity?) of the general public, this one just makes me shake my head…

Fire drill times: I think this one has some value because the “spread” of fire drill times has resulted in a fair number of findings, though the clarification language doesn’t necessarily get you all the way there (I think I would have provided an example just to be on the safe side). What the clarification says is that a fire drill conducted no closer than one hour apart would be acceptable…there should not be a pattern of drills being conducted one hour apart. Where this crops up during survey is, for example, say all your third shift drills in 2016 were conducted in the range of 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. (Q1 – 0520; Q2 – 0559; Q3 – 0530; Q4 – 0540), that would be a finding, based on the need for the drills to be conducted under varying circumstances. Now, I think that anyone who’s worked in healthcare and been responsible for scheduling fire drills would tell you (at least I certainly would) that nobody remembers from quarter to quarter what time the last fire drill was conducted (and if they think about it at all, they’re quite sure that you “just” did a fire drill, like last week and don’t you understand how disruptive this is, etc.) If you can’t tell, third shift fire drills were never my favorite thing to do, though it beats being responsible for snow removal…

So that’s the Joint Commission side of the equation (if you can truly call it an equation). Next time: CMS!

Come on, I Lean: Do you Lean?

As you are no doubt aware by now, there’s been a wee bit of a shift in this forum away from all things Joint Commission, as the CMSers seem more inclined to assert themselves in the accreditation market place. I personally have had a lot of work this year in follow-up activities relating to CMS visits and one of the structural/organizational vulnerabilities/opportunities that seem to be cropping with some regularity are those relating to the integration of the physical environment program into organizational Quality Assessment/Performance Improvement (hereafter referred to as QAPI, pronounced “Kwoppee”—I think you’re going to find that you’ll be hearing that term a lot in the coming years/decades) activities. This very much goes back to a topic we discussed back in January (it’s funny, when I started looking for the link to this story, I could have sworn that we had covered this within the last month) relative to making sure that organizational leadership is abundantly familiar with any issues that are (more or less) “stuck” in your safety committee. There is no “sin” in admitting that there are or may be improvement opportunities for which traction in making those improvements is a little slippery—you have to have a means of escalating things to point where reasonable traction is possible. So, from a regulatory standpoint, this all falls under §482.21 Condition of Participation: Quality Assessment and Performance Improvement, which includes the rejoinder: “The hospital must develop, implement, and maintain an effective, ongoing, hospital-wide, data-driven quality assessment and performance improvement program. The hospital’s governing body must ensure that the program reflects the complexity of the hospital’s organization and services; involves all hospital departments and services (including those services furnished under contract or arrangement); and focuses on indicators related to improved health outcomes and the prevention and reduction of medical errors.”

Now, I can tell you that this is a very big deal, particularly when it comes to the reporting up of data, occurrence reporting, etc.—even from the likes of our little world of physical environment safety and related topics. And sometimes you have to be willing to throw some light on those process areas that are not performing as you would want them to; improvement doesn’t typically happen in a vacuum and that absence of vacuum tends to require a fair amount of conversation/collaboration (with some resultant caterwauling) in order to make things happen/get things done.

One QAPI topic you will probably be hearing about (if you have not already) is Lean methodology, which pretty much embraces the general concept of reducing “waste” while still delivering positive service outcomes by focusing on what the customer wants (you can find some useful highlights here; the books are worth a look—perhaps your local library can hook you up). One organization that appears to be endorsing the Lean methodology is that kooky bunch in Chicago and while the article focuses on behavioral health, I think there is enough practical information to be worth a look. And, since we know from past experience that TJC tends to adopt a more pervasive stance when it comes to these types of things, I think it would be very useful (at the very least for those of you using TJC for accreditation) to be conversant in Lean. It’s probably going to rock your boat at some point—life preservers mandatory!

That’s the FAQ, Jack!

It may be that I am covering one topic of conversation more than necessary (it’s getting to the point where this might eclipse the discussion of eyewash stations—yow!), but I cannot help but be very concerned about the amount of play that the management of the environment in which we place behavioral health patients is receiving in the annals of The Joint Commission. April 24 saw an electronic update announcing the “birth” of a new standards FAQ regarding ligature risks that appears to be aimed at dovetailing with Sentinel Event Alert #56 and includes mention of a “Suicide Risk Booster” (who comes up with these names?!?). As we have discussed before, FAQs, Sentinel Event Alerts, and stuff that finds its way into Perspectives all take on the weight of standards when applied in the field, so clearly organizations need to have all their ducks in a row. (And this is starting to look like a whole mess o’ ducks to be “rowed”, which brings new meaning to that Willie Nelson classic “On The Rowed Again,” but I digress—and who wouldn’t?) The question I keep coming back to is whether there’s been an uptick in actual events in which patients have come to harm as the result of poorly or inappropriately managed ligature risks. Or is this the result of surveyors in the field citing organizations for having ligature risks and not being able to produce a risk assessment of the existing conditions and the identification (and communication to staff—key point, that one) of mitigation strategies to manage the identified risks?

Part of the challenge with this particular issue (and this is true of a great many things in the physical environment) is that it is virtually impossible to provide an environment that is entirely, absolutely (please insert your favorite qualifier here) impossible to provide a completely risk-free environment—at least on this planet (perhaps there are safer planets in the Federation, but I couldn’t say for sure), so there’s always going to be something with which patients intent on hurting themselves might use to that end. Now I know that not every healthcare setting is set up to deal with behavioral health patients (and somehow, I do think that for any hospital that has not come face-to-face with the management of BH patients in areas not designed for that purpose, it is just a matter of time) and I also know that the BH patient volumes can be very mercurial. Even if you have one “safe” room, there are no guarantees that, at any given moment, that will be enough to handle however many patients you have in the queue—and you really can’t leave these folks out in the waiting room. Again, I’m not convinced that the issue here is that there is data to support that folks are not managing things appropriately, but rather more along the lines of not being able to consistently communicate the process for assessing and identifying risks, educating staff to be able to speak to the mitigation strategies being used to manage the identified risks, etc. I would (as I have been for a while now) encourage you to really take this topic and do a deep dive into the particulars of your organization. I firmly believe that this is not going to be one of those “one and done” instances of risk assessment and that you will be well-served by periodically revisiting the initial assessment (if it has been completed) to ensure that the conditions upon which you based your initial assessment have not changed (and that includes the volume and acuity of the patients). There is every indication that TJC is going to be hammering on this for some time to come (remembering that EC.02.06.01 was the most frequently cited standard in 2016; the ligature risk findings tend to show up there when cited) and, much as issues with the surgical environment and interim life safety measures, process gaps can get you in a heap of trouble. A little extra work on this (and those others) can only increase your chances for a successful survey (or at least a not spectacularly ugly survey).

As a closing note, after a dinner discussion with my wife (who happens to be a nurse), I’ve been contemplating how the role of the safety professional has changed over the last 10-15 years, including my surprise when I encounter evidence of “old school” approaches to safety. To my mind (such as it is), where safety compliance was once the result of (more or less) coercion, sustained compliance can truly only come as the result of collaboration with the folks who have to manage the environment on a day to day basis—pretty much everyone at point of care/point of service. It is not enough for a safety professional to periodically stroll through an area and point out deficiencies, there has to be a conversation and there has to be problem-solving. I think the old coercive style was based on something approaching a lack of faith in the folks out in the environment to be able (or willing) to “do the right thing.” But in this era of “just” culture and empowerment, etc., safety has to happen all the time and that, my friends, can only come with an atmosphere of collaboration. If people hide stuff or behave more appropriately when they hear you are coming, then it makes the surveillance process less useful. And if you don’t work with folks to figure out how to resolve the issues that you “keep finding,” the likelihood of it fixing itself on its own is pretty remote. I freely admit that problem-solving is my favorite part of my safety consulting work (meeting folks is also a fave); there is nothing better than talking through a problem and achieving some sort of consensus on how to proceed. It’s not always easy, but it is worth every moment you put into it!

Or the light that never warms

Continuing in our somewhat CMS-centric trajectory, I did want to touch upon one last topic (for the moment) as it portends some angst in the field. A couple of weeks ago (April 14, 2017, to be exact), the friendly folks at CMS issued notice of a proposed regulation change focusing on how Accrediting Organizations (AO) communicate survey results to the general public (you can find the details of the notice here).

At present, the various AOs do not make survey results and subsequent corrective action plans available to the general public, but apparently the intent is for that to change. So, using the Joint Commission data from 2016 as test data, it seems that a lot of folks are going to be highlighted in a manner that is not going to paint the prettiest picture. As we covered last week, hospitals and other healthcare organizations are not CMS’ customers, so their interest is pretty much solely in making sure that their customers are able to obtain information that may be helpful in making healthcare decisions. Returning to the Joint Commission data from last year, pretty much at least 50% of the hospitals surveyed will be “portrayed” as having issues in the environment (I’m standing by my prediction that those numbers are going to increase before they decrease—a prediction about which I will be more than happy to be incorrect). Now, the stated goal of this whole magillah is to improve the quality and safety of services provided to patients (can’t argue with that as a general concept), but I’m not entirely certain how memorializing a missed fire extinguisher check at an outpatient clinic or a missed weekly eyewash station check is going to help patients figure out where they want to obtain healthcare. So, I guess the question becomes one of how the folks we hire to assist with accreditation services (the folks for whom we are the customers) are going to share this information in the name of transparency? (Though I suppose if you were really diligent, it might be a little easier to discern trends in survey findings if you’re of a mind to dig through all the survey results.) It will be interesting to see how this plays out; I can’t imagine that they’d be able to publish survey results particularly quickly (I would think they would have to wait until the corrective action plan/evidence of standards compliance process worked itself through).

As with so many things related to the survey process, I understand what they are trying to do (begging the question: Is transparency always helpful?), but I’m not quite catching how this is going to help the process. I absolutely believe that the CMS and the AOs (could be a band name!) have a duty and an obligation to step in when patients are being placed at risk, as the result of care, environment, abuse, whatever. But does that extend to the “potential” of a process gap that “could” result in something bad happening—even in the presence of evidence that the risk is being appropriately managed? There always have been, and always will be, imperfections in any organization—and interpretations of what those imperfections may or may not represent. Does this process make us better or more fearful?

Remembering it wasn’t fair outside…

First off, a mea culpa. It turns out that there was an educational presentation by CMS to (nominally) discuss the final Emergency Preparedness rule, with a focus on the training and testing requirements (you can find the slide deck here; the presentation will be uploaded sometime in the next couple of weeks or so) and I neglected to make sure that I had shared that information with you in time for you to check it out. My bad!

That said, I don’t know that it was the most compelling hour I’ve ever spent on the phone, but there were one or two (maybe as many as three) aspects of the conversation that were of interest, bordering on instructive. First off, when the final rule speaks to the topic of educating all staff on an annual basis, the pudding proof is going to be during survey when staff are asked specific questions about their roles in your plan (presumably based on what you come up with through the hazard vulnerability assessment—HVA—process). Do they know what to do if there is a condition that requires evacuation? Do they know how to summon additional resources during an emergency? Do they know what works and what doesn’t work as the result of various scenarios, etc.? This is certainly in line with what I’ve seen popping up (particularly during, but not limited to, CMS/state surveys)—there is an expectation (and I personally can’t argue against this as a general concept) that point-of-care/point-of-service staff are competent and knowledgeable when it comes to emergency management (and, not to mention, management of the care environment). As I’ve noted to I can’t tell you how many folks, the management of the physical environment, inclusive of emergency preparedness/management does not live on a committee and it is not “administered” during surveillance rounds or during fire drills. Folks who are taking care of the patients’ needs to know what their role is in the environment, particularly as a function of what to do when things are not perfect (I’ll stop for a moment and let you chew on that one for a moment).

Another expectation that was discussed (and this dovetails a wee bit with the last paragraph) is that your annual review of your emergency preparedness/management process/program must include a review of all (and I do mean all) of the associate/applicable policies and procedures that are needed for appropriate response. So far (at least on the TJC front—I’m less clear on what some of the other accrediting organizations (AO)—might be doing, though I suspect not too very far from this. More on the AO front in a moment), the survey review of documentation has focused on the emergency plan (or emergency operations plan or emergency response plan—if only a rose were a rose were a rose…), the exercise/drill documentation, HVA, and annual evaluation process. But now that the gauntlet has been expanded to include all those pesky policies and procedures. I will freely admit that I’m still trying to figure out how I would be inclined to proceed if I still had daily operational responsibility for emergency management stuff. My gut tells me that the key to this is going to be to start with the HVA and then try to reduce the number of policies and procedures to the smallest number of essential elements. I know there are going to be individual response plans—fire, hazmat, utility systems failures, etc.—is it worth “appendicizing” them to your basic response plan document (if you’ve already done so, I’d be interested to hear how it’s worked out, particularly when it comes to providing staff education)? I’m going to guess that pretty much everybody addresses the basic functions (communications, resources and assets, safety and security, utility systems, staff roles and responsibilities, patient care activities) with the structure of the E-plan, which I guess limits the amount of reviewable materials. There was a question from the listening audience about the difficulty in managing review of all these various and sundry documents and the potential for missing something in the review process (I am, of course, paraphrasing) and the response was not very forgiving—the whole of it has to be reviewed/revised/etc. So, I guess the job is to minimize/compact your response plans to their most essential (the final rule mentions the development of policies and procedures, but doesn’t stipulate what those might be) elements and guard them diligently.

The final takeaways for me are two in number. Number 1: Eventually, there will be Interpretive Guidelines published for the Emergency Preparedness final rule, but there is no firm pub date, so please don’t wait for that august publication before working towards the November implementation deadline. Number 2: While there is an expectation that the AOs will be reviewing their requirements and bringing them into accordance with the CMS requirements, there is no deadline for that to occur. Something makes me think that perhaps they are waiting on the Interpretive Guidelines to “make their move”—remembering it’s not going to be fair any time soon. I think the important dynamic to keep in mind when it comes to our friends at CMS (in all their permutations) is that they are paying hospitals to take care of their patients: the patients are CMS’ customers, not us. Which kind of goes a ways towards explaining why they are not so nice sometimes…

A bientot!