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The trouble with normal: Some things to consider as we ease back into recovery

I think we can all agree that there are a lot of stressors in motion as we navigate the unknowns of the pandemic; some of which one might not normally encounter and others are just an amped-up version of “business as usual.” As we near the end of May, it does seem like there is a little bit of movement towards a return to normalcy (recognizing that we’ve probably bid adieu to the “old” normal), which has prompted some consideration of the demands placed on our facilities’ systems and how best to position ourselves to safely engage the recovery phase of this historic emergency response.

Another point of agreement (hopefully) would be that elements relating to infection control are going to be scrutinized more than ever as the accrediting organizations get back to it. I suspect that at least part of that scrutiny will involve the overarching management of utility systems and their components. Fortunately, there is much to be learned from/shared by folks I consider to be excellent sources of information and insight.

As was the case before the onset of COVID-19, I think the management of building water systems is going to come into play and, particularly if you’ve had to reduce usage in some areas of your facility, bringing things back online represent some real challenges. Certainly, the focus on managing the risks associated with waterborne pathogens goes back more than just a few months, but the following should be enough for you to get ahead of the curve.

The first two articles, penned by Matt Freje from HCInfo, focus on some key planning/prevention considerations that, at the very least, should be a part of your planning risk assessment going forward. It’s all completely sensible and clear in direction, particularly as work towards appropriate management of environmental conditions for our most at-risk patient populations, and both articles are definitely work a look. They cover building water systems and Legionella concerns.

Finally, for this week, we have a webinar covering potential Legionella risks as we ramp our buildings up to normal speed, sponsored/presented by the good folks at the ScalingUp!H2O podcast. Lots of good information presented by Dr. Janet Stout of Special Pathogens Laboratory. There’s a slide presentation, hence its availability on YouTube, but (again) worth the 35 or so minutes of your time to check it out.

Please continue to stay safe and productive during the pandemic. Thank you for your hard work and dedication to keeping things on an even keel!

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 18/19.3.2.6.  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 18/19.7.1.6.
  •  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!

When you get to the end, you get to start all over again…

I know you folks have (more or less) been under a constant bombardment of facts, figures, strategies, etc., relating to COVID-19 and, as every day brings us a little closer to a return to some sort of normalcy (It will be interesting to look back on how things changed as the result of the current emergency), I wanted to chat this week about one of those “other” things that is likely to be on the to-do list when we get to the recovery phase of this emergency. Not that long ago (OK, two weeks ago), we covered the potential for an intensification of scrutiny in the outpatient setting. And, as it should turn out, one of those areas of potential is the management of behavioral health patients in that setting. Last month (March 2020) our friends in Chicago posted an FAQ aimed at “hospital and hospital clinic settings” that talks about expectations relative to risk assessments in non-psychiatric units/areas in general hospitals. Of particular interest to me is the invocation of competency as a function of conducting the risk assessment “in areas where staff do not have the training to do this independently” and referencing “on-site psychiatric professional” as a potential resource. To me, that likely means that (and this may be the case of any risk assessment upon which you’ve modified practice, the environment, etc.) there will be questions about the risk assessment process, including “How do you know that the folks involved with the assessment were competent?” or something akin to that. I don’t know that everyone who has to (at least periodically) manage behavioral health patients is going to be able to access “on-site psychiatric professional” assistance, in which case it’s probably a good idea to clearly establish the credentials of the team or individual crafting the assessment. You can see what elements you’ll want to include here.

To aid in ensuring an appropriate environment for behavioral health patients, you might find the information assembled by the Center For Health Design to be useful. There is (almost literally) a ton of resources, from interviews, webinars, and podcasts to discussions of design elements, etc. As we have seen over the past few years, the management of the behavioral health environment is very much a moving target and the more information we have at our disposal, the more (dare I say) competence we can obtain. Every one of us is a caregiver to one degree or another and this is another useful resource that will help provide the most healing environment possible.

Please stay safe and (reasonably) sane ’til next time!

Will it go ’round in circles? A couple more pieces of the COVID-19 pie

As I try to embrace brevity as the soul of wit (which is likely to be as close to Shakespearean as this space is ever likely to venture), I have just a couple of resources to share with you folks this week. I do hope this finds you settling in (at least somewhat) to the current reality and the “new” stressors have subsided a bit.

Clearly, there’s been a lot of discussion regarding the protection of healthcare workers, mostly as a function of providing essential personal protective equipment (and the struggles that folks have faced in procuring said PPE). What is somewhat sketchier at the moment it to how organizations/employers are going to be held accountable for worker protection in the aftermath of the pandemic condition. But you might be able to gain some sense of things by consulting our friends at the federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration. While the OSHA website does speak of “discretion” in enforcement activities when considering an employer’s “good faith” efforts, I think it will be of critical importance that we be able to speak to a risk assessment to determine where folks jobs/tasks fall on the exposure continuum. OSHA indicates a spread of low, medium, high, and very high as risk categories with the enjoinder “(u)ntil more is known about how COVID-19 spreads, OSHA recommends using a combination of standard precautions, contact precautions, airborne precautions, and eye protection (e.g., goggles, face shields) to protect healthcare workers with exposure to the virus.” They also encourage the use of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention as the primary source of current strategies, etc., so we can all work from the same source.

One of the other common threads of discussion relates to the disinfection of surfaces, etc., for which I would encourage you to check out the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of approved disinfectants (hopefully whatever your organization is using is on the list; not necessarily a deal-breaker if it isn’t, but there are always risks when one goes off-list). I keep reflecting on the reality that, in all likelihood, we won’t know what worked/didn’t work, etc., until this is long past it’s point of criticality, so it’s important to make sure that we can evidence a thoughtful process in identifying strategies. As of this writing (April 21), there does seem to be a growing unrest to get things back to normal, with some states opting to employ less restrictive strategies for distancing (in all its many permutations—who knew?). I am hopeful that we won’t be having this same discussion a month (or two months) from now if there is a resurgence, but it does seem inopportune to try and short-circuit a process before we have enough data to support easing up on things. I guess it all goes back to what they say about time—it will tell!

Stay safe!

Why pay full price for the right thing…

…when you can get an approximation for a lot less money!

I’ve been sitting on this particular line of thought for quite some time—long enough for the world to get to a place where having to “make do” is not only the order of the day, but a philosophy that is being endorsed by the various and sundry regulatory folks as work to hold the line on PPE and other operational necessities. It seems almost daily, the hard lines that existed in the compliance world have blurred to the point of vanishing. And while we know that things will eventually return to whatever normal awaits us, there are some indications of what that world might look like (again, looking purely at regulatory compliance as a function of surveys).

While there has been no formal public announcement yet (though I am anticipating something or other in the not too distant future), it seems that something we chatted about almost a year ago is going to manifest itself during surveys conducted by our friends in Chicago to the tune of an additional scheduled survey day, with the intent being the opportunity to really kick the environmental tires (so to speak) in your outpatient locations. As we discussed last year, I believe that there’s the potential for any number of vulnerabilities in the outpatient settings that may not manifest themselves so readily in the hospital setting, but if you look at what has been driving the numbers when it comes to the survey of the physical environment, it is clear that a lot of the same potentials exist—loaded sprinkler heads, issues with door hardware, gaps in inspection, testing and maintenance activities, depending on the environment, even air pressure relationships, and the management of temperature and humidity can be in the mix. The cynic in me is quite certain that there is no surprise in moving further afield with the survey process when it comes to generating findings—think of how much stuff they found in hospitals, where we exercise the most “control”! At any rate, I’m sure we’ll be getting the official word soon, but I’ve been thinking about what this is all gonna look like post-COVID and I think this is an important piece to be thinking about in terms of preparation.

In closing for this week. I wanted to share a piece on inspirational quotes. I personally don’t hate inspirational quotes as a going concern, but I hadn’t run into to a few of these before, so I figure it can’t hurt to share with the group.

Hope you all are safe and (reasonably) sane—you’ve got this!

Feeling pretty psyched: Some good news to share!

In full recognition that the longer the COVID-19 condition persists, the crazier it gets to folks on the front lines, so my intent is to (try—we’ll see how this works out—you know me) limit editorializing and provide you with brief episodes of useful content.

This week, it gladdens my heart to let you know that the good folks at the American Society for Health Care Engineering (ASHE) published a template (and guidance information) to facilitate facilities and safety professionals’ requests for an 1135 Waiver relating to the potential for compliance gaps relative to inspection, testing, and maintenance of fire safety and other equipment. You can find the template and table at the ASHE website. It’s a fairly straightforward process and the template (and corresponding table) really simplifies the thought process; I would encourage each and every one of you to check out these materials and get your waiver requests in the queue. To my way of thinking, this will make things a whole lot easier as we deal with survey activities in the aftermath of COVID-19 and, in the short term, allow you to focus on the important things: Supporting patient care at your organization.

Stay safe and stay in touch as you can—you guys rock!