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Immediate Jeopardy: How much do you want to wager?

With best wishes to Alex Trebek!

Over the last couple of weeks, the folks at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (we know them by the cleverly acronymic CMS) have been busy generating lots of guidance for the folks in the field, healthcare organizations and surveyors alike. One of these missives covers the revision of Appendix Q of the State Operations Manual to provide guidance to surveyors and, (by extension) folks charged with compliance at the organizational level, for identifying Immediate Jeopardy (IJ) conditions during surveys. For those of you that have not had the dubious fortune of encountering an IJ in your organization (and I dearly hope that trend continues), it is difficult to describe the impact this can have on an organization. Short of shutting the place down, I cannot think of a more—oh I don’t know, words really seem to fall short in describing the sheer awfulness of an IJ finding.

But as they say, forewarned is forearmed (more on that delightful turn of phrase here). So let’s chat a bit about how one gets to an IJ.

The pieces that comprise an Immediate Jeopardy finding go a little something like this (the entire notification can be found here):

“To cite immediate jeopardy, surveyors determine that (1) noncompliance (2) caused or created a likelihood that serious injury, harm, impairment or death to one or more recipients would occur or recur; and (3) immediate action is necessary to prevent the occurrence or recurrence of serious injury, harm, impairment or death to one or more recipients.”

I think you could probably imagine any number of scenarios that might fit that particular bill; by the way, one of the revisions to this guidance was a change to (2). In the revision, the term “likelihood” replaced “potential.” While I do think “likelihood” is a somewhat higher bar to meet than “potential,” I still see a lot of room for surveyor interpretation. Hopefully, the administration of this judgment call will be more judicious than not. Time will tell…

Fortunately, we do have the opportunity to get a “leg up” on the process by visiting the CMS surveyor training page and working through the education materials provided there (the education is open to providers, so don’t be scared off by the link). I have not yet partaken of the education (it’s on my to-do list) and I will surely provide an update in this space once I have done so.

Keeping an eye on things: Managing behavioral health patients

What, again?!?

Recently, our friends in Chicago added a new FAQ to the canon, this time reflecting on the use of video monitoring/electronic sitters for patients at high risk for suicide (you can find the details here). For those of you paying attention over the years—and I think that’s everybody within the sound of my “voice”—the situational requirements are based on a clear invocation of the “it depends” metric. I think it is pretty clear (and pretty much the standard “problem” relative to the management of behavioral health patients at serious risk for suicide) that providing sufficient flexibility of staffing to be able to provide 1:1 observation of these patients is where folks are looking for that flexibility in technological monitoring and the FAQ pretty much puts a big stop on that front. I think the quote that comes into focus for this aspect is, “The use of video monitoring or ‘electronic-sitters’ would not be acceptable in this situation because staff would not be immediately available to intervene.” So, as a general practice, a 1:1 observation means that somebody (a human somebody) is “immediately available to intervene,” which means all the time, at any time.

At this point in the discussion, I think the important piece of this is (and is likely to remain so) the clinical assessment of the patient, inclusive of the identification of the risk level for suicide. I don’t think that the “reality” of having to deal with way more of these patients than we would prefer is going to change any time soon, and with it, the complete unpredictability of that patient volume as a function of staffing (full moons notwithstanding).

The FAQ goes on to discuss the use of video monitoring in those instances in which it is not safe for staff to be physically located in the patient’s room, but the use of video monitoring has to result in the same level of observation, immediacy of response, etc. It also indicates that video monitoring for patients that are not at high risk for suicide is at the discretion of the organization, indicating that there are no “leading practices” in this regard. I guess that means that you’re really going to have to make your own way if you chose the video monitoring route, which should include (as also noted in the FAQ) provisions for reassessment of the patient(s). Interesting times, my friends, interesting times…

As a final (and almost completely unrelated) note, I wanted to bring to your attention some discussion over at the Motor & Generator Institute (MGI) relating to recent CMS guidance regarding expected temperatures in the care environment during normal power outages and how, if you have a long-term care facility in your mix, a risk assessment might not be enough. You can find the details here and the folks at MGI are encouraging feedback, so I think it might be worth checking out and weighing in.

 

It’s been a long time: Revisiting an EOC perennial

Setting the wayback machine for the dark ages of safety (well, 2011 or so), we come to the last time we covered the monitoring of temperature and/or humidity in surgical spaces, etc. (if you want to revisit those halcyon days, you can head here). The funny thing about this most ancient of history is that, since then, while there have been changes in applicable codes and references, the “new” stuff comes up a little short when it comes to providing guidance relating to monitoring temperature and humidity, particularly as a function of frequency (I suppose we could call it the frequency function if we were being excessively alliterative). The baseline response (catty though it may be) is that you should be monitoring conditions on as frequent a basis as is required to ensure appropriate conditions, given due consideration of the systems you have in place, any manufacturers’ recommendations (which are also not particularly helpful in determining monitoring frequencies), and regulatory guidance (ASHRAE 170; state mechanical code) as applicable.

Ultimately, this all comes down (back?) to the requirements as outlined in the Conditions of Participation, which gives us:

  • 482.41(c)(4) – There must be proper ventilation, light, and temperature controls in pharmaceutical, food preparation, and other appropriate areas.

So, you might well ask, what are those “other appropriate areas”? For that information, we need to head over to the State Operations Manual/Interpretive Guidelines, which is where the skeleton of the Conditions of Participation is fleshed out into the survey process.  And what do we find there? Take a look:

Interpretive Guidelines §482.41(c)(4) – There must be proper ventilation in at least the following areas:

  • Areas using ethylene oxide, nitrous oxide, glutaraldehydes, xylene, pentamidine, or other potentially hazardous substances;
  • Locations where oxygen is transferred from one container to another;
  • Isolation rooms and reverse isolation rooms (both must be in compliance with Federal and State laws, regulations, and guidelines such as OSHA, CDC, NIH, etc.);
  • Pharmaceutical preparation areas (hoods, cabinets, etc.);
  • Laboratory locations; and
  • Anesthetizing locations. According to NFPA 99, anesthetizing locations are “any area of a facility that has been designated to be used for the administration of nonflammable inhalation anesthetic agents in the course of examination or treatment, including the use of such agents for relative analgesia.” NFPA 99 defines relative analgesia as “A state of sedation and partial block of pain perception produced in a patient by the inhalation of concentrations of nitrous oxide insufficient to produce loss of consciousness (conscious sedation).” (Note that this definition is applicable only for Life Safety Code® purposes and does not supersede other guidance we have issued for other purposes concerning anesthesia and analgesia.)

Interesting to note that the list here does not quite match up with the totality of issues for which The Joint Commission is citing folks (clean and soiled utility rooms being first and foremost, though I know that it is merely an extrapolation of the ASHRAE 170 requirements). Also interesting to note that, sterile supply and processing is not specifically mentioned, but (again), I think we can see where the importance of maintaining those spaces drives out of ASHRAE 170.

But what’s the endgame when it comes down to the survey process? The general unhelpfulness of the answer will not surprise you:

  • Review monitoring records for temperature to ensure that appropriate levels are maintained
  • Review humidity maintenance records for anesthetizing locations to ensure, if monitoring determined humidity levels were not within acceptable parameters, that corrective actions were performed in a timely manner to achieve acceptable levels

So (still!) if you follow the temperature and humidity rabbit all the way back to the Interpretive Guidelines, we see that the surveyors are instructed to ask to see “records,” so it all comes down to what you can produce in terms of a deliverable that reflects that temperature and humidity levels are appropriate/acceptable and levels that were not within acceptable parameters (which they do not define, so you better have a sufficiently flexible definition) were dealt with in a “timely manner” (again, not defined, so it’s up to you, based on your risk assessment).

As a closing thought on this (for now), apparently there are some folks that have determined that they don’t have to monitor both elements (temperature and/or humidity) and if there is nothing else that you derive from this week’s missive, it is this: You gotta do both! You can determine the frequency (though I would recommend at least daily—if you recall, the question that started this conversation in 2011 was whether quarterly monitoring was sufficient), but you clearly want to be able to use performance data to make that determination (and from whence comes that data—regular monitoring). You can determine what is acceptable/appropriate (based on utilization, types of procedures, preference of surgical staff, etc.); you can determine what is a timely timeframe for corrective action (Timely Timeframe—that sounds like a name Stan Lee would’ve loved). But you gotta do the monitoring; to do otherwise risks too much if the CMSers darken your door (which is becoming a much more common occurrence).

One last quick note for this week: There seems to be a bit of a groundswell of survey findings relating to hand sanitizer dispensers not having drip trays. It would seem that there must have been some recent mention of this in surveyor education as there are some surveyors indicating that this is a new requirement, but the overarching requirement has been in place for rather a while. To whit (and, again, the State Operations Manual becomes then go-to resource):

  • 482.41(b)(9) (ii) The dispensers are installed in a manner that minimizes leaks and spills that could lead to falls; with the associated Survey Procedure being: “Determine whether the hospital maintains the ABHR dispensers in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines, or, if there are no manufacturer’s guidelines, that the hospital has adopted policies and procedures to ensure that the dispensers neither leak nor the contents spill.”

Now, nowhere in the regulatory canon does it discuss drip trays (though, when you come right down to it, how else are you going to manage the threat of leaks/drips, especially over hard-surface flooring?). But apparently drip trays have become the “gold standard” for leak/drip control, so you might want to keep an eye on this for the future. These things do tend to spread and who wants to be chasing this during a (or post) survey? Not me.

Making a checklist, making it right: Reducing compliance errors

As you may have noticed, I am something of a fan of public radio (most of my listening in vehicles involves NPR and its analogues) and every once in a while, I hear something that I think would be useful to you folks out in the field. One show that I don’t hear too often (one of the things about terrestrial radio is that it’s all in the timing) is called “Hidden Brain”, the common subject thread being “A conversation about life’s unseen patterns.” I find the programs to be very thought-provoking, well-produced, and generally worth checking out.

This past weekend, they repeated a show from 2017 that described Dr. Atul Gawande’s (among others) use of checklists during surgical (and other) procedures to try to anticipate what unexpected things could occur based on the procedure, where they were operating, etc. One of the remarks that came up during the course of the program dealt with how extensive a checklist one might need, with the overarching thought being that a more limited checklist tends to work better because it’s more brain-friendly (I’m paraphrasing quite a bit here) than a checklist that goes on for pages and pages. I get a lot of questions/requests for tools/checklists for doing surveillance rounds, etc. (to be honest, it has been a very long time since I’ve actually “used” a physical checklist; my methodology, such as it is, tends to involve looking at the environment to see what “falls out”). Folks always seem a little disappointed when the checklist I cough up (so to speak) has about 15-20 items, particularly when I encourage them not to use all the items. When it comes to actual checklists that you’re going to use (particularly if you’re going to try and enlist the assistance of department-level folks) for survey prep, I think starting with five to seven items and working to hardwire those items into how folks “see” the environment is the best way to start. I recall a couple of years ago when first visiting a hospital—every day each manager was charged with completing a five-page environmental surveillance checklist—and I still was able to find imperfections in the environment (both items that they were actually checking on and a couple of other items that weren’t featured in the five-pager and later turned out to be somewhat important). At the point of my arrival, this particular organization was (more or less) under siege from various regulatory forces and were really in a state of shock (sometimes a little regulatory trouble is like exsanguination in shark-infested waters) and had latched on to a process that, at the end of the day, was not particularly effective and became almost like a sleepwalk to ensure compliance (hey, that could be a new show about zombie safety officers, “The Walking Safe”).

At any rate, I think one of the defining tasks/charges of the safety professional is to facilitate the participation of point-of-care/point-of-service folks by helping them learn how to “see” the stuff that jumps out at us when we do our rounds. When you look at the stuff that tends to get cited during surveys (at least when it comes to the physical environment), there’s not a lot of crazy, dangerous stuff; it is the myriad imperfections that come from introducing people into the environment. Buildings are never more perfect than the moment before occupancy—after that, the struggle is real! And checklists might be a good way to get folks on the same page: just remember to start small and focus on the things that are most likely to cause trouble and are most “invisible” to folks.

Waste not, want not: The rest of the CMS Emergency Preparedness picture

Moving on to the rest of the guidance document (it still lives here), I did want to note one last item relative to emergency power: There is an expectation that “as part of the cooperation and collaboration with emergency preparedness officials,” organizations should confer with health department and emergency management officials, as well as healthcare coalitions to “determine the types and duration of energy sources that could be available to assist them in providing care to their patient population. As part of the risk assessment planning, facilities should determine the feasibility of relying on these sources and plan accordingly.

“NOTE: Hospitals, CAHs and LTC facilities are required to base their emergency power and stand-by systems on their emergency plans and risk assessments and including the policies and procedures for hospitals. The determination of the appropriate alternate energy source should be made through the development of the facility’s risk assessment and emergency plan. If these facilities determine that a permanent generator is not required to meet the emergency power and stand-by systems requirements for this emergency preparedness regulation, then §§482.15(e)(1) and (2), §483.73(e)(1) and (2),

  • 485.625(e)(1) and (2), would not apply. However, these facility types must continue to meet the existing emergency power provisions and requirements for their provider/supplier types under physical environment CoPs or any existing LSC guidance.”

“If a Hospital, CAH or LTC facility determines that the use of a portable and mobile generator would be the best way to accommodate for additional electrical loads necessary to meet subsistence needs required by emergency preparedness plans, policies and procedures, then NFPA requirements on emergency and standby power systems such as generator installation, location, inspection and testing, and fuel would not be applicable to the portable generator and associated distribution system, except for NFPA 70 – National Electrical Code.”

I think it is very clear that hospitals, et al., are going to be able to plot their own course relative to providing power during emergency conditions, but what’s not so clear is to what depth surveyors will be looking for you to “take” the risk assessment. I suspect that most folks would run with their permanently installed emergency generators and call it a day, but as healthcare organizations become healthcare networks become healthcare systems, the degree of complexity is going to drive some level of flexibility that can’t always be attained using fixed generator equipment. If anyone has any stories to share on this front (either recent or future), I hope you’re inclined to share (and you can reach out directly to me and I will anonymize your story, if you like).

Wrapping up the rest of the changes/additions, you’ll be pleased to hear that you are not required to provide on-site treatment of sewage or waste, but you need to have provisions for maintaining “necessary services.” Of course, the memo indicates that they are not specifying what “necessary services for sewage or waste management” might be, so a little self-definition would appear to be in order.

If your organization has a home health agency, then you need to make sure that the communication plan includes all the following: (1) Names and contact information for the following: (i) Staff. (ii) Entities providing services under arrangement. (iii) Patients’ physicians. (iv) Volunteers. I think that one’s pretty self-evident but may be worth a little verification.

Next up are some thoughts about providing education to folks working as contracted staff who provide services in multiple surrounding areas; the guidance indicates that it may not be feasible for these folks to receive formal training for each of the facilities emergency response plan/program. The expectation is that each individual (and this applies equally to everyone else in the mix) knows the emergency response program and their role during emergencies, but each organization can determine how that happens, including what constitutes appropriate evidence that the training was completed. Additionally, if a surveyor asks one of these folks what their role is during a disaster, then the expectation would be for them to be able to describe the plan and their role(s). No big surprise there (I suspect that validating the competency of point-of-care/service staff is going to be playing a greater role in the survey process—how many folks would they have to ask before somebody “fumbles”?)

The last item relates to the use of real emergency response events in place of the required exercises; I would have thought that this was (relatively) self-evident, but I guess there were enough questions from the field for them to specify that you can indeed use a real event in place of an exercise. Just make sure you have the documentation in order (I know I didn’t “have” to say that, but I figure if it’s important enough for CMS to say it, then who am I…). The timing would be one year from the actual response activation, so make sure you keep a close eye on those calendars (unless, of course, you have numerous real-life opportunities…).

I do think the overarching sense of this is positive, at least in terms of limiting the prescriptive elements. As is sometimes the case, the “responsibility” falls to each organization to be prepared to educate the surveyors as to what preparedness looks like—it has many similar components, but how things integrate can have great variability. Don’t be afraid to do a little hand-holding if the surveyors are looking for something to be done a certain or to look a certain way. You know what works best in your “house,” better than any surveyor!

Walking in the shadow of the big man: CMS isn’t done with emergency preparedness

Imagine that!

The turn of February brought with it the latest epistle from our friends at CMS as they continue to noodle on the preparedness of the nation’s hospitals. I don’t know that this represents a ton of hardship for folks and I do know, for at least some folks, the latest directive is fairly straightforward as a function of their emergency preparedness programs, activities, etc. As we’ve discussed once or twice over the years (decades?!?), emergency preparedness is a journey, it is not a destination. And while we do have the opportunity to plot our own course on this, it seems that the regulatory oversight piece will never be very far away.

So, the first piece of this (you can find the whole missive here) is the pronouncement that planning for using an all-hazards approach to emergency management (and who isn’t?!?) should also include consideration of emerging infectious disease (EID: Influenza, Ebola, Zika, etc.) threats. The guidance goes on to indicate that planning for EIDs “may require modifications to facility protocols to protect the health and safety of patients, such as isolation and personal protective measures.” I think my immediate inclination would be to include EID threats as a separate line item for your HVA (my fear being if you integrate things too well into your existing, then you’ll be that much harder-pressed to “pull out” the EID portion of your organizational analysis). And/or if you combine all the IC stuff into one, then you might make changes to your plan to address the higher-risk stuff and create some operational challenges for your “normal” stuff. It’s early in the game on this one, so we’ll see how the process matures.

Next up we have some discussion relative to the use of portable/mobile generators as part of our emergency preparedness activities. It would seem that a lot of folks reached out to CMS to see if they were going to have to replace portable/mobile generators with the typical generator equipment found in hospitals, and (hooray!) the answer to that question is no, you don’t have to: unless your risk assessment indicates that you should. Apparently, there were other questions relating to the care and feeding of portable/mobile generators and the ruling on the field is that you would have to maintain them in accordance with NFPA 70 (and, presumably, the manufacturers’ IFUs), which includes:

  • Have all wiring to each unit installed in accordance with the requirements of any of the wiring methods in Chapter 3.
  • Be designed and located to minimize the hazards that might cause complete failure due to flooding, fires, icing, and vandalism.
  • Be located so that adequate ventilation is provided.
  • Be located or protected so that sparks cannot reach adjacent combustible material.
  • Be operated, tested and maintained in accordance with manufacturer, local and/or state requirements.

It also mentions that extension cords and other temporary wiring devices may not be used with the portable generators, so make sure that you have those ducks in a row.

There are a few more things to cover, but I think those can wait until next week. See you then!

I may not be perfect, but I’m perfect for you: CMS rates the accreditation organizations!

Another mixed bag of stuff for you this week, leading off with a quick spin through CMS’ report card to Congress.

While the numbers have shifted around a little, infection control is making a move on the outside, but the physical environment is still the big point of focus, though you can see where the two are starting to cross over at a greater frequency. I think issues relating to ligature risks are going to be a very sharp focus, particularly with CMS surveys. Although it is interesting to note that (at least at the moment) when ligature risks come up in the CMS survey process, those risks have been cited under the Patient Rights Condition of Participation (each patient has a right to receive care in a safe setting), so we may see Patient Rights at the top of the heap next year. One way you can avoid that little dance of ignominy is to make sure that you have completed a comprehensive ligature risk assessment in those areas in which you are managing behavioral health patients, including mitigation strategies for items that cannot be immediately corrected and solid anticipated completion dates. They are taking ligature risks very seriously because of the potential for harm to patients and you don’t want to have a whole lot of open-ended plans of correction. It almost comes down to a sense that everything that exists is a potential risk to be managed and while I am hopeful that cooler heads will prevail, right now this is a very, very hot topic.

One other thing to note with the report card is a section that deals with an analysis of survey disparity relating to Life Safety Code® compliance and health and safety considerations. I’ve looked at the contents of this section, including their conclusions and recommendations, and I have a hard time thinking that this is ever going to go away as a survey focus. While I tend not to rely on absolutes when it comes to periods of time, I can say quite confidently that there will always be stuff to find during a survey. You can look today and find stuff, you can look tomorrow and find different stuff, you can look the day after and—you guessed it! Stuff happens; people do stuff we don’t want them to, including unauthorized field modifications. The list is literally and figuratively endless. I know they have to find something, but as a collective, I think most hospitals are very well maintained and managed as a function of the physical environment. But if the big “C” knocks on the door (and I guess we have to include the minions as well), there’s going to be a list of stuff. Our job is to keep that list to a minimum. Good luck with that!

A hospital in trouble is a temporary thing: Post-survey blues!

As you might well imagine, based on the number of findings floating around, as well as CMS’ continuing scrutiny of the various and sundry accreditation organizations (the latest report card is out and it doesn’t look too lovely—more on that next week after I’ve had a chance to digest some of the details), there are a fair number of organizations facing survey jeopardy for perhaps the first time in their history. And a lot of that jeopardy is based on findings in the physical environment (ligature risks and procedural environment management being the primary drivers), which has resulted in no little chagrin on the part of safety and facility professionals (I don’t think anyone really thinks that it would or could in their facility, but that’s not the type of philosophy that will keep the survey wolves at bay). The fact of the matter is (I know I’ve said this before, though it’s possible that I’ve not yet bent your collective ears on this point) that there are no perfect buildings, particularly in the healthcare world. They are never more perfect than the moment before you put people in them—after that, it is a constant battle.

Unlike any other time in recorded history, the current survey epoch is all about generating findings and the imperfect nature of humans and their interactions with their environment create a “perfect storm” of opportunities to grow those numbers. And when you think about it, there is always something to find, so those days of minimal to no findings were really more aberrant than it probably seemed at the time.

The other piece of this is the dreaded adverse accreditation decision: preliminary denial of this, termination of that and on, and on. The important thing to remember when those things happen is that you will be given (well, hopefully it’s you and not your organization sailing off into the sunset without you) an opportunity to identify corrective action plans for all those pesky little findings. I can’t tell you it doesn’t suck to be in the thick of an adverse accreditation decision because it truly, truly does suck, but just keep in mind that it is a process with an end point. There may be some choppy seas in the harbor, but you have the craft (both figuratively and literally) to successfully make landfall, so don’t give up the ship.

CMS Ligature Risk Update: Not quite finished…

Cast aside the doubt that nothing good came come this way again!

On July 20, 2018, CMS issued further information regarding its expectations for ensuring that behavioral health patients are being provided a safe and appropriate environment. There had been some indication that CMS might be undertaking their own analysis of the current state of things, but it appears that CMS is going to incorporate the outcomes of The Joint Commission’s (TJC) suicide panel (in which CMS representatives participated) into a comprehensive ligature risk interpretive guidance. The memorandum does not indicate when we can expect the finalized interpretive guidance, but things do seem to be moving at a pretty good clip, so I’m thinking (maybe, just maybe), we’ll see that information before the end of the year. As a point of information (and you know I’m all about the points), the Joint Commission guidance cited in the CMS memorandum can be found here: and some clarifying FAQs issued by TJC last month (but not specifically referenced in the CMS memorandum) can be found here: (the information specific to ligature risks is about half way down the page). I know we’ve covered this over the past few months, but I can never be sure at which point in the conversation folks tune in, so I figured it doesn’t hurt to have links for what is current (at the moment…).

For those of you who have not yet tackled all of the particulars relating to the guidance issued from Joint Commission (mostly because you do not use TJC for deemed status accreditation purposes), I do think that the compliance path appears to be fairly reasonable and straightforward from an implementation standpoint. That said, until the interpretive guidance is finalized by CMS, there will likely continue to be some surveyor interpretation in the mix, particularly on the part of those accreditation and regulatory organizations other than Joint Commission (DNV, CIHQ, HFAP, state agencies, etc.). Which means it will be incumbent upon pretty much all hospitals to know where they stand relative to TJC recommendations, particularly as a function of how the strategies and facilities modifications they’ve made meet the intent of the recommendations. Some recent non-TJC survey activities indicate that the “other” accreditation organizations are starting to focus on this topic and, right now, are very much where TJC was in early 2017 when surveyors were inclined to identify anything and everything as a potential, unmanageable risk. And lots of re-surveys following in the wake of those determinations

Beyond a familiarity/assessment relative to the TJC recommendations, the “other” piece of which you need to be mindful is that whatever fixes they identify need to be completed before survey or there will likely be some back and forth relative to Immediate Threat, the need for re-survey, etc.  As we’ve discussed in the past (and this surely goes beyond ligature-resistant hardware), a lot of folks with a significant number of fixes are very much at the mercy of the supplies of needed hardware, etc. At a minimum, hospitals that haven’t completed their “laundry list” of fixes must have a risk assessment in place that outlines not only what is to be done from a facilities standpoint, but what strategies are in place to ensure that the risk to patients is being properly managed in the interim (this is very similar to the survey methodology dealing with Interim Life Safety Measures). As I’ve told folks time and again, you don’t get credit for doing the math in your head—at the end of the day, when you have a survey team “in the house,” the only “good” risk assessment is a risk assessment that is fully documented, approved by the appropriate organizational authorities, etc. If you don’t have an assessment ready to go for survey, it’s likely to be a very tough slog.

At any rate, it does appear that this one is going to be winding down in terms of survey activity, which will bring no small measure of relief to the survey preparation process, but it does beg the question of whether this is the last big environmental dope-slap or if there’s something else waiting in the wings to make us crazy. Any thoughts?

Hanging on in quiet desperation is the safety way: Thought of something more to say!

Recognizing that authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) always reserve the right to disagree with any decision you’ve ever made or, indeed, anything they (or any other AHJ) have told you in the past, how long are existing waivers, guidance and/or equivalencies good for? Answer: It depends (with more permutations that you can shake a stick at…).

Last week, we chatted a little bit about the whole water management thing, including mention of what CMS is telling surveyors to look for, but I thought it might be useful to extract some of the specifics from that missive (if you missed it last week, it’s here). So, here we have:

Expectations for Healthcare Facilities

CMS expects Medicare and Medicare/Medicaid certified healthcare facilities to have water management policies and procedures to reduce the risk of growth and spread of Legionella and other opportunistic pathogens in building water systems.

Facilities must have water management plans and documentation that, at a minimum, ensure each facility:

  • Conducts 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.
  • Develops and implements a water management program that considers the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) industry standard and the CDC toolkit.
  • Specifies testing protocols and acceptable ranges for control measures, and document the results of testing and corrective actions taken when control limits are not maintained.
  • Maintains compliance with other applicable federal, state, and local requirements.

Note: CMS does not require water cultures for Legionella or other opportunistic waterborne pathogens. Testing protocols are at the discretion of the provider.

Healthcare facilities are expected to comply with CMS requirements and Conditions of Participation to protect the health and safety of its patients. Those facilities unable to demonstrate measures to minimize the risk of LD are at risk of citation for noncompliance.

Expectations for Surveyors and Accrediting Organizations

Long-term care (LTC) surveyors will expect that a water management plan (which includes a facility risk assessment and testing protocols) is available for review but will not cite the facility based on the specific risk assessment or testing protocols in use. Further LTC surveyor guidance and process will be communicated in an upcoming survey process computer software update. Until that occurs, please use this paragraph as guiding instructions.

Just so you know, I chose to use some of the text in bold font because I think that’s probably the most important piece of this for folks moving forward (kind of makes me think that, just perhaps, there have been citations for folks not actively pursuing water cultures). But it does establish the expectation that a piece of the required risk assessment is going to include something that relates to whether you choose to culture, how often, and how you came to make that determination. I think this helps folks manage some of the ins and outs of this process, but I still feel like this could end up being a source of consternation as surveyors “kick the tires” in the field.