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Remote control: Don’t forget to close the loop

It would seem that the likelihood of ongoing remote surveys is growing in relation to the number of organizations awaiting survey. To be honest, I’ve not seen an official accounting of where the various accreditation organizations (AO) are falling relative to survey delays. That said, I can’t imagine that there must be a fairly significant backlog of surveys to be conducted, so I suppose we’d best be prepared for at least some of that process to occur remotely—particularly document review. To that end, if you missed this news item, I think it will help provide an understanding of how the process is evolving (mutating?!?); the focus of the piece is how DNV is administering the process, but there are certainly some clues as to how the process in general is likely to “exist” over the next little while.

One thing I hadn’t encountered before (or if I had, it was lost in the slipstream of last year) is the COVID data being provided by CMS. It appears that the information is updated on a regular basis (at this writing, the most recent information was for the period ending December 23, 2020) and while it is labeled as Nursing Home Data, CMS feels that the data is applicable to survey planning for hospitals. It appears that unless you are in a “green” county (you’ll see what I mean when you download the spreadsheet), then you probably won’t be seeing a “live” survey team (will we have to face zombie survey teams?). In traveling the past few months and living in a state that requires a negative test before returning or self-quarantining, I can tell you that those green windows sometimes don’t stay open for very long. Fortunately, I have not yet been in a position where I have tested positive away from home—probably my second worst fear; the worst fear being to bring this stuff back home to share with my family.

That said, my own practice has been very much “out in the field,” with a mix of some remote document review. I really do miss the interaction of document review with the folks who are actually responsible for the critical processes. It’s very difficult to have an appreciation for the process when you can’t discuss the operational challenges, the process for making corrections, etc. One of the “common” themes I’ve noted is that the documentation provided remotely tends not to include evidence of corrective actions; certainly this is something I’m accustomed to asking for when I’m doing onsite document review, but I don’t know of too many surveyors that wouldn’t be looking to “close the loop” on any identified deficiencies as soon as they find them in the documentation and it’s tough to really hold someone’s feet to the fire relative to producing corrective action documentation when you are not “in the building” with a specific ending point for the survey. There are certainly any number of surveyors who will cite an organization for failing to provide evidence of corrective actions and I think remote document review only increases the potential for missing pieces of the puzzle.

So my consultative recommendation is this: Make sure that you attach evidence of corrective actions to any documentation you might provide remotely to a survey team. You know you’re going to be asked for it anyways, so you might as well get ahead of the “ask.”

That’s it for this week. I hope you continue to be well and stay safe—we will get through this!

As I look out the window, it’s snowing, which reminds me that we’ve got to keep turning with the world, so I will let you get back to it. Until next time, hope you are well and staying safe. For those of you who are in the process of receiving the vaccine, thank you for your service!

Just when you thought it couldn’t possibly get any stranger…

But first (as promised), a word about fire drills (there will be more, maybe next week, depends on what comes flying over the transom…): About a month ago, I mentioned the possibility of a shift in fire drill frequencies for business occupancies from annual to quarterly. This was based on actual experiences during a state/CMS survey in the Southeast. At the time, it seemed a bit incongruous, but the lead Life Safety surveyor was very pointed in indicating that this was the “real deal.” Well, as it should turn out, it appears that somewhere between that pointed closing, and the receipt of the survey report and follow-up, there may have been a little excess stretching of the interpretive dance that we’ve all come to know (and not love). As of the moment, business occupancy fire drills will continue to be on the annual calendar and not the quarterly one. So, three cheers for that!

But the oddest headline of the past couple of weeks revolves around CMS and their “sense” that our friends in Chicago are being, for lack of a better term, overly transparent during the survey process, particularly during exit conferences at the end of each survey day. The thought given voice is The Joint Commission (TJC) is “(p)roviding too much detail or having extensive discussions before or during a facility inspection survey can potentially compromise the integrity of the survey process. Based on the level of detail shared, a facility could correct potential deficiencies mid-course, which would skew the findings and final outcome of the investigation,” (you can read the source article here). Exactly how this determination was made is not crystal clear to me, but it did occur during the process through which TJC’s deemed status was renewed—but only for two years.

For those of you who have participated in surveys over the year, I think we are in agreement that excessive clarity was not one of the hallmarks of the survey process, though it shivers my timbers to think of how they could become even less so. I have noticed a marked decrease in useful information, per issue, in Perspectives over the past few years, so maybe that’s one of the forums that will be less instructive as we enter the post-COVID era of accreditation surveys. We know that much of what goes down during a survey is the result of interpretation of regulations that are as broadly-scoped as they could possibly be (or are they?), so it would seem that we are looking at an even more opaque survey process—holy moley!

Until next time, be well and stay safe. We need each other—and perhaps never more than now!

Yes, I know I said fire drills, but…

Please feel free to accuse me of “dogging it,” but since I am on vacation this week and you all probably need something of a vacation from me, here’s just a quick blast relating to our latest conversation thread.

Hopefully, you noted the recent headlines indicating The Joint Commission’s (TJC) continued status as an accreditation organization with deemed status; you probably also noted that CMS continues to tighten the leash (if you will), approving their accreditation status for only two years. The CMS indicated, among other things that they “…are concerned about TJC’s review of medical records and surveying off-site locations, in particular for the Physical Environment Condition of Participation (CoP).” Talk about waving a red flag in front of a bovine nose or two!

I think we can intuit that the folks from CMS (not unlike, say, The Man from Glad, or UNCLE) were reasonably pointed in their discussions with TJC prior to making the announcement and, in the face of what might reasonably be interpreted as an existential threat, we can expect lots of attention paid to the outpatient setting(s) in general, and a keen focus on all things relating to the care environment. Certainly, the level of angst generated by this “omen” will hinge closely on how widespread your organization is and (potentially) how well your corporate structure compartmentalizes offsite locations. If you’re not sure, one thing you might consider doing is hopping over to TJC’s website for searching accredited organizations and see how your place “shakes out.” Nominally, each of the care locations they think you have should be represented, and it’s always fun to see if what’s there matches up with what you think you have. I can tell you with absolute certainty that there have been some surprises in the past and I have no reason to think the future holds anything different.

So, that’s our missive for this week  and we’ll cover fire drills next time—I wicked promise! Unless something else happens…

Take care and stay safe!

And it makes me wonder…sure does!

And it’s not just a bustle in your hedgerow, so alarm might be warranted…

Lately, I’ve been using this space to muse on the potential for changes to the survey process, particularly as a function of the inclusion of outpatient clinic settings and the impact of life safety surveyor attention to these facilities might have on survey results. If your immediate thought was “more findings in the physical environment,” I fear you are more correct than you might have wanted to be.

While I don’t have access to the official results just yet (the wheels of bureaucracy grind ever slowly), I was able to be front and center last week for a full federal Conditions of Participation survey. The most notable aspect of the survey (for me) was the attention paid to outpatient clinics being managed as business occupancies by the life safety portion of the survey process. There was a lot of focused document review for these offsite locations, with the expectation that the degree/level of exactitude in the documentation for your main campus is to be extended to the outpatient settings. Inventory lists of devices, making sure sensitivity testing is being done (with specific values—not just a pass/fail note for each); focused attention on how spare sprinkler heads are being managed—including ensuring that the correct wrench or wrenches are in place; quarterly fire drills (and yes, you read that correctly; it seems that the days of annual fire drills in business occupancies is drawing to a close), etc.

Those of you managing your outpatient settings through your own processes will have a leg up on the process, but if you rely on documentation provided by landlords, etc., you probably want to start kicking those tires and having the discussions now. The other piece of this is that the expectation is that any requested documentation would be readily (pretty darn close to immediately) available for review by the surveyor, so you may want to consider how you are managing that process. Do you have site-based binders or do you provide electronically? The surveyors definitely don’t want to hear that (for whatever reason) the documentation is not available.

As a final thought for this week, in light of this week’s coverage, you may want to give some thought as to how you might memorialize the ligature resistance risk assessment in the outpatient areas (don’t forget to make it thoughtful). As you can see from the link, the FAQ is aimed at the “hospital and hospital clinics” settings, so I think we can see where this could (and, let’s face it, probably will) go.

Until next time, I hope this finds you well and somehow managing the current currents—not sure what it will look like when we finally get past these rapids, but I hope that we all get through together!

CMS provides yet a little more flexibility for the management of the physical environment

In the ever-unfolding saga of pandemic response, the folks at CMS have issued another couple of waivers relating to the physical environment. Of course, these continue to be published with rest of the granted waivers, so I’ve copied and pasted the new stuff here:

  • Alcohol-based Hand-Rub (ABHR) Dispensers: We are waiving the prescriptive requirements for the placement of alcohol based hand rub (ABHR) dispensers for use by staff and others due to the need for the increased use of ABHR in infection control. However, ABHRs contain ethyl alcohol, which is considered a flammable liquid, and there are restrictions on the storage and location of the containers. This includes restricting access by certain patient/resident population to prevent accidental ingestion. Due to the increased fire risk for bulk containers (over five gallons) those will still need to be stored in a protected hazardous materials area. Refer to: 2012 LSC, sections 18/  In addition, facilities should continue to protect ABHR dispensers against inappropriate use as required by 42 CFR §482.41(b)(7) for hospitals; §485.623(c)(5) for CAHs; §418.110(d)(4) for inpatient hospice; §483.470(j)(5)(ii) for ICF/IIDs and §483.90(a)(4) for SNF/NFs.
  •  Fire Drills: Due to the inadvisability of quarterly fire drills that move and mass staff together, we will instead permit a documented orientation training program related to the current fire plan, which considers current facility conditions. The training will instruct employees, including existing, new or temporary employees, on their current duties, life safety procedures and the fire protection devices in their assigned area. Refer to: 2012 LSC, sections 18/
  •  Temporary Construction: CMS is waiving requirements that would otherwise not permit temporary walls and barriers between patients.

I’m going to guess that some folks have already “taken advantage” of these items (with the possible exception of the fire drills, more on that in a moment). It would seem more than likely that some additional hand sanitizer dispensers have sprouted up all over your facility (hopefully you’ve been keeping reasonable track on these locations). Once this is over, you’ll probably need to either do an analysis of how much you’ve got floating around or remove them before you run afoul of allowable amounts. I also can’t imagine that temporary walls haven’t sprouted up (lots of sprouts this week!) in all sorts of spots. Those are probably a little simpler to track, but there is one instructive element to this allowance, that being the interpretive difference between TJC and CMS when it comes to temporary barriers: While TJC allows them to be smoke-tight, the feds are really looking for temporary barriers to be fire-rated, particularly for construction separations. Something about which to be mindful when things get back to “normal.”

As to the fire drill waiver, I absolutely understand the first part of the statement—inadvisable is as good a descriptor for trying to conduct fire drills at the moment, particularly as a function of moving and massing staff together. But I’m not exactly sure what they mean by the latter portion, but I think we can parse this for a bit. Especially if the physical space has been altered in efforts to provide “new” pressure relationships for some units, then, in all likelihood, there are elements of egress that have been impacted and, in some instances, that impact is to a degree that probably requires modification of existing unit-based fire response plans. I think it’s good to be able to alert folks to the “reality” that if the alarm goes off “this is not a drill,” but how do we make sure that folks can take full advantage of the compartmentalization features of our facilities? And then, how do we “document” that education? I don’t think it needs to be particularly complex (in fact, I suspect the less complex, the better) and could perhaps be communicated through whatever lines of communication are in place with your incident command structure. If anyone has any thoughts they’d be inclined to share, that would be delightful.

And for you folks who might be interested in what’s happening in the fulcrum of state and federal response, you can find your state’s waiver requests, etc., here.

I won’t say it’s good reading, but one can never have too much insight into the process during times of chaos.

Stay well and take care!

In the grand scheme of things, this helps—but how much?

A few weeks back we chatted about efforts to engage the 1135 Waiver process as a function of fire and life safety systems inspection, testing & maintenance, particularly as a function of ASHE’s efforts to facilitate a coordinated response. Apparently, this part of the waiver picture was not a priority for the folks at regional CMS, so there were a number of rejection notices sent to folks.

I’m not exactly sure what may have transpired (other than the passing of time, but if there were folks with access to CMS ears that continued to advocate, a debt of gratitude is owed), but some items related to certain inspection, testing & maintenance activities have finally made it to the slate of blanket waivers. You can find the information here, on page 23 of the linked document. Unfortunately, it appears that the blanket waiver announcement is being released in cumulative form, so you have to dig a little bit to find the applicable passage. Because of that, I’ve copied and pasted the information below.

As near as I can tell, the areas of greatest concern for the moment are those activities for which waivers were not granted:

  • Sprinkler system monthly electric motor-driven and weekly diesel engine-driven fire pump testing.
  • Portable fire extinguisher monthly inspection.
  • Elevators with firefighters’ emergency operations monthly testing.
  • Emergency generator 30 continuous minute monthly testing and associated transfer switch monthly testing.
  • Means of egress daily inspection in areas that have undergone construction, repair, alterations, or additions to ensure its ability to be used instantly in case of emergency.

In looking at the list, I think that it is both reasonable and very practical from a safety perspective. Clearly, as busy as it is, there are critical processes/protections that need to be assured, so hopefully you haven’t missed any of those noted activities and, if you have, you probably need to start working on preparing your organizational leaders for some likely survey findings.

As a closing thought, lately while walking I’ve been checking out some new (to me) podcasts, one humor-based (Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend—generally pretty good—a couple of good “laughs out loud” per episode) and one not so much so, which is my shareable moment for you. Lately, the Freakonomics Radio podcast has been covering subjects relating to the pandemic, with the episode I listened to today being “How Do You Reopen A Country?” One of my favorite aspects of this program is their tendency to come at topics in a calm, measured fashion, but generally from a somewhat unusual angle, but I don’t want to spoil it for you be jabbering too much. If you’re interested in something thoughtful, but not crazily scary, you might enjoy the episode.

Hope this finds you safe and well – until next time…

CMS Blanket Waiver Information

Inspection, Testing & Maintenance (ITM) under the Physical Environment Conditions of Participation: CMS is waiving certain physical environment requirements for Hospitals, CAHs, inpatient hospice, ICF/IIDs, and SNFs/NFs to reduce disruption of patient care and potential exposure/transmission of COVID-19. The physical environment regulations require that facilities and equipment be maintained to ensure an acceptable level of safety and quality.

CMS will permit facilities to adjust scheduled inspection, testing and maintenance (ITM) frequencies and activities for facility and medical equipment.

  • Specific Physical Environment Waiver Information:

o 42 CFR §482.41(d) for hospitals, §485.623(b) for CAH, §418.110(c)(2)(iv) for inpatient hospice, §483.470(j) for ICF/IID; and §483.90 for SNFs/NFs all require these facilities and their equipment to be maintained to ensure an acceptable level of safety and quality. CMS is temporarily modifying these requirements to the extent necessary to permit these facilities to adjust scheduled inspection, testing and maintenance (ITM) frequencies and activities for facility and medical equipment.

o 42 CFR §482.41(b)(1)(i) and (c) for hospitals, §485.623(c)(1)(i) and (d) for CAHs, §482.41(d)(1)(i) and (e) for inpatient hospices, §483.470(j)(1)(i) and (5)(v) for ICF/IIDs, and §483.90(a)(1)(i) and (b) for SNFs/NFs require these facilities to be in compliance with the Life Safety Code (LSC) and Health Care Facilities Code (HCFC). CMS is temporarily modifying these provisions to the extent necessary to permit these facilities to adjust scheduled ITM frequencies and activities required by the LSC and HCFC. The following LSC and HCFC ITM are considered critical are not included in this waiver:

  • Sprinkler system monthly electric motor-driven and weekly diesel engine-driven fire pump testing.
  • Portable fire extinguisher monthly inspection.
  • Elevators with firefighters’ emergency operations monthly testing.
  • Emergency generator 30 continuous minute monthly testing and associated transfer switch monthly testing.
  • Means of egress daily inspection in areas that have undergone construction, repair, alterations or additions to ensure its ability to be used instantly in case of emergency.

o 42 CFR §482.41(b)(9) for hospitals, §485.623(c)(7) for CAHs, §418.110(d)(6) for inpatient hospices, §483.470(e)(1)(i) for ICF/IIDs, and §483.90(a)(7) for SNFs/NFs require these facilities to have an outside window or outside door in every sleeping room. CMS will permit a waiver of these outside window and outside door requirements to permit these providers to utilize facility and non-facility space that is not normally used for patient care to be utilized for temporary patient care or quarantine.

Rock on: Where do we go from here?

It would seem that the subtext to all we are experiencing/dealing with now is how long we can anticipate this “siege” to last, and (as is typical of these types of events) we probably won’t have a clear sense of the timing until the clouds break and the “sun” comes out. From a practical standpoint, the current situation is a very robust test of each organization’s continuity of operations plan (COOP), as well as the opportunity to witness the intricacies of the 1135 Waiver process as it unfolds. Of course, the other element that is unfolding is the number of COVID-19 cases worldwide (I’ve found the Johns Hopkins University case map of particular use in watching the spread of cases, both worldwide, but particularly in the United States; if you haven’t “found” it yet, it’s definitely worth a look).

At any rate, from a planning perspective, we’ve gotten to the point where some preparations need to be made to ensure sufficient capacity in the event regions are not successful in their attempts to “flatten the curve.” And those preparations will probably involve real-life/real-time actions to be ready to establish alternate care sites (to see what that looked like 100 years ago, you can scroll down this page to see my old stomping grounds at Brockton Hospital). To aid in that pursuit, just yesterday (March 30), CMS unveiled a number of regulatory changes to encourage thoughtful expansion of capacity, including provisions for what is described as “hospitals without walls.” I would encourage you to review these new materials as they do have some restrictions (mostly checking to make sure your planning dovetails with your state’s planning for alternate care sites).

From a practical standpoint, our friends at the American Society for Health Care Engineering have included with their COVID-19 resources some guidance (including links to other materials) on options for establishing/converting alternate care sites. Again, looking at the COVID-19 map, it is fairly easy to discern where bed capacities are likely to be in greatest demand and hopefully those most dire of conditions will not spread everywhere, but there’s no reason to delay consideration of what can be done in advance to be able to flex up capacity at your facility. I know there’s a lot going on right now and the struggle to attain some level of normalcy is all too real, but it is clear that we are in the process of redefining the magnitude of planning and preparation activities. Anything we can do to stay at least a couple of steps ahead is worth our time and energies.

Stay safe until next time!

Time I had some time alone: How negative do we need to be?

Just a quick couple of items this week. Don’t want to take you too far away from your primary focus!

First up, I’ve been working with some folks for whom there’s been something of a disconnect relative to the general concept of a room being under negative pressure versus an Airborne Infectious Isolation (AII) room. While all AII rooms are negative, all rooms under negative pressure (and there is a certain inescapable logic to this) are not AII rooms. It would seem that there are clinical folks that use the terms interchangeably (albeit in good faith) and sometimes, for example, when reporting isolation capacities to authorities, that interchangeability could put people at risk. Fortunately, the current state of affairs with COVID-19 does not require the use of AII rooms for holding patients, but it’s probably a good time to make sure that everyone is on the same page relative to your organization’s “true” isolation capabilities. It’s probably also a good time to keep a close eye on performance of these spaces—current events really highlight the need to be sure of which way the wind is blowing in your critical spaces.

For further reading, you might find the following information useful:

  • This Compliant Healthcare Technologies blog post covers some of the particulars relating to negative pressure considerations; might be familiar territory, but a refresher never hurts.
  • This Stericycle article covers some of the particulars relating to the management of waste during the current conditions; a lot of useful information from my perspective and perhaps yours, too.

As a final note, I suspect there’s been a fair amount of discussion in the background as to how the current state of emergency is going to impact the survey process once it re-emerges from the swamp. Right now, it’s not clear if any of the existing waiver processes is going to result in any flexibility relative to the various and sundry compliance activities that might be delayed, particularly those activities for which you’ve contracted with external vendors (fire alarm and sprinkler system inspection, testing and maintenance being a good example). At this point, it’s anyone’s guess, but past survey experiences in the aftermath of emergencies would seem to indicate that surveyors will feel bad about citing you for missing a timeframe (and will absolutely understand how it happened, etc.), but will still write the finding. I’ve been keeping a close eye on all the issuances from CMS, TJC, etc., and I haven’t seen anything relating specifically to all the stuff we worry about.

That said, my best advice at the moment is to document any compliance challenges manifesting themselves during this implementation of your emergency response plan and have a risk assessment for the impact on the life safety of building occupants in your back pocket, with perhaps some implementation of education initiatives, etc., to ensure nobody is put at an additional risk. Certainly, there are internal processes that could still be administered, but probably there are some that are not—might not be a bad idea to take a few moments to figure out what compliance (and any gaps) might look like if this goes to the end of April, or May, or even June. I’m hoping that you got all your quarterly stuff done early this quarter (don’t forget to check fire drills—some folks will wait until the end of the quarter—don’t want to miss anything), so it will be a question of keeping an eye on the longer-term future.

Stay safe and keep in touch as you can!

Logic doesn’t always prevail…a luxury you can’t afford!

By my observations over time, I’ve found that, all-too-often, logic finishes a distant third behind self-interest (which sometimes manifests itself as crimes of convenience) and panic. Unfortunately, if you currently work in the healthcare industry, you must cling to the bastion of logic as those “other” winds threaten to pull you under.

But sometimes even bureaucracies manage to act judiciously; the good folks at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have elected to curtail some of their “regular” survey activities to afford healthcare organizations the opportunity to focus on COVID-19 preparedness (you might want to bookmark the CMS FAQ page—they’ll be updating frequently). While this doesn’t mean CMS is going to halt all survey activity, it outlined how it would be prioritizing survey activities over the next little while:

Effective immediately, survey activity is limited to the following (in priority order):

  • All immediate jeopardy complaints (cases that represent a situation in which entity noncompliance has placed the health and safety of recipients in its care at risk for serious injury, serious harm, serious impairment, or death or harm) and allegations of abuse and neglect
  • Complaints alleging infection control concerns, including facilities with potential COVID-19 or other respiratory illnesses
  • Statutorily required recertification surveys (Nursing Home, Home Health, Hospice, and ICF/IID facilities)
  • Any revisits necessary to resolve current enforcement actions
  • Initial certifications
  • Surveys of facilities/hospitals that have a history of infection control deficiencies at the immediate jeopardy level in the last three years
  • Surveys of facilities/hospitals/dialysis centers that have a history of infection control deficiencies at lower levels than immediate jeopardy

While that does narrow down the field somewhat, those last two possibilities might be well-served by digging out any survey reports from the past couple of years to see if there are any IC-related issues lurking in the weeds.

According to the information provided to surveyors, the aim is to keep on-site survey time to no more than two days, with a particular focus on (you guessed it!) infection control, particularly as it relates to COVID-19 preparedness. You can see the meat and potatoes of the CMS memos to providers here:

As a final note for this week’s entertainment, our friends at ASHE have dedicated a webpage to provide COVID-19 information and resources; some of the materials require membership to access, but this is probably another page you’ll want to visit regularly as the next few weeks unfold.

On your marks, get set, sweat!

But hopefully not a Billy Idol kind of sweat…

Our friends in Chicago are once again tweaking the survey process, with the result being less time for surveyors to wait for organizations to muster their troops at the outset and pretty much no time at all before they are out and about doing tracers. Basically, what used to be the surveyor planning session in the morning of the first survey day is now being flipped and combined with the special issue resolution session at the end of the day. For organizations to adapt their process to the changes, folks should be prepared to do the following:

  • Prompt alert of/to the leadership team of any on-site survey to facilitate their availability for a prompt opening conference (I can’t think of too many folks who are not already doing this)
  • Prepare all required documentation and deliver those documents to the survey team immediately after the team is escorted to their “base” (the list of required documents is available in the Survey Activity Guide, although it begs the question as to whether this includes the life safety documentation…)
  • Gather the scribes together so they are ready to hit the pavement as soon as the (ever-so-brief) opening conference is completed

Somehow I think this may all tie across with the folks from CMS accompanying the Joint Commission folks as part of the validation process—anyone who has dealt with a state and/or CMS survey will tell you, there’s not a lot of time (or indeed, inclination) for pleasantries. The job of being prickly requires a lot of inflexibility, which does seem to be the hallmark of the current survey process.

These changes to the survey process are effective March 2020.