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And the wind blew the echoes of long faded voices: Some Emergency Management thoughts…

While the year seemed to start out relatively quietly on the emergency front (relative being a completely relative and arbitrary term—and perhaps never more so than at the moment), it appears that the various and sundry forces of nature (and un-nature) are conspiring to send 2018 out with a bang. From wildfires out West to curiously damp weather patterns in the East to some funky temperature swings in the middle, it seems preparedness levels are as critical an undertaking as ever (and frequently coming nowhere close to being over-resourced, but I guess there’s no reason that the “do more with less” mantra wouldn’t extend to the EM world), with a likely follow-up of focus by the accreditation preparedness panjandrums (more this than this, but I’m fine with either). And one area of vulnerability that I see if the regulatory noggins should swivel in this direction relates to improvements in educating folks on an ongoing basis (the Final Rule says annual, so that determines a baseline for frequency), including some sort of evidence that what you’re doing is effective. (I see lots and lots of annual evaluations that track activities/widgets without getting down to a means of determining effectiveness—another improvement opportunity!) The other “shoe” that I fear might drop is the inclusion of all those care sites you have out in the community. There are very (very, very) few healthcare organizations that are comprised of a single standalone facility; over time, acquisitions of physician practices and other community-based healthcare delivery settings have increased the complexity of physical environment compliance, including emergency management stuff. I don’t know that I’ve run into anyone who couldn’t somehow, to one degree or another, point to participation of the offsite care locations. But it typically comes as, if not quite an afterthought, then a scenario that kind of “grafts” the offsites into the exercise. And, much as I wish community exercises would include testing of response activities in which the hospital acts in a diminished or non-capacity (there’s always this sense that we’ll just keep bringing folks to the local ED), some of the events of this year have really impacted ready access to hospital services for communities. At any rate, if you have thoughts on how you are (or could be) doing a good/better job at testing preparedness across your whole healthcare network, I am all ears and I suspect that there might be some other attentive ears as well.

In closing for this week (a little late, but this truly shouldn’t be tied to just one day or week), my thanks to all that have served in the armed forces: past, present, and future. Your sacrifices continue to mean so much to our lives and I cannot thank you enough (but with the annual Day of Thanks coming up next week, I will surely try)!

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.

 

With a purposeful grimace and a terrible sound: Even more emergency management!

As much as I keep promising myself that I’ll poke at something more varied, the news of the day keeps turning back in the direction of emergency preparedness, in this case, just a little bit more on the subject of continuity of operations planning (COOP).

Late last week, our friends in Chicago proffered the latest (#41) in their series of Quick Safety (QS) tips, which focuses on elements of preparedness relating to COOPs (nobody here but us chickens). Within the QS tip (small pun intended), our Chicagoan overlords indicate that “continuity of operations planning has emerged as one of the issues that…need to address better in order to be more resilient during and after the occurrence of disasters and emergencies.” The QS also indicates a couple of best practice focus areas for COOPs:

  • Continuity of facilities and communications to support organizational functions.
  • A succession plan that lists who replaces the key leader(s) during an emergency if the leader is not available to carry out his or her duties.
  • A delegation of authority plan that describes the decisions and policies that can be implemented by authorized successors.

Now, I will freely admit that I always thought that this could be accomplished by adopting a scalable incident command structure, with appropriate monitoring of critical functions, inclusive of contact information for folks, etc. And, to be honest, I’m not really sure that having to re-jigger what you already have into something that’s easy for surveyors to discern at the 30,000-foot survey level is going to make each organization better prepared. I do know that folks have been cited for not having COOPs, particularly as a function of succession planning and delegation of authority (again, a properly structured HICS should get you most of the way there). So, I guess my advice for today is to figure out what pieces of your current EOP represent the COOP requirements and highlight them within the document (I really, really, really don’t want you to have to extract that stuff and create a standalone COOP, but if that helps you present the materials, then I guess that’s what you’d have to do…but I really don’t like that we’ve gotten to this point). At any rate, the QS has lots of info, some of it potentially useful, so please check it out here.

As a closing thought: I know folks are working really diligently towards getting an active shooter drill on the books, with varying degrees of progress. As I was perusing various media offerings, I saw an article outlining the potential downsides of active shooter-type drills. While the piece is aimed at the school environment, I think it’s kind of an interesting perspective as it relates to the practical impact of planning and conducting these types of exercises. It’s a pretty quick read and may generate some good discussion in your “house.”

There’s always someone looking at you: More emergency preparedness!

Once again, we tread the halls of emergency preparedness in search of context for some recent developments. I guess it is not inappropriate that this has become a more frequently touched upon subject, but I am hopeful that the weather patterns of last summer remain a distant memory, though the current situation in Hawaii does give one pause as a function of shifting likelihoods. At any rate, sending positive thoughts and vibrations to the folks in our 50th state in hopes that the tectonic manifestations will slow to a reasonable level.

First up, a couple of words about the recent unveiling of NFPA 3000 Standard for an Active Shooter/Hostile Event Response (ASHER) Program. I have no doubt that any number of you have been working very diligently towards establishment of an ASHER Program within your organizations. And I suspect that you have encountered some of the same resistors when it comes time to try and actually conduct a practical exercise to see how effective (or not) the response might be (I can’t think of too many other exercise scenarios that could be more potentially disruptive to normal operations, but I think therein lies the most compelling reasons for wanting/needing to exercise this scenario). I’ve participated in/monitored a couple of these exercises and I will tell you firsthand that it’s tough to get really good results on that first try. Folks are nervous and tentative and there’ll be a whole host of folks who won’t be as inclined to participate in the exercise as you might want (and really don’t seem too concerned when they fall victim to the shooter—there is nothing quite like the indifference that can be experienced during these types of exercises), but you really must forge on. To my mind, beyond the likely survey scrutiny driven by the Sentinel Event Alert, this type of scenario falls squarely in the realm of “most likely to experience, least well prepared to respond” and the longer it takes to begin making substantive changes to your response plan—based on actual data generated through exercises—the further behind the curve it will be if there is an event in your community (an event that has become increasingly likely, pretty much no matter where you are).

As to the standard, I don’t know that NFPA 3000 brings anything particularly new to the party, but it does provide a codified reference point for a lot of the work we’re already doing. You need only to check out the table of contents for the standard to see some familiar concepts—risk assessment, planning/coordination, resource management, incident management, training, etc. I do think that where this will become most useful as a means of further integration of our preparedness and planning activities with those of our local community(ies). We need to be/get better prepared to respond to the chaos that is integral to such an event and hopefully this will provide common ground for continued program growth.

As an aside relative to all things EM, there is an indication that our friends from Chicago are starting to kick the tires a little more frequently when it comes to ensuring that all the required plan elements are in place. There is a truism that the survey tends to focus more on what has changed than on what has remained the same, as we’ve noted in the past, TJC has added a few things to the mix, so you want to make sure you have:

  • Continuity of operations planning, including succession planning and delegation of authority during emergencies
  • A process for requesting (and managing) an 1135 waiver to address care and treatment at an alternate care site
  • A plan/process for sheltering patients, staff, and visitors during an emergency, as applicable
  • Evidence that all your outlying clinic, etc., settings have participated in your emergency response exercises or actual events

I know there are instances in which some of these might not apply, but you need to be very diligent in outlining how and why these elements would not be applicable to your organization. I think the only one noted above that really could be dependent on your organization is if you don’t have any care locations outside of your main campus. But beyond that, all those other elements need to be in a place that the surveyors can find them. And don’t be afraid to reiterate the language in the applicable individual performance elements—fleshing out the process is a good idea, but you want them to be able to “see” how what you have in your plan reflects what is being required. I continue to maintain that hospitals do a very good job when it comes to emergency management, but there is also always room for improvement. I don’t want our improvement processes to get derailed by a draconian survey result, so make sure the “new” stuff has been captured and added to your Emergency Operations Plan (EOP).

Only dimly aware of a certain unease in the air: Thoughts on succession planning and other EManations

Lately, as I field questions from folks regarding potential survey vulnerabilities relating to emergency management, I keep coming back to the importance of succession planning. And, interestingly enough, I’ve found that succession planning can have a very big impact on other processes in the physical environment.

Certainly, the most critical aspect of succession planning revolves around insuring that you have sufficient numbers of prepared competent incident command staff—in this age of frequent shifts in organizational leadership, etc., you can hit some really lean times when it comes to having appropriately knowledgeable folks in the bunker with you during emergency response activities. And with this recent spate of emergency response activations lasting days instead of hours and weeks instead of days, you really need to have enough bench strength to move folks in and out of roles, getting them a little downtime, etc. I think it is only natural(ly unnatural) to rely on a fairly finite cadre of individuals who you know can “bring it,” regardless of what’s going on, but I think the challenge as we move forward is to expand on those core folks and move towards access to incident command staff across all shifts. If you think of it in terms of a basic continuity of operations plan (after all, you need folks to be able to continue operations), a seamless philosophy, etc., would seem the best strategy. And, to that end, I have a question for you folks out there in radioland—do you have a standardized approach to providing education to your incident command folks? Is it the basic FEMA and associated stuff? Or have you found something else? I’d be really keen to hear what you’re doing to ensure reasonable competence, etc., in your response activities.

Another way in which succession planning can have an impact on general compliance are those instances in which critical processes are “owned” by one individual in an organization. And when that individual takes time off, or even leaves the organization, sometimes the stuff they were doing falls through the cracks. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run into instances when eyewash checks, fire pump tests, preventive maintenance for equipment, etc., went undone because the person responsible didn’t (or wasn’t able to) make a handoff. As you can probably figure out, surveyors are not going to look too kindly upon these kinds of gaps and with the threshold for findings being at such a low point, you really only need a couple of “drops” before you’re looking at survey troubles. I would imagine that those of you with work order systems can engineer a failsafe into the process so if someone is off, it’s easy to discern that the activity needs to be reassigned. But what if you pay to send someone to school to learn how to maintain a certain piece (or pieces) of equipment and that individual leaves the organization and you (potentially) without a service contract for the equipment in question because you brought it “in house”? These are all real life examples of how the best laid plans of facilities/safety professionals can go astray. Specialized knowledge and skill is rather a premium at the moment and you want to be sure you have processes in place that will withstand attrition (in all its glories).

Next week, I want to talk a little bit about how folks are managing construction projects. You know me: I never miss an opportunity for some ponderings…

The exodus is here: Are you prepared?

Some say not so much.

First off, many thanks to the standards sleuths out there that assisted on solving last week’s missing EP caper; it’s nice to know that I am not merely orating into the void (oration being a somewhat hyperbolic description of this blog—lend me your eyes!).

Now, on to our continuing coverage of emergency management stuff.

The ECRI report outlining the Top 10 Patient Safety Risks for 2018 (if you missed it last week, you can download it here), does make mention of all-hazards emergency preparedness as #7 on the Top 10 list, though I have to say that their description of the challenges, etc., facing hospitals was whatever word is the opposite of hyperbolic (I did a quick search for antonyms of hyperbolic, but nothing really jumped out at me as being apropos for this discussion), pretty much boiling down to the statement that “facilities that were prepared for…disasters fared better than those that were not.” And while there is a certain inescapable logic to that characterization, I somehow expected something a bit weightier.

That said, the ECRI report does at least indicate that there may have been hospitals that were prepared, which is a little more generous than hospital preparedness was described in the report from our friends at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Health Security (you can find the report here). The opening of the Hopkins report goes a little something like this: “Although the healthcare system is undoubtedly better prepared for disasters than it was before the events of 9/11, it is not well prepared for a large-scale or catastrophic disaster.” Now that is a rather damning pronouncement, and it may be justified, but I’m having a bit of a struggle (based on reading the report) with what data was used in making that particular pronouncement. I’m not even arguing with their recommendations—it all makes abundant sense to me from a practical improvement standpoint—and I think it will to you as well. But (I’m using a lot of “buts” today), I’m having a hard time with the whole “is not well prepared” piece (in full recognition that it is healthcare as a single monolithic entity that is not well prepared). Could hospitals be better prepared? Of course! Will hospitals be better prepared? You betcha! Could hospitals have more and better access to a variety of resources (including, and perhaps most importantly, cooperation with local and regional authorities)? Have the draconian machinations of the federal budgeting process limited the extent to which hospitals can become prepared? Pretty sure that’s a yes…

Could the nation (or parts therein) experience catastrophic events that significantly challenge hospitals’ ability to continue to provide care to patients? Yup. Will the nation (or parts therein) experience catastrophic events that significantly challenge hospitals’ ability to continue to provide care to patients? Probably, and perhaps (given only the weather patterns of the last 12 months or so) sooner rather than later. There have always been (and there always will be) opportunities for hospitals to improve their level(s) of preparedness (preparedness is a journey, it is not a destination), including building in resiliency to infrastructure, resources, command leadership, etc. And while I appreciate the thought and preparation that went into the report, I can’t help but think that somehow this is going to be used to bludgeon hospitals on the regulatory front. In preparation for that possibility, you might find it useful to turn your emergency management folks loose on a gap analysis relative to the recommendations in the report (again, I can’t/won’t argue with the recommendations—I like ’em), just in case your next accreditation surveyor tries to push a little in this realm.

’Tis the season…for more emergency management goodness!

Recognizing the somewhat hyperbolic nature of this week’s headline (you need only listen to current news/weather feeds to be able to determine that emergencies are not quite as seasonal as perhaps they once were…), I did want to share one more emergency management-related nugget with you (I do try to mix things up, but until I start seeing some “hard” survey results—or some regulatory panjandrum makes some sort of announcement, I’m going to keep seeding this space with various and sundry bits of stuff), this coming to us from the left coast, aka California.

While I have little doubt that you Californians in the audience are familiar with the California Department of Public Health (CDPH—four scary letters, though perhaps not as scary as OSHPD for the facilities folks in Cali) requirements for workplace emergency plans (which is highlighted in this month’s CDPH Occupational Health Watch), I think that there might well be some useful information for folks in other parts of the country (I have found, over some few years of experience, that regulatory tsunamis can start in California and find their way to all manner of locales). To be honest (and why else would we be here?), the plan elements required (or at least the ones the surveyors want to see) by the usual regulatorily-inclined suspects, are frequently not quite as useful from an operational preparedness/mitigation/response/recovery standpoint (they provide a useful structure for the aforementioned quartet, but when it comes down to doing the do, again, sometimes not so much).

At any rate, the Cal/OSHA Emergency Action Plan requirements, provide (at least in my mind—feel free to disagree) a good basic sense of the pieces to have in place that are not necessarily as patient-focused. When the fecal matters starts impacting the rapidly rotation turbine blades, it’s important to have a structure in place that addresses the employee aspect, particularly for those of you with offsite non-clinical operations (billing, finance, HR, etc.: a lot of folks don’t have enough space at the main campus for all the moving pieces that constitute a healthcare organization). So, here’s the California stuff (and please feel free to share any good stuff your state might have on the books—this is all about getting prepared and staying prepared—every little bit helps):

(b) Elements. The following elements, at a minimum, shall be included in the plan:

(1) Procedures for emergency evacuation, including type of evacuation and exit route assignments;

(2) Procedures to be followed by employees who remain to operate critical plant operations before they evacuate;

(3) Procedures to account for all employees after emergency evacuation has been completed;

(4) Procedures to be followed by employees performing rescue or medical duties;

(5) The preferred means of reporting fires and other emergencies; and

(6) Names or regular job titles of persons or departments who can be contacted for further information or explanation of duties under the plan.

(c) Alarm System.

(1) The employer shall establish an employee alarm system which complies with Article 165 (link to that info here).

(2) If the employee alarm system is used for alerting fire brigade members, or for other purposes, a distinctive signal for each purpose shall be used.

(d) Evacuation. The employer shall establish in the emergency action plan the types of evacuation to be used in emergency circumstances.

(e) Training.

(1) Before implementing the emergency action plan, the employer shall designate and train a sufficient number of persons to assist in the safe and orderly emergency evacuation of employees.

(2) The employer shall advise each employee of his/her responsibility under the plan at the following times:

(A) Initially when the plan is developed,

(B) Whenever the employee’s responsibilities or designated actions under the plan change, and

(C) Whenever the plan is changed.

(3) The employer shall review with each employee upon initial assignment those parts of the plan which the employee must know to protect the employee in the event of an emergency. The written plan shall be kept at the workplace and made available for employee review. For those employers with 10 or fewer employees the plan may be communicated orally to employees and the employer need not maintain a written plan.

 

I hope this provides you with some useful (and perhaps even thoughtful) information as we roll through emergency year 2018. I am hoping for a time of minimal impact for communities this year (I think we had just about enough last year), but the oddness of the weather patterns over the past couple of months gives me pause. (I live in the Boston area and Houston and its environs had snow before we did!)

Emergency Management Monkeyshines: All Things Must Pass…

Sometimes like a kidney stone, but nonetheless…

Before we dive into this week’s “content,” I have a thought for you to ponder as to the nature of basing future survey results on the results of surveys past (rather Dickensian, the results of surveys past): 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 and/or equivalencies good for? Hopefully this ponderable will not visit itself upon you or your organization, but one must be prepared for any (and every) eventuality. Which neatly brings us to:

In digging around past emails and such, I noticed that I had not visited the Department of Health and Human Services Healthcare Emergency Preparedness Gateway in rather a while and what to my wondering eyes should appear but some updated info and a link to CMS that I think you’ll find useful. So, the current headlines/topics:

  • Considerations for the Use of Temporary Care Locations for Managing Seasonal Patient Surge
  • Pediatric Issues in Disasters Webinar
  • 2017 Hurricane Response – Resources for Children with Special Health Care Needs
  • Supporting Non-resident/Foreign Citizen Patients
  • A new issue of The Exchange newsletter
  • A link to the CMS Emergency Preparedness Final Rule surveyor training (you can find the information available to providers here). Unfortunately, the post-test is not available to providers, but sometimes it’s like that.

It is my intent over the next little while to check out the education package, so I will let you know if I have any grave reservations about the content, etc., or if I think you need to earmark it for priority viewing.

So, kind of brief this week, but I’m sure there’ll be more to discuss in the not too distant future. And so, with the end of wintah on the horizon, I wish you a moderately temperate week!

When the tough get going: Emergency Management and other considerations

First off (and apologies for the short lead time on this), but next week (February 13), CDC is hosting a webinar on the importance of assessing for environmental exposures during emergencies (and in general). While this is likely to be some useful information as a going concern, you can also earn CEUs for tuning in. A summary of the program as well as registration information, etc., can be found here. Overall, I think hospitals had a pretty good track record of emergency response in 2017, but somehow these things never seem to get easier over time…

Another issue that I see starting to gain a little traction in the survey world is dealing with concerns relating to medical gas and vacuum systems; for the most part (I’m sure there are some exceptions, but I can’t say that I’ve run into them), folks in hospitals tend to rely on contracted vendors to do the formal inspection, testing, and maintenance of medical gas and vacuum systems, which tends to keep an in-depth knowledge of the dirty details at (more or less) arm’s length. A couple of weeks ago, I received some information from Jason Di Marco of Compliant Healthcare Technologies (many thanks to Jason!) that I thought would be worth sharing with you folks. Of primary interest is a downloadable guide to medical gas systems (available here in exchange for your email address) that really gives a good overview of the nuts and bolts (as it were) of your med gas system. Jason also publishes a blog on the critical aspects of medical gas and vacuum system inspection, testing, maintenance, compliance, etc., where I found a fair amount of useful information. Again, I can see the regulatory compliance laser focus starting to turn in the direction of all the systems covered under NFPA 99 and I can also see some of those prickly surveyor types trying to pick at the knowledge base of the folks managing these processes. So, in the interest of never having too much information, I would suggest getting a little more intimate with your medical gas and vacuum systems.

An invitation to the regulatory dance—and the band keeps playing faster…

About a year ago, we chatted a bit about the likely changes to the regulatory landscape under a new administration, most of which (at least those related to the changing of the guard) never really materialized to any great extent. But one thing held true—and continues as we embark upon the good ship 2018—the focus on management of the physical environment is very much at the forefront of preparatory activities.

We also chatted a bit about The Joint Commission’s previous exhortations to healthcare leaders to focus more attention on the management of the physical environment (I was going to provide a link to TJC’s leadership blog regarding our little world, but it appears that the page is not so easily found, though I’m sure it has nothing to do with revisionist history…). But it does appear that there’s no reason to think that the number (and probably types) of survey findings in the environment are going to be anything but steady, though hopefully not a steady increase. Remember, we still have two years in the survey cycle before everyone gets to have undergone their first survey with the loss of the rate-based performance elements.

Which brings us squarely to 2018 and our continuing storm of regulatory challenges; I had made a list of stuff that I believed would play some role of significance in 2017 and (strangely enough) appear to be poised to do the same in the coming year (or two…or three?!?):

 

  1. Physical environment standards remain among the most frequently cited during TJC surveys (Nine of the 10 most frequently cited standards for the period January through June 2017). Please check out the September 2017 issue of Joint Commission Perspectives for the details! Just so you know (and I do believe that I’ve mentioned this in the past), I “count” IC.02.02.01 as a physical environment standard. Yes, I know it’s under the Infection Control chapter, but disinfection, the management of equipment and supplies? That all happens in the environment!
  2. CMS, in its report card to Congress, identified the physical environment as the largest “gap” of oversight during all accreditation organization surveys
  3. Also in its report card to Congress, CMS singled out TJC as lagging behind its competition when it comes to improving identification of deficiencies relative to the Conditions of Participation. I firmly believe that the report card to Congress was the proverbial “spark” that fanned the flames of regulatory focus in the environment. I don’t know when we can expect an updated edition of the report card (I suspect that it may be a while), but knowing that CMS is “concerned” can only mean continued focus…
  4. CMS adoption of the 2012 Life Safety Code® (effective survey date of November 1, 2016) definitely did create some level of confusion and uncertainty that always accompanies “change.” And 2017 demonstrated very clearly that it’s not just “us” that have to learn the practical application of the new stuff—the surveyors have to catch up as well! I am definitely starting to see the impact of the adoption of the 2012 Health Facilities Code (NFPA 99)—if you don’t have a copy in your library, it might just be time.
  5. TJC is in the process of revising its Environment of Care and Life Safety chapters to more closely reflect CMS requirements. January 2018 continues the rollout of the standards/performance elements updates—and they’re still not done. As we’ve discussed over the last few weeks, there’s still a lot of shifting requirements (some we always knew were in place, others merely rumored).
  6. Recent TJC survey reports indicate an increasing focus (and resulting vulnerabilities) on outpatient locations, particularly those engaging in high-level disinfection and/or surgical procedures. The physical environment in all areas in which patients receive care, treatment, and services are generating up to 60% of the total physical environment findings in recent surveys. That was just as true in 2017 as in 2016—each care location in the organization has to be prepared for multi-day scrutiny.
  7. CMS published its final rule on Emergency Preparedness (including Interpretive Guidelines, effective November 2016, with full implementation of requirements due November 2017). While organizations in compliance with current TJC Emergency Management standards will be in substantial compliance with the new rule, there will be some potential vulnerabilities relative to some of the specific components of the rule. The key sticking points at the moment appear to relate to the Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) and the processes for delegating authority and leadership succession planning during extended events.
  8. Introduction of TJC’s SAFER matrix, which did indeed result in every deficiency identified during the survey process being included in the final survey report. Formerly, there was a section called Opportunities For Improvement for the single findings that didn’t “roll up” into a Requirement For Improvement. With the SAFER matrix, everything they find goes into the report. And there did seem to be a preponderance of findings “clustered” (make of that descriptor what you will) in the high risk sections of the matrix.
  9. As a final “nail” in the survey process coffin, effective January 2017, TJC will no longer provide for the clarification of findings once the survey has been completed. While this didn’t result in quite the devastation in the process as it might have first appeared (mostly because I think it forced the issue of pushing back during the survey), it also appears that clarification only during survey was not the hard line in the sand it appeared to be when this first “dropped.” That said, there very definitely seems to be a reluctance on the part of the folks at the Standards Interpretation Group (SIG) to “reverse the call on the field” once the survey team has left the building; just as there is a reluctance to vacate physical environment findings once the LS surveyor has hit the bricks. If you feel that a finding is not valid, there is no time like the present when it comes to the pushback.
  10. One unexpected “change” during 2017: The focus on ligature risks in the various environments in which behavioral health patients receive care, treatment, and/or services. We’ve discussed the particulars fairly extensively in this space and while I didn’t see it “coming,” it has certainly leaped to the top of the concern pile. The recent guidance from the regulators has (perhaps) helped to some degree, but this one feels a lot like the focus on the procedural environment over the past couple of years. I don’t think they’re done with this by any stretch…

 

In my mind, still working from the perspective of CMS calling out the physical environment as an area of concern, the stuff noted above indicates the likely result that the next 12-24 survey months will show a continued focus on the physical environment by the entire survey team (not just the Life Safety surveyor) and a likely continued plateau or increase in findings relating to the physical environment. I still believe that eventually the regulatory focus will drift back more toward patient care-related issues, but right now the focus on the physical environment is generating a ton of findings. And since that appears to be their primary function (generating findings), there’s always lots to find in the environment.

As I like to tell folks (probably ad nauseum, truth be told), there are no perfect buildings/environments, so there’s always stuff to be found—mostly fairly small items on the risk scale, but they are all citable. The fact of the matter is that there will be findings in the physical environment during your next survey, so the focus will shift to include ensuring that the corrective action plans for those findings are not only appropriate, but also can demonstrate consideration of sustained compliance over time. Preparing for the survey of the physical environment must reflect an ongoing process for managing “imperfections”—not just every 36 (or so) months, but every day.