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Crying my eyes out: The never-ending story of emergency eyewash equipment!

October seems to be shaping up into a “greatest hits” kind of month as we once again dig back into the closet of perennial findings—this week finds us in the realm of managing occupational exposure to chemicals.

With the information contained in the September issue of Perspectives, it looked like findings relating to hazardous materials and wastes (which were mostly related to eyewash stations) had dropped off the Top 10 list (it was the #9 most-frequently cited standard for 2018), which I saw as a good thing. Generally speaking, I’ve found that the knowledge-base of the surveyor corps relative to the management of occupational exposures to hazardous materials leaves a little bit to desire, and rather prone to over-interpretation of what does and what does not constitute an inappropriately managed risk. You could, of course, (and I certainly have) give voice to the thought that over-interpretation is something of a standard practice amongst the surveyors of the world and you’d get very little in the way of argument from me. But there are a couple of recent findings that kind of crystallized (at least for me), the intersection of over-interpretation and a limited knowledge of the practical/operational aspects of appropriate management of occupational exposure to hazardous chemicals.

So, we have the following:

  • A single container of bleach in a storage room becomes a finding of moderate risk because the pH level of bleach requires the installation of an eyewash station

Now, purely from a reasonable risk assessment standpoint (and in recognition of the very remote likelihood that the container of bleach is going to somehow vomit its contents), the mere presence/storage of a corrosive does not (in my mind) constitute a risk of occupational exposure. If someone is pouring the bleach into another container (which is not the case here—again, only storage), then the risk of occupational exposure comes into play. The image that I conjured up relative to this is the local grocery store—gallons upon gallons of bleach—and nary an eyewash in sight (and yes, while OSHA doesn’t really jump ugly relative to customer exposure, the risks to customer and in-house staff is probably about equal). I suppose the best course for a corrective action would be to remove the bleach and be done with it. That said, this seems a bit of a reach…

  • Two eyewash stations (one in a soiled utility room and one in a scope decontamination room) that were located at dirty sinks in these areas, increasing the risk of staff exposure to contamination

Now, my philosophy regarding the location of emergency eyewash equipment is that you want to install them in locations as close to the point of likely exposure as is possible/reasonable, which sometimes (maybe even often) means that you install them on the only sink in a soiled utility room, etc. And you do that because?!? You do that because, the emergency eyewash station is equipped with protective covers to ensure that the emergency eyewash does not get contaminated, so you can install them in the locations in which they would be of the greatest benefit in an emergency, which might very well be in a soiled location.

It seems that the mystery of eyewash stations will never be completely solved…

It’s a lot like you: The dangerous type of emergency risks!

I know we chatted just last week about emergency management concerns, but once again, there’s more news stuff relating to the management of utility systems (it’s not just about water features) during emergencies and it does appear that the consequences of inadequately managed risks can get you into trouble with more than just the usual regulatory suspects.

A USA Today story from a couple of weeks ago outlined the charges/arrests resulting from the deaths of a number of nursing home patients in the aftermath of hurricane Irma, back in 2017. The sticking point, as it were, was the failure of the facility to evacuate once they lost the ability to effectively cool the facility. The news story paints a bleak picture of negligence, failure to call 911, etc., but also provides some indication that 911 calls from the facility received no response. I imagine that some details will emerge during trials as to what may or may not actually have transpired, including the existence of a “fully functional hospital across the street” to which (apparently) evacuation was not an option. I still maintain the most important part of any emergency response plan (and if not the most important, one of the very, very most important) is having a very clear understanding of what the trigger points are that would result in a need to evacuate. The worst thing that can happen with evacuation is to wait so long that a safe evacuation is not possible. I guess we’ll (hopefully) see what circumstances led up to this circumstance.

On a related (somewhat) note, our friends at the CDC have collaborated with the American Water Works Association to develop an Emergency Water Supply Planning Guide to assist healthcare facilities in their efforts to prepare for, respond to, and recover from, a total or partial water supply interruption. The Guide is designed to help folks assess water usage, response capabilities, and water supply alternatives. I suspect that this might be especially useful to folks in areas that tend to experience drought conditions, so if you want to check out the CDC Guide, you can find it here, along with links to some other preparedness resources.

Closing out things for this week, I’d like to share with you folks an article that I found to be of interest; while I don’t personally have managerial oversight in my current role, I saw enough parallels to “back in the day” to prompt the thought that “I wish there was something like this available when I was starting out.” So, in case you’re starting out in the amazing field of management or are interested in what’s going on in management theory, I think this would be worth your while. There’s a quote from Warren Buffett that I think really captures the essence of the compliance wars: “What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.” I bet that everyone reading this knows at least one human being like that…

You can find the whole article here.

If you don’t signal, how will I know where you want to go? Emergency management and its discontents (Just What You Needed)!

Kind of a mixed bag this week, though it all fits under the heading of emergency management, so here goes nothing…

A few weeks ago, USA Today did a story on the preparedness levels of the United States based on an analysis of state-by-state metrics. The story was based on a study, the National Health Security Preparedness Index, prepared by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and covers a lot of ground relative to trends in preparedness, including governmental spending on preparedness and some other stuff. The reason I “noticed” this was the indication that my home state was “best prepared” for disasters, etc., but the overarching message was that, even in the face of some setbacks in individual regions, the nation continues to improve emergency preparedness. Of course, it being USA Today, there are color slides indicating where each state ranks among the fabulous 50, so if you thought there was no scorekeeping on this front…

OK, maybe not keeping score, but a certain accreditation agency is keeping an eye on all things relating to preparedness. In this blog post, Jim Kendig (field director for the Life Safety Code® surveyors at The Joint Commission, and a very knowledgeable fellow when it comes to this stuff) provides a really good overview of the Preparedness Index and describes it in terms of how the various pieces can (and do) fit together and provide the foundation for an effective emergency management program. I see no reason why we can’t expect something more of a deep dive in the coming survey cycle and I think you’ll find the information Jim shares to be really helpful.

As a final thought for this week, it is always the case that what constitutes a mass casualty incident varies from organization to organization, but if you want to catch a glimpse of how this gets framed within the context of one of the largest metropolitan areas on the planet, the Greater New York Hospital Association developed a Mass Casualty Incident Response Toolkit that you might find worth checking out. There’s a ton of information, tools/forms, and links to more tools/forms, etc., to review in this space, but I encourage you to give the materials a look-see. It does appear that the nature of what we can expect to show up at our collective front doors is shifting and anything that facilitates better positioning to deal with an emergency is worth our time and energies.

Would you believe there’s nothing up my sleeve?: Protective measures

Caution: This is not a product endorsement, but rather an observation of a product that might, at times, sound a little endorse-y. I can be persuaded…

While working at a hospital somewhere in the United States, I was apprised of a product being installed that will (hopefully) facilitate securing doors that might not otherwise be secured, in the event of an active shooter or other threat that would require the establishment of a safe barricade. Effectively, the product is a metal wedge-shaped sleeve (hence the product name: Fighting Chance) that slides over the arm of a door closer and prevents the door from being opened.

At first encounter, I thought it was a pretty nifty idea (and still do), but I was curious about how one would be able to consistently operationalize the device from a practical standpoint: How do you make sure that you’ve got someone tall enough to be able to reach up and slide the sleeve over the arm? I’ve seen a lot of doors and door arms in my time and I can tell you (I’m about 5’ 6”) that there are some door arrangements for which I would have a very difficult time being able to reach the arm.

So, the question I have (and I will be happy to share the information) is if you are using this product (or even considering using this product), are you including provisions/consideration to assist the more diminutive members of your organization (maybe some sort of step stool stored in close proximity, perhaps something else—I know you folks are creative as all get out)? Have you drilled the used of these devices and found any other opportunities for improvement? I am a great admirer or simple technology and I do like the simplicity of the design—I’m just curious as to how it will play in the field.

I hope it’s a winner!

Maybe there’s a hole in there somewhere: Keeping your critical equipment running!

An interesting line of questioning is emerging in some recent survey activity (mostly during state visits, but the accreditation organizations are moving in this direction, particularly those with a focus on ISO processes) relates to the management of “high mortality” utility systems components, particularly emergency power supply system parts. If you look at this as a function of high reliability, ensuring that you have close to immediate access to a means of repairing those things that are most likely to break (and I suspect that everyone out there in the reading audience know which of your utility systems are most likely to give you fits—from experience, elevators always seem to figure in on that count).

I think in most instances it would require some level of working with your service providers to identify the things that are most likely to go wrong and then to set up a process for ensuring ready access to parts and service. Let’s face it, there are few more angst-filled moments than when you have to tell your boss that a critical piece of equipment is going to be down because parts need to be ordered, etc. And I don’t know of too many service vendors that are maintaining a broad-range of replacement parts, etc. on their shelves (I’m sure there are some and that’s great for you if they “live” in your neighborhood); inventory can be an expensive undertaking. But maybe there’s a way to build that into your next service contract—something to think about—your incumbent is probably going to have the most specific failure data relative to your equipment, but I would think there are sufficient commonalities of systems and equipment to allow for competitive proposals if you choose to go that route.

Some other contractual considerations (and this is more on the compliance front than anything, but still)—a “hard” touch whenever folks are onsite servicing equipment—at the very least, they can let you know if they see anything that might prove troublesome, so you don’t have to hunt for it when the paperwork arrives (hopefully sooner rather than later—that’s another contractual consideration—turnaround time for service reports/records). I don’t know that we’ll ever have enough granularity of data from the regulatory folks, but I am absolutely convinced (based on what I’ve seen) that the reason that findings in and around fire safety (and other) systems documentation relates to stuff being buried in vendor reports: the “classic” smoke detector that didn’t get tested or the heat detector in an elevator shaft that someone terms “inaccessible.” We (as a collective) are on the hook for ensuring that 100% of your devices and equipment are inspected, tested, and maintained in accordance with code and regulation. Our vendors really don’t have any “skin” in the game.

I’m sure this is all rather self-evident to you folks, but where I’m sitting at the moment, there’s not a lot of “new” stuff floating around and it was a miserable rainy day, so this is what the connection of head and fingers conjured up.

Making stock, taking stock: Emergency inventory madness!

In trolling The Joint Commission’s FAQ page for interesting tidbits to share, I came across the entry regarding the thought process around the establishment of an emergency inventory. Some interesting takes on certain aspects of the emergency inventory concept—it doesn’t “have” to be centralized, in recognition of “just in time” purchasing and the importance of being able to use stock with a shelf-life (it would not be good to have your EM supplies expire because they were earmarked solely for emergency response).

The FAQ goes on to recommend tracking assets and inventory for a year to ascertain what your organization’s capabilities and needs might be. But I’m trying to figure out how that “recommendation” (recognizing that the FAQs can be invoked at the level of standards-based requirement) dovetails with the “requirement” for an annual “review” (I remain stymied by the use of “review” as opposed to evaluation; it may just be me, but a review doesn’t have the same action level as an evaluation but perhaps they are to be considered synonymous) of the inventory of resources and assets needed during an emergency. My thought would be that you would be looking at how resources and assets are managed on an ongoing basis and that information used to ensure that the organization has what it needs and has the ability to procure additional resources and assets should it experience a prolonged emergency.

I think the key thing to keep in mind (as when one is addressing each of the TJC-anointed critical functions) is to ensure that for each exercise or actual implementation, there is a process in place for evaluating performance in each of those areas. Someone should be looking at:

  • Communications
  • Staff roles and responsibilities
  • Safety/security
  • Utilities
  • Patient care activities
  • The management of resources and assets

And those someones (whoever they may be) need to be particularly forthcoming because (as we have learned over the years) it is not so much about what went right as it is about what opportunities can be identified to make the next time better. Too many times I’ve encountered folks that are reluctant to “air out the dirty laundry.” Identifying potential vulnerabilities is never a bad thing (true, it can make for some difficult discussions), it is the only thing.

Wagering on a sewer thing: How are you managing wastes during an emergency?

Burn, bury, or dump it—apparently there is madness in the method—and your plan needs to reflect the methodologies.

I recognize that, particularly with newly introduced requirements, guidelines, etc., the rarified elements that we collectively (if not quite lovingly) refer to as “surveyor interpretation” are at their most diverse, maddening, arbitrary, capricious, and on and on and on. That said, there is one element relating to the recent CMS update relative to emergency preparedness that I touched upon in the blog a couple of weeks ago , but did not devote a lot of discussion time to it. And that element relates to waste management during an emergency response.

During CMS surveys as recent as March 2019, there has been much discussion about the particulars of how folks are poised to manage the various and sundry waste products generated by/through normal hospital operations, particularly during a prolonged emergency response condition. And while I can’t say I saw this coming (at least not in the first wave of scrutiny), it does appear that the CMSers (or at least some of ’em) are looking for fairly detailed planning in this regard: collection, holding/storage, short-term disposal, long-term disposal, pharmaceutical wastes, chemical wastes, etc. , inclusive of second and third-level backup plans. I suppose, like with just about anything and everything you could name, there is always the potential for external disruption that constricts the ability to remove waste materials from our campuses. And, while I think we tend to focus our preparatory activities on sustaining normal operations, it would seem that there might be some vulnerability relating getting rid of the stuffs that are the result of those normal operations.

At this point, I’m not entirely certain if the focus is more to the consultative than the compliance-related approach—the topic was discussed during survey, but no report has been issued as of this writing (if I hear more, I will certainly let you know), so it’s anybody’s guess. But I do know that these things tend to spread pretty quickly in the field, so it certainly wouldn’t hurt to kick the tires of your waste processes during your next emergency response exercise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imagine that!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Power Up: When your generator doesn’t carry a 30% load

Particularly for smaller facilities (or, I suppose, big places with multiple generators), consistently meeting the requirement for a 30% load during monthly generator testing activities can be a bit of a chore. And it can result in having to consider performing an annual load test at increasing loads, which usually means that you have to contract out that extra load test (and they ain’t cheap, all things being equal).

But if you look at NFPA 110-2010, it does provide another means of complying with the monthly requirements. Section 8.4.2 indicates that “(d)iesel generator sets in service shall be exercised at least once monthly, for a minimum of 30 minutes, using one of the following methods:

  1. Loading that maintains the minimum exhaust gas temperatures as recommended by the manufacturer
  2. Under operating temperature conditions and at not less than 30 percent of the EPS standby nameplate KW rating

Note: The 2019 edition of NFPA 110 removes the word “diesel” for the text, which opens things up a bit for folks who don’t have diesel generators.

So, the trick becomes how best to capture the exhaust gas temperatures, so you are assured of a compliant test and not being at risk for wet-stacking during the generator test. Fortunately, when it comes to emergency power system information, there is no better source than the good folks at Motor & Generator Institute (MGI). Dan Chisholm and the folks at MGI have just the thing to get you started and even if you’re an experienced generator owner/operator, I would encourage you to check out the information here.

It might just give you a leg up on the survey process!