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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!

Point the finger (doesn’t matter which)

Or extend your hand?

First up, as a general rule of thumb (which could be one of the pointed fingers represented above, unless you don’t think a thumb is a finger), when CMS identifies an implementation date that is in the future, I think that we can safely work towards being in full compliance with whatever the Cs are implementing—on that implementation date. Apparently there’s been enough confusion (not really sure who may or may not have been confused, but sometimes it’s like that) for CMS to issue something of a clarification as to what is expected to be in place by November 15, 2017, which means education and exercises (and any other pesky items in your EM program that didn’t quite synch up with the final rule on emergency preparedness for healthcare organizations). Since this is very much brave new world territory when it comes to how (though perhaps the correct term would be “how painfully”) CMS is going to administer the final rule as a function of the survey process. I think it initially, unless we hear something very specific otherwise, means that we need to be prepared to meet the full intent of the language (making sure that you have trained/educated “all” staff; making sure that you participated in a community-wide exercise of some level of complexity) until these things start to sort out. My gut tells me that if they were going to engage in any more exculpatory/explanatory/clarifying communications, it would have been included in the above-noted transmission. And while I have little doubt that there will be some variability (states do not necessarily coordinate response) as to how this all pans out in the field, the education of “all” staff and participation in the communitywide exercise deal seem to be pretty inviolable. Certainly there have been instances in the past in which healthcare organizations have struggled to coordinate exercises with the local community(s), but my fear is that if you fall short on this, you will need to have a very compelling case of why you weren’t able to pull off a coordinated exercise. Community finances and fiscal years and local emergency response hegemony are all contributing factors, to be sure, but where you could “sell” that as a reason for not dancing with the locals to some of the accreditation organizations, I’m thinking that (as is usually the case) reasonableness and understanding might not be the highlights of any discussion with the feds and those that survey on their behalf. From what I’ve seen in the field, when it comes to CMS and the survey process, you are either in compliance or you are not in compliance and there is very little gray in between. Community drill done—compliant! Community drill not done—not compliant! Wouldn’t it be nice if life were always that simple?

At any rate, just to use this a reminder that the first anniversary of the 2012 Life Safety Code® is coming up—make sure you get all that annual testing and such out of the way—and don’t forget to make sure that all your fire alarm and suppression system documentation includes the correct version of the applicable NFPA code used for testing. I am dearly hoping to retire EC.02.03.05 from the most frequently cited standards ranks and while I fear the worst with this change. (To my mind, getting tagged for having the wrong NFPA year on the documentation would pretty much suck—please excuse my coarse language—but sucking is exactly what that type of finding would do.)

Do you know the way to TIA?

Last week we touched upon the official adoption of a handful of the Tentative Interim Agreements (TIA) issued through NFPA as a function of the ongoing evolution of the 2012 edition of the Life Safety Code® (LSC). At this point, it is really difficult to figure out what is going to be important relative to compliance survey activities and what is not, so I think a brief description of each makes (almost too much) sense. So, in no particular order (other than numerical…):

  • TIA #1 basically updates the table that provides the specifications for the Minimum Fire Protection Ratings for Opening Protectives in Fire Resistance-Rated Assemblies and Fire-Rated Glazing Markings (you can find the TIA here). I think it’s worth studying up on the specific elements—and perhaps worth sharing with the folks “managing” your life safety drawings if you’ve contracted with somebody external to the organization. I can tell you from personal experience that architects are sometimes not as familiar with the intricacies of the LSC—particularly the stuff that can cause heartburn during surveys. I think we can reasonably anticipate a little more attention being paid to the opening protectives and the like (what, you thought it couldn’t get any worse?), and I suspect that this is going to be valuable information to have in your pocket.
  • TIA #2 mostly covers cooking facilities that are open to the corridor; there are a lot of interesting elements and I think a lot of you will have every reason to be thankful that this doesn’t apply to staff break rooms and lounges, though it could potentially be a source of angst around the holidays, depending on where folks are preparing food. If you get a literalist surveyor, those pesky slow cookers, portable grills, and other buffet equipment could become a point of contention unless they are in a space off the corridor. You can find the whole chapter and verse here.
  • Finally, TIA #4 (there are other TIAs for the 2012 LSC, but these are the three specific to healthcare) appears to provide a little bit of flexibility relative to special locking arrangements based on protective safety measures for patients as a function of protection throughout the building by an approved, supervised automatic sprinkler system in accordance with 19.3.5.7. Originally, this section of the LSC referenced 19.3.5.1 which doesn’t provide much in the way of consideration for those instances (in Type I and Type II construction) where an AHJ has prohibited sprinklers. In that case, approved alternative protection measures shall be permitted to be substituted for sprinkler protection in specified areas without causing a building to be classified as non-sprinklered. You can find the details of the TIA here.

 

I suppose before I move on, I should note that you’re probably going to want to dig out your copy of the 2012 LSC when looking these over.

As a quick wrap-up, last week The Joint Commission issued Sentinel Event Alert #57 regarding the essential role of leadership in developing a safety culture (some initial info can be found here). While I would be the last person to accuse anyone of belaboring the obvious (being a virtual Rhodes Scholar in that type of endeavor myself), I cannot help but think that this might not be quite as earth-shattering an issuance as might be supposed by the folks in Chicago. At the very least, I guess this represents at least one more opportunity to drag organizational leadership into the safety fray. So, my question for you today (and I suspect I will have more to say on this subject over the next little while—especially as we start to see this issue monitored/validated during survey) is what steps has your organization taken to reduce intimidation and punitive aspects of the culture. I’m reasonably certain that everyone is working on this to one degree or another, but I am curious as to what type of stuff is being experienced in the field. Again, more to come, I’m sure…

What a long strange trip it’s been…

And we’re still in the first month!

As I’ve been working with folks around the country since November 8, there’s been a lot of thought/concern/etc. relative to how the new administration is going to be impacting the healthcare world and the end of January may have offered us a taste of what’s to come with the issuance of an executive order to reduce regulatory influence/oversight of the healthcare industry by establishing a plan that requires federal agencies to remove two existing regulations for every one new regulation that they want to enact (for the healthcare take on this, please check out the Modern Healthcare article here. As with pretty much everything that’s been happening lately, there appear to be widely (and wildly) disparate interpretations on how this whole thing is going to manifest itself in the real world (assuming that what we are currently experiencing is, in fact, the real world), so for the moment I am adopting a wait and see attitude about the practical implications of these moves (and acquiring truckloads of antacid). I don’t know of too many healthcare organizations that are so fantastically endowed from a resource ($$$$) standpoint to be able to endure further reimbursement reductions, etc. In fact, once you start looking at the pool of available cash for capital expenditures (and for too many, it’s more of an almost-dried up puddle), it hardly seems worth the effort to plan on expenditures that are likely never to come to fruition. Quick aside: section 482.12(d) of the Conditions of Participation requires each participating organization to have an institutional plan and budget, including a capital expenditure plan for at least a three-year period, though for far too many 3 x 0 is still a big fat goose egg, but still you must plan.

I would like to think that there’s a way forward that will result in greater financial flexibility for hospitals—in spite of some late-2016 chatter about allowing failing hospitals to do just that—fail! There were some closures last year. Hope nothing that impacted you; I couldn’t find anything that specifically indicated how many hospitals might have closed in 2015, so I can’t tell if last year was an aberration or business as usual. I do know that it is very tough when safety and facilities have to compete with some of the sexier members of the technology family; particularly those that generate revenue—growl! I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw an ad saying how clean and comfortable a hospital was (I think it would be a nice change of pace). And while I absolutely recognize the importance of wait times, technology advances, etc., if the physical environment is not holding up its end of the equation, it doesn’t really make for the best patient experience and that’s kinda where things are headed. It’s the total patient experience that is the measure of a healthcare organization—you’ve got to do it all and you have to do it good.

So, I guess we’ll have to keep an eye on things and hope that some logic (in spite of recent tendencies) prevails.

 

 

Who can turn the world on with her smile?

As we find 2017 reapplying time’s onslaught against pop culture icons, once again there’s a small “c” cornucopia of stuff to cover, some perhaps useful, some most assuredly not (that would be item #1, except for the advice part). Allons-y!

As goes the passage of time, so comes to us the latest and latest edition of the Joint Commission’s Survey Activity Guide (2017 version). There does not appear to be a great deal of shifting in the survey sands beyond updating the Life Safety Code® (LSC) reference, reordering the first three performance elements for the Interim Life Safety Measure (ILSM) standard, and updating the time frame for sprinkler system impairments before you have to consider fire watches, etc. They also recommend having an IT representative for the “Emergency Management and Environment of Care and Emergency Management” (which makes EM the function so nice they named it twice…), which means that, yes indeedy, the emergency management/environment of care “interviews” remain on the docket (and review of the management plans and annual evaluations—oh, I wish those plans would go the way of the dodo…) for the building tour as well. Interestingly enough, there is no mention of the ILSM assessment discussion for any identified LSC deficiencies (perhaps that determination was made to late in the process)—or if there is, I can’t find it. So for those of you entertaining a survey this year, there’s not a ton of assistance contained therein. My best advice is to keep an eye on Perspectives—you know the surveyors will!

And speaking of which, the big news in the February 2017 issue of Perspectives is the impending introduction of the CMS K-tags to the Joint Commission standards family. For those of you that have not had the thrill of a CMS life safety survey, K-tags are used to identify specific elements of the LSC that are specifically required by CMS. Sometimes the K-tags line up with the Joint Commission standards and performance elements and sometimes they provide slightly different detail (but not to the point of being alternative facts). As TJC moves ever so closely to the poisoned donut that is the Conditions of Participation, you will see more and more readily discernible cross-referencing between the EC/LS (and presumably EM) worlds. At any rate, if I can make one consultative recommendation from this whole pile of stuff, I would encourage you to start pulling apart Chapter 43 of the 2012 LSC – Building Rehabilitation, particularly those of you that have been engaged in the dark arts of renovation/upgrading of finishes, etc. You want to be very clear and very certain of where any current or just-completed projects fall on the continuum—new construction is nice as a concept (most new stuff is), but new construction also brings with it requirements to bring things up to date. This may all be much ado about little, but I’d just as soon not have to look back on 2017 as some catastrophic survey year, if you don’t mind…

Until next time, have a Fabulous February!

One less thing to pull out of your arsenal…

As we play yet another round of mishegas, it occurs to me that it’s been a while since I’ve really been able to tee off on something. Oh well, I guess it’s the little stuff that makes things interesting…maybe the February issue of Perspectives will provide fodder for my rant-mill… stay tuned.

First up, we have the (probably timely) demise of that titan of healthcare apparel, the powdered medical glove. It seems that the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has determined that the risks to the health of users and those upon whom those gloves are used (including bystanders) are so egregious that it instituted an immediate ban on their use, effective January 18, 2017. The potential dangers include severe airway inflammation from inhalation of the powder; wound inflammation and post-op adhesions from contact with the powder, and allergic reactions from breathing powder that carries proteins from natural rubber latex gloves. You can get the whole picture here. While I do believe that powdered wigs are still de rigeur in certain circles (constitutional re-enactors, for one) despite the opening line in the VIN News article, I hope that these actions are not a prelude to restrictions on powdered doughnuts (or donuts, depending on your preference—for the record, my favorite is raspberry jelly!)

Breaking it down with TJC

Our friends at the American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE) announced this week that they will be offering a series of webinars aimed at uncovering the mysteries of deep space, no wait, to introduce us to the inner workings of the 75 new performance elements in the Joint Commission standards, effective, well, pretty much right now. The featured presenter for the kickoff presentation is none other than Joint Commission’s Director of Engineering George Mills and it promises to be a rollicking good affair. That said, I do hope you are an ASHE member: if you are, the webinar is free; otherwise it’s $125, which seems a little steep for a single program (the advertising says this is a series of webinars, but this appears to be the only program scheduled at the moment, so your guess is as good as mine at this point). If I may indulge in a short rant, I’m still not convinced that having to pay to obtain access to TJC information that is not otherwise available as part of one doing business with the accrediting agency is a good thing. Not everyone has money in their budgets to do this (either membership in professional organizations or accessing educational programs) or the personal means to do this stuff on their own. While I am absolutely in favor of participation in professional organizations, I’m not sure that access to the insight of regulators is, while nice, the way things should be. Shutting up now…

Cue heavy breathing…

And let us end on a note of “Holy smokes, that was a near miss” (and I definitely did not see this one at the time—nor did I hear a ton of squawking). Last May, CMS decided to disallow hospitals from having security units that provide care for justice-involved individuals such as inmates and those in the custody of law enforcement or the state Department of Corrections. I’ve not worked with a ton of hospitals that have forensic units, but they are an important means of enabling hospitals to provide a safe environment for all while ensuring your forensic patient populations have appropriate access to needed inpatient healthcare services. Again, I didn’t hear a lot about this one, so it may be that the hue and cry was aimed in other directions; the American Hospital Association took up the cause and were able to convince CMS to rescind the “ban” (you can see the revised Survey & Certification memorandum here). This would have been a big time pain in the posterior for at least some number of folks, and may still be – I would encourage you to take a peek at the memorandum, including the scenarios presented at the end of the document—probably worth sharing with your organization’s leaders. I’m not exactly sure why CMS would have elected to go the route of disallowing security units for “justice-involved individuals” (that makes ’em JIIs—probably not an acronym that will catch on), though I would guess that ensuring patient rights are not violated in the process is a likely contributing factor. That said, any time a memorandum goes out on a specific topic, it seems to result in that topic becoming a wee bit hotter in the aftermath. No guarantees, but this might be a focus area in the coming months…

It’s not funny how we don’t talk anymore

A mixed bag of stuff this week (dig, if you will, a picture: sleigh full of regulatory madness), including the Perspectives coverage of the Emergency Management standards. But first, a little musing to usher in the change of the seasons.

The nature of my work/vocation requires me to travel a fair amount—and I am not whining about that—it’s my choice to continue to do so, and I understand that if the travel gods are displeased, there is no point in kvetching, but I digress. One of my favorite travel pastimes is watching fellow travelers as they navigate the various and sundry obstacles that one might encounter as they complete the check-in/TSA gauntlet, etc., after which, they generally “crash” in the gate areas or airline clubs. One of the most fascinating/disturbing trends (and I suspect you’ve probably witnessed this yourselves—perhaps even in your own homes) is groups of people (even families!) staring at their devices…and saying not a word to each other. I can’t help but think that if we can’t (or I guess more appropriately, don’t) converse in our private lives, it’s going to have a not-so-good impact on discourse in the workplace. We are better when we are talking—and even technological isolation is still isolation-y.

Hopping down from the ol’ soapbox, just a quick couple of words on the Emergency Management stuff in Perspectives. Interestingly enough (almost to the point of being strangely enough), it appears that folks responding to emergencies have found that the EM standards facilitate effective response—go figure! While I am certainly glad to hear that, I’m not necessarily surprised, mind you. After all, the basic tenets of small “e” emergency management are what inform the big “E” Joint Commission chapter, so if there’s stuff that doesn’t lend itself to response, recovery, etc., I would hope that it would have been expunged by now. Another area of emphasis in the article is the importance of collaboration with the community and other health providers when you are dealing with a significant emergency (as an aside, the CMS final rule also highlights the importance of that collaboration), which (once again) makes a great deal of sense from a practical standpoint. The article closes out with some links to useful information; I’d encourage you to check them out once the stockings are hung by the chimney with care:

Finally, to close out this epistle, I would encourage you to climb into the wayback machine and revisit those halcyon days of Sentinel Event Alert #37 and the management of emergency power systems, etc. My gut tells me that e-power is going to continue (if not increase) to be a focal point for pretty much any and all regulatory systems and the advice provided in SEA #37 relative to evaluating your e-power capabilities, assessing the reliability of normal power, etc., can only become more timely as our reliance on technology grows at an almost exponential rate. We certainly don’t want to get caught unawares on the e-power front and I’d be willing to bet that there have been some changes in the technology infrastructure in your place that might be significant enough for some analysis. At any rate, some more links to peruse once you’ve laid out the cookie and milk for that right jolly old elf:

Beyond that, I hope that we all get a chance to turn off the technology for a bit over the next couple of weeks (and I mean that in the best possible way—I am no Luddite!) and allow some real-time reflection with our family, friends and, indeed, the world at large.

Here’s hoping that 2017 rings in the return of civil discourse!

Ring out, solstice bells!

And so we turn again to our perusal of the bounty that is the December issue of Perspectives and that most splendid of pursuits, the Clarifications and Expectations column. With the pending changes to the Life Safety (LS) chapter, it appears that we are in for a sequential review of said chapter, starting at the beginning (the process/program for managing LS compliance within your organization) and (at least for now) moving to a deep dive into the ILSM process in January—so stay tuned!

So let’s talk a little bit about the requirements relative to how the physical environment is designed and managed in such a manner as to comply with the Life Safety Code® (LSC). Previously, there were but four performance elements here: assigning someone to manage the process (assessing compliance, completing the eSOC, managing the resolution of deficiencies); maintaining a current eSOC; meeting the completion time frames for PFIs (did you ever think we would get to a point where we could miss those three letters?); and, for deemed status hospitals, maintaining documentation of AHJ inspections. For good or ill (time, as always, will be the final judge), the number of performance elements has grown to six with a slight modification to some of the elements due to the shift away from the eSOC as one of the key LS compliance documents and the evolution (mutation?) of our friend the Plan for Improvement into the Survey-Related PFI. With greater numbers of performance elements, I guess there will be a subsequent increase in confusion, etc. regarding interpretations (yours, mine, theirs) as to what it all means, which leaves us with requirements to:

 

  • Designate resources for assessing life safety compliance (evidence could be letters of assignment, position descriptions, documentation in meeting minutes); the survey process will include an evaluation of the effectiveness of the chosen method(s) for assessing LS compliance

 

  • Performance of a formal LS compliance assessment of your facility—based on time frames determined by your organization (big freaking hint: “best practice” would be at least annually); you can modify/adjust time frames based on the stability of your physical environment (if there’s not a lot going on, you might be able to reduce frequencies, though I haven’t been to too many places that didn’t have some activities that would impact LS compliance (Can you say “network cabling”? Sure you can!). Also, there is mention of the use of certain performance elements sprinkled throughout the LS chapter that will be used for any findings that are not specifically covered by the established performance elements. Clearly, there is a desire to leave no stone unturned and no deficiency unrecorded. Yippee!

 

  • Maintaining current and accurate life safety drawings; we’ve covered this in the past (going back to 2012), but there are still some folks getting tagged for having incomplete, inaccurate or otherwise less-than, life safety drawings. Strictly speaking, the LS drawings are the cornerstone of your entire LS compliance efforts; if they need updating and you have a survey any time in the next 12-18 months, you better start the leveraging process for getting them reviewed/revised. They don’t tell you how to do it, but if they’re not on auto-cad at this point, you better have a wizard for whatever program you are using. All they need to do is find one inconsistency and they can cite it…ugh! Check out the list in Perspectives and make sure that you can account for all of it.

 

  • Process for resolving deficiencies identified during the survey; we know we have 60 days to fix stuff found during the survey (and hopefully they don’t find anything that will take longer than that to resolve—I have this feeling that that process is going to be exceptionally unwieldy—and probably unyielding to boot). The performance element covers the process for requesting a time-limited waiver—that’s got to happen within 30 days of the end of the survey. Also, the process for requesting equivalencies lives here (if folks need a refresher on equivalencies, let me know and I will put that on the list for 2017 topics). Finally, this is also where the official invocation of the ILSM process as a function of the post-survey process is articulated (I think we covered that pretty thoroughly last week, but if you have questions—go for it!).

 

  • Maintaining documentation of any inspections and approvals (read: equivalencies) made by state or local AHJs; you’ve got to have this stuff organized and in a place you can lay your hands on it. Make sure you know how often your AHJs visit and make sure that you have some evidence of their “presence.” I think it also makes sense to keep any inspections from your property insurers handy—they are almost as powerful an AHJ as any in the process and you don’t want to run afoul of them—they can have a significant financial impact if something goes sideways with your building.

 

  • The last one is a little curious to me; I understand why they’re saying it from a global perspective, but it really makes me wonder what prompted specific mention. You can read the details of the language in Perspectives, but my interpretation of this is “don’t try any funny stuff when you’re renovating interior spaces and leave 4-foot corridor widths, etc., when you have clearly done more to the space than ‘updated finishes.’” I think this is the call-to-arms relative to having a good working knowledge of Chapter 43 of the 2012 You need to know what constitutes: repair; renovation; modification; reconstruction; change of use or occupancy classification; addition (as opposed to subtraction). Each of these activities can reach a degree/scope that “tips” the scales relative to the requirements of new versus existing and if you haven’t made that determination (sounds very much like another risk assessment, don’t it?) then you can leave it in the hands of a surveyor to apply the most draconian logic imaginable (I think draconian logic might be oxymoronic—and you can put the accent on either syllable), which will not bode well for survey success.

 

That’s the word from unity for this week; next week, we’ll check up on some Emergency Management doings in the wake of recent flooding, including some updates to the Joint Commission’s Emergency Management Portal (EMP?). Hope your solstice salutations are merry and bright until next time!

Oh, what fresh hell is this?

Much as 2016 has laid waste to the pantheon of pop culture, so has it decimated the status quo in the realm of facilities and safety management. While this year has brought “pleasures” expected (adoption of the 2012 edition of the Life Safety Code®) and unexpected (the demise of the Plan for Improvement process), it appears that the wheels (gears?) that drive this regulatory machine are not yet done churning out new stuff for us to ponder.

As you’ve probably heard by now, last week CMS finally dropped the mike on the federal requirements relating to emergency management and the healthcare world. (Press release can be found here; link to the final rule–the hospital requirements start on p. 584 of this oh so fabulous 651-page document. Monsieur Needle, please meet Monsieur Haystack…zut alors!)

Let’s do a quick run-through of the four primary components:

  • You have to have an emergency preparedness plan that must be reviewed and updated at least annually.
    • The plan must be based on, and include, a documented facility-based and community-based risk assessment, utilizing an all-hazards approach.
    • The plan must include strategies for addressing emergency events identified by the risk assessment, utilizing an all-hazards approach.
    • The plan must address patient population, including, but not limited to, persons at-risk; the type of services the hospital has ability to provide in an emergency; and continuity of operations, including delegations of authority and succession plans.
    • The plan must include a process for cooperation with the various AHJs’ efforts to maintain an integrated response during a disaster or emergency situation, including documentation of the hospital’s efforts to contact such officials, and when applicable, its participation in collaborative and cooperative planning efforts.
  • Develop emergency preparedness policies and procedures that must be reviewed and updated at least annually. The policies and procedures must address the following:
    • The provision of subsistence needs for staff and patients, whether they evacuate or shelter in place, include, but are not limited to the following:
      • Food, water, medical, and pharmaceutical supplies.
      • Alternate sources of energy to maintain the following:
        • Temperatures to protect patient health and safety and for the safe and sanitary storage of provisions.
        • Emergency lighting.
        • Fire detection, extinguishing, and alarm systems.
        • Sewage and waste disposal.
        • A system to track the location of on-duty staff and sheltered patients in the hospital’s care during an emergency. If on-duty staff and sheltered patients are relocated during the emergency, the hospital must document the specific name and location of the receiving facility or other location.
        • Safe evacuation from the hospital, which includes consideration of care and treatment needs of evacuees; staff responsibilities; transportation; identification of evacuation location(s); and primary and alternate means of communication with external sources of assistance.
        • A means to shelter in place for patients, staff, and volunteers who remain in the facility.
        • A system of medical documentation that preserves patient information, protects confidentiality of patient information, and secures and maintains the availability of records.
        • The use of volunteers in an emergency and other emergency staffing strategies, including the process and role for integration of State and Federally designated healthcare professionals to address surge needs during an emergency.
        • The development of arrangements with other hospitals and other providers to receive patients in the event of limitations or cessation of operations to maintain the continuity of services to hospital patients.
        • The role of the hospital under a waiver declared by the Secretary, in accordance with section 1135 of the Act, in the provision of care and treatment at an alternate care site identified by emergency management officials.
      • Develop and maintain an emergency preparedness communication plan that must be reviewed and updated at least annually, which includes names and contact information for the following:
        • Staff
        • Entities providing services under arrangement
        • Patients’ physicians
        • Other hospitals and CAHs
        • Volunteers
      • The communications plan must also include contact information for the following:
        • Federal, state, tribal, regional, and local emergency preparedness staff
        • Other sources of assistance
      • The communications plan must identify primary and alternate means for communicating with the following:
        • Hospital’s staff
        • Federal, state, tribal, regional, and local emergency management agencies
      • The communications plan must provide a method for sharing information and medical documentation for patients under the hospital’s care, as necessary, with other healthcare providers to maintain the continuity of care.
      • The communications plan must provide a means, in the event of an evacuation, to release patient information as permitted under 45 CFR 164.510(b)(1)(ii).
      • The communications plan must provide a means of providing information about the general condition and location of patients under the facility’s care as permitted under 45 CFR 164.510(b)(4).
      • The communications plan must provide a means of providing information about the hospital’s occupancy, needs, and its ability to provide assistance, to the authority having jurisdiction, the Incident Command Center, or designee.
    • Develop and maintain an emergency preparedness training and testing program that is reviewed and updated at least annually.
      • The training program must provide for:
        • Initial training in emergency preparedness policies and procedures to all new and existing staff, individuals providing services under arrangement, and volunteers, consistent with their expected role
        • Emergency preparedness training at least annually
        • Maintenance of documentation of the training
        • Demonstration of staff knowledge of emergency procedures
      • The testing program must provide for:
        • Participation in a full-scale exercise that is community-based or when a community-based exercise is not accessible, an individual, facility-based. If the hospital experiences an actual natural or man-made emergency that requires activation of the emergency plan, the hospital is exempt from engaging in a community-based or individual, facility-based full-scale exercise for one year following the onset of the actual event.
      • Conduction of an additional exercise that may include, but is not limited to the following:
        • A second full-scale exercise that is community-based or individual, facility-based
        • A tabletop exercise that includes a group discussion led by a facilitator, using a narrated, clinically-relevant emergency scenario, and a set of problem statements, directed messages, or prepared questions designed to challenge an emergency plan
      • Analysis of the hospital’s response to and maintain documentation of all drills, tabletop exercises, and emergency events, and revise the hospital’s emergency plan, as needed.

To be honest, at first blush, I don’t see anything of particularly dire consequence (feel free to disagree; I’m always up for some civil—or uncivil—discourse) unless you’ve done a less-than-complete job of documenting your communications with the various and sundry AHJs (“The plan must include a process for cooperation with the various AHJs’ efforts to maintain an integrated response during a disaster or emergency situation, including documentation of the hospital’s efforts to contact such officials, and when applicable, its participation in collaborative and cooperative planning efforts.”). In fact, it will be interesting to see if TJC backs off of their caveat that tabletops don’t count towards the annual exercise requirement though, as you can see, the tabletop must include some very specific elements.

There is some additional language relating to provisions for stand-by and emergency power that includes providing for generator locations when you build new or renovate (who wants an emergency generator that could end up under water?); maintaining fuel sources during an emergency; testing components in accordance with requirements, etc., but, again, I’m not seeing a lot of indigestion-inciting language. I suppose it is possible that, at the end of all this (I mean, what’s left to tweak), there will be enough certainty in the regulatory fabric to promote a consistent application of the standards, etc. during surveys. Wouldn’t that be nice…

As plain as the nose on your emergency response plan…

Periodically, the whole concept of adopting plain language codes for emergency response plan activities/activations percolates to the top of somebody’s to-do list (I’d much rather embrace the concept of the to-don’t list, but that’s a discussion for another day). There was a little bit of that (more by inference than anything else) in the CMS follow-up report to the hospital response to Superstorm Sandy. Jeez Louise, that seems like eons ago…

This discussion always seems to engender a lot of back and forth, mostly regarding the balancing act of providing enough information to direct an appropriate response and not providing enough information to cause a panic. I recognize both sides of the argument, but I must say that I haven’t seen a lot of data to support a wholesale change, particularly as it would require a fair amount of education (and yes, I know that just because something requires education, etc., is not enough to forego adopting a new strategy, etc.). But I will also say that, depending on your organizational palette when it comes to emergency notification, all the different codes relative to workplace violence, active shooter, emergency assistance calls, etc., may well benefit from a more succinct announcement.

Recently, the Texas Hospital Association has weighed in with a recommendation to its members to adopt plain language codes, including a sample policy, an implementation timeline, and some examples (you can find that information here). It appears that there’s a move away from the (fairly standard, though not quite universal) Code Red designation for a fire alarm activation to the plainer language (though somehow not quite as sexy) “fire alarm activation.” It does appear that medical emergencies will remain as the (again, fairly standard, not quite universal) Code Blue (I guess that one’s gotten enough play on medically-oriented TV programs to have become part of the vernacular—where are the TV shows about safety in hospitals?!?), but there are some other terms that are worth of consideration. I don’t know that there’s necessarily a groundswell of support, but sometimes Texas can be something of a bellwether, so it may be a good opportunity to look at the possibilities, particularly if you haven’t in a while.

That said, I have two (relatively moderate) concerns. One being we are still waiting on the unveiling of the CMS final rule on all things emergency management; I had thought perhaps that pursuit had become somewhat dormant, but with the adoption of the 2012 edition of NFPA 99 excluding the chapter on emergency management, I think we have to believe that something regulatory this way comes. At any rate, will CMS push for some standardized notification language, particularly as a function of a focus on interoperable communications capabilities? I think that card has been dealt, I guess we’ll have to see how it gets played.

The other concern is the overarching concept of interoperable communication capabilities; I, for one, do not recommend you go about changing anything in terms of notification until you have some talk-time with the local emergency response authorities. They may or may not feel like they have a stake in this discussion, but you want to be absolutely certain that any modifications you might be entertaining will not somehow fly in the face of established protocols, language, etc. Isolationism, particularly when it comes to emergency management, is not likely to be a winning strategy as it usually requires the cooperation of disparate resources. So don’t forget to keep the community folks in the loop—you never know when they might come in handy!