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Don’t get soaked by your water management program!

I don’t know about you, but lately I’ve been finding the most interesting stuff being published in Perspectives are the articles entitled “Consistent Interpretation” because I am fascinated by the data they are collecting that drives taking particular note of the standard or performance element being featured. For example, the January 2020 issue covers the intricacies of managing the risks associated with waterborne pathogens, a topic that I’ve been keeping an eye on if only because of the attentions paid to that topic by our friends at CMS (if you’ve lost track of where they are in the fray, feel free to make the jump—but don’t forget to come back!). I figure there are just enough peculiarities involved for this to wreak some havoc during accreditation surveys, and while there are ways for survey findings to be generated, it would appear (based on the just under 4% citation rate during the first half of 2019) that you folks out there in the field are making pretty good headway.

So, where things can go awry include: Not having a water management plan to deal with waterborne pathogen risks (not sure how someone would have missed that, but perhaps it was a question of a slower than normal implementation track); failing to include a new piece of equipment (for instance, a brand new cooling tower) in the program (I should think the time for risk assessment and inclusion is during the commissioning of new equipment); failing to maintain the water in the system in accordance with the levels called for in the water management plan; failing to document scheduled testing and monitoring; and failing to establish acceptable ranges and/or control measures to be taken when levels are out of range.

It would seem that decorative water features, ice machines, and water dispensers were in the mix as well, including issues with equipment not being maintained in accordance with the manufacturers’ instructions for use, but in looking at all the different ways water management concerns could be cited, I suspect a lot of the cited conditions (you can find more specifics in the January Perspectives) were not widely observed.

That said, since a lot of the nuts and bolts implementation of water management programs may be accomplished by “others,” I think that going forward, the surveyors will be especially attentive to reviewing your water management plan and any deliverables from testing and monitoring activities. There are a lot of moving parts in this endeavor; best to be ahead of the curve and keep a close eye on those reports.

I heard the bells! Or did I see three ships?

Yet another mixed bag of festive goodies for you this week: I know you’ve all been good (our profession doesn’t really leave a lot of room for anything other than good, so Santa Mac doesn’t even need to make a list and check it once or twice).

First up, a set of HazMat-related items for your consideration:

I’m not sure how many of you folks are still managing ethylene oxide sterilization systems, but it does appear that there’s a movement afoot (or a continuation of an existing movement) to really pare back on the use of ethylene oxide. At present, the proposed rule seems to be aimed at folks using larger quantities of ethylene oxide (more than 1 ton of ethylene oxide per year), but I suspect that the next pass may well start to push down through the smaller-scale users. To that end, the information on the EPA website is probably worth looking at to determine where your current processes and equipment might fall on that continuum. I don’t know any safety professional who is keen to have the stuff in their “house”, but there remains reusable medical equipment that can only be appropriately sterilized (per manufacturer Instructions For Use) with ethylene oxide, so hopefully things will catch up and we can move past this risk.

Next up, an interesting article on increasing climate friendliness in your surgical procedure rooms. I guess anything that can reduce energy costs is worth investigating, though it may work better for those of you planning renovations or new construction of surgical procedure rooms. At any rate, I find that it’s always kind of interesting to see what’s working for folks (recognizing the importance of knowing what doesn’t work as well), so a tale from the land of the New English.

Extending the renovation/construction thought, Becker’s Hospital Review recently published an article discussing healthcare facility construction trends to watch in 2020. I suspect that Becker’s is something that might be on the reading list of the folks in the C-Suite, so it might be worth working their take on construction into your pleas for resources. It certainly can’t hurt.

Finally (I haven’t decided if I’m going to have anything for you next week—I’d rather you enjoy your families), I wanted to share a link to a blog by Peter Martin of Gosselin-Martin Associates that shares some quotes and insights gathered over the last year (and a fitting jumping off point for the (hopefully) next roaring ’20s). If you’re not familiar with Peter and Gosselin-Martin, I would encourage you to do a little checking of the additional blog entries as well as the services they provide. I’ve corresponded fairly often with Peter over the years and I’ve found him to be a consummate professional and a very thoughtful guy—an excellent resource to be sure.

On that note, I will extend my best wishes to each and every one of you for a joyous holiday and that “roaring” start to the ’20s mentioned earlier. Be safe (not that you need me to tell you that) and I’ll be back in almost no time flat!

It appears that everything isn’t meant to be OK…

You may recall a few weeks back we were discussing some recent survey findings relative to the placement of eyewash stations once one has determined that one needs an eyewash station (or stations). At the time, my dream was to clarify those findings and have them vanish into the ether (which is pretty much where they belong). But alas, that dream crashed upon the rocks of an overreach—can’t say for sure if this signals a sea change or is based on a reluctance to overturn a judgement call in the field. The ruling from the home office read thusly (but not justly): “The organization must do a risk assessment to determine if substances that may be in the sink would not splash onto the person using the eyewash station and inadvertently be contaminated.”

And so, I guess we add an additional imponderable to the equation: How do we install the eyewash station close enough to the area of greatest risk without placing the eyewash in a location that could be adjudged to be too close to the risk area? I suppose the ultimate goal would be to try to remove the hazard entirely, but with all the focus on disinfection and the likelihood that whatever disinfectant in use is going to be firmly in the high-risk zone, that seems unlikely to win favor during survey. Is it possible to “sell” engineering controls to a surveyor that is looking to find things to cite? I think we can all agree that the use of PPE and other forms of engineering controls are probably never going to be the interventions we would hope for them to be, but it is often so difficult to protect folks from themselves.

That said, I suppose it wouldn’t be the worst idea to do a little global evaluation of your eyewash station locations (much like a conjunction function) and add yet another risk assessment to the mix. If you’ve got a survey coming up in the near future, it may save you some aggravation.

 

Well that stinks! Or maybe it doesn’t…

I guess we can file this under the “You never know what’s going to pique someone’s interest” category.

In last week’s Joint Commission E-Alert publication, there is a featured set of links to an updated FAQ regarding “Aromatherapy & Essential Oils” (for example, this one). When I first saw it, I was thinking that maybe it was going to discuss some of the intricacies of dealing with all this smelly stuff that seems to crop up in offices and other spaces (everywhere looks like a good place for a stick-up). But when I clicked through the link, I found the question revolved around whether or not aromatherapy and/or essential oils needed to be managed as medications. As usual, the response was “it depends” (admittedly, that is a very much shortened version of their response, but please feel free to click through to embrace the majesty of this FAQ), with the slightly more involved response being “it depends on how you’re using it.” I have to say that I am not typically a fan of a lot of these scents; some of the them just seem like iffy attempts at covering other odors and some of them just seem wrong, but I digress. I know there are (perhaps more than) a few organizations that have adopted a fragrance-neutral/fragrance-free environment (these days, you just don’t know how someone is going to react to various scent-sations—allergies abound), but I can definitely see some folks interpreting this as something of an endorsement of using scents as a strategic intervention.

In other news, TJC also announced the publication of a new book of safety lists, which (based on my past experiences with their book products), may or may not be the answer to your sticky challenges (I pretty much live in the “not” camp, but someone wants to try and convince me that we have a winner, I’m game). Alternatively, you might consider the 2019 edition of the HCPro Hospital Safety Trainer Toolbox, which promises so much more than a bunch of checklists. I personally kind of ebb and flow on the whole concept of checklists, primarily because I find they try to do too much (or perhaps promise too much is the more appropriate descriptor). I see those checklists that go on and on for pages and pages and I’m thinking how in (insert deity of choice)’s name do you operationalize something that big? To that point, I am often asked what I look for when I’m doing consultant survey work and my (admittedly somewhat glib) response is that I don’t look for anything in particular, but rather I look at everything. I suspect it goes back to my EVS days when I looked at things from top to bottom in a (more or less) circular fashion—pretty much looking for stuff that didn’t look right (it is very rare indeed that I find an instance of noncompliance that looks “right,” if you know what I mean). The corollary to that is that a surveyor (and I count myself among that august assemblage) is never more dangerous than when they are standing still—that’s when the little funky detail stuff comes into focus. All the divots, loaded sprinkler heads, dust animals (bunnies, dinosaurs, the lot), become more visible. A moving surveyor (unlike the moving finger…) is a very good thing!

You’ve got to get in to get out: New safety adventures in ambulatory care

Hoping that this is more treat than trick, I had cause (albeit minimal) to reflect on what I see as a reasonably significant increase in EC findings being generated in the ambulatory care world. If we accept (and I certainly do) that one of the primary drivers to the survey process is the generation of findings, then it makes all the sense in the world to start “pushing” the survey process in those environments over which we have less control/influence/oversight. I talked a little bit about tools for the ambulatory setting back in January of this year (continuing our program of a self-referential October), and the good folks at ECRI are offering what they are terming a “deep dive” into safe ambulatory care (if you scroll about 1/3 of the way down the ECRI homepage, you’ll find the link to download the report for the low purchase price of some contact information).

The report breaks things down into four key areas: Diagnostic testing, medication safety, falls, and, safety & security. While I recognize the latter two may be of primary interest to this audience, I would encourage you to check out the information relating to diagnostic testing and medication safety. Everything in healthcare (and pretty much any and everywhere else) “exists” in the physical environment (thinking of concentric circles with the patient at the center and the physical environment being the outermost circle), so the interactions between “disciplines” can generate a lot of opportunities when it comes to the practical application of safety and the environment. Taking that with the (at times infuriating) “grayness” of what is required from a regulatory standpoint, it really prompts a level of vigilance that is unlikely to subside any time soon.

To close things out for this week/month, another resource that you might find of interest is a podcast dealing with all things water treatment; you’ve heard (metaphorically speaking) me speak of Matt Freije and the good work he’s spearheading at hcInfo.com and he appears on an episode of the ScalingUp podcast. I found it pretty interesting, but that may just be me. That said, I think the focus and attentions paid to water management plans during survey activities is going to continue to rise and I can see a future in which funky water values will drive Condition-level survey results. Now is the time to start educating ourselves to what it all means and I think this podcast is a good start for folks. Check it out!

And a happy and safe All Hallows Eve to you all…

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…

Ground Control to Major Compliance: EOC, baby!

As September brings around the unwinding of summah, it also brings around The Joint Commission’s annual state of compliance sessions in locations across the country, better known as Executive Briefings. And, one of the cornerstone communications resulting from the Briefings is the current state of compliance as a function of which standards have proved to be most problematic from an individual findings standpoint.

Yet again (with one exception, more on that in a moment), EOC/Life Safety standards stand astride the Top 10 list like some mythical colossus (the Colossus of Chicago?), spreading fear in the hearts of all that behold its countenance (OK, maybe not so much fear as a nasty case of reflux…).

You can find the Top 5 most frequently cited standards across the various accreditation programs; you’ll have to check out the September issue of Perspectives for the bigger compliance picture, which I would encourage you to do.

At any rate, what this tells us is that (for the most part) the singular compliance items that are most likely to occur (for example, we’ve already discussed the loaded sprinkler head hiding somewhere in your facility—way back in April) are still the ones they are most likely to find. According to the data, of the 688 hospitals surveyed in the first six months of 2019, 91% of the hospitals surveyed (626 hospitals) were cited for issues with sprinkler/extinguishment equipment—and that, my friends, is a lot of sprinkler loading. I won’t bore you with the details (I think everyone recognizes where the likely imperfections “live” in any organization), but (at least to me) it still looks like the survey process works best as a means of generating findings, no matter how inconsequential they might be in relation to the general safety of any organization. I have no doubt that somewhere in the mix of the Top 10 list, there are safety issues of significance (that goes back to the “no perfect buildings” concept), particularly in older facilities in which mechanical systems, etc. are reaching the end of their service life—I always admired Disney for establishing a replacement schedule that resulted in implementation before they had to. It’s like buying a new car and having the old one still on the road: Are you going to replace the engine, knowing that the floor is going to rust through (and yes, I know that some of you would, but I mean in general)? But if the car dies on the way to the dealer to pick up the new one, you’re not going to do anything but tow it to the junkyard. But we can’t do that with hospitals and it’s usually such a battle to get funding/approval for funding/etc. that you can get “stuck” piecing something together in order to keep caring for your patients. It sure as heck is not an ideal situation, but it can (and does) happen. Maintaining the care environment is a thankless, unforgiving, and relentless pursuit—therein is a lot of satisfaction, but also lots of antacid…

One interesting shift (and I think we’ve been wondering when it would happen) is the appearance of a second infection control (IC) standard, which deals with implementation of an organization’s IC plan. I personally have always counted the IC findings relating to the storage, disinfection, etc. of equipment as being an EOC standard in all but name, but I think we may (finally) be seeing the shift to how appropriately organizations are managing infection risks. According to Perspectives, 64% of the hospitals surveyed in the first six months of 2019 were cited for issues relating to implementation, but not sure how the details are skewing. Certainly, to at least some degree, implementation is “walking the talk,” so it may relate to the effectiveness of rounding, etc. Or, it may relate to practice observed at point-of-care/point-of-service. I think we can agree that nosocomial infections are something to avoid and perhaps this is where that focus begins—but it all happens (or doesn’t) in the environment, so don’t think for an instant that findings in the environment/Life Safety will go gentle into that good night. I think we’re here for the long haul…

In the realm of possibility: More listening, less posturing!

An interesting anomaly that I encounter periodically is the time-honored “first opinion,” particularly when it exists outside of a second opinion. All too often I hear clients tell me that  “X told us we have to do something a particular way,” often with a wake of disruption because whatever strategy, etc., that was identified didn’t take into full consideration elements of organizational culture, resources, practice, etc. But what I don’t understand is when I look at Environment of Care committee minutes, etc., I don’t see any discussion about whether the recommendation(s) were useful, germane, etc., to appropriately manage whatever the condition might be. I think it is very important to use any survey activity (regulatory, consultative) as an opportunity to identify best practices and ensure that policy and practice are in alignment. That way, you’ll have some experience in being able to sort out what is truly required from a regulatory perspective and what is solely in the land of surveyor interpretation.

In all the years I’ve been involved in healthcare safety, the one defining truth I’ve found is that compliance is rarely a black and white endeavor. And while I absolutely understand that managing anything as a “black and white” is a whole lot easier to police, from an operational standpoint, absolutes (either positive or negative) are not always easily, or practically, implemented.

The other dynamic is (and this is very much the case with response to regulatory surveys) that often we “over-promise,” particularly in terms of frequency of monitoring. Don’t set yourself up for failure, for example, by indicating in a corrective action plan that there will be weekly inspections of electrical panels for inappropriately configured circuit breakers. Unless you know that folks are mucking around in the panels on a frequent basis, is there really a compelling reason to embrace an inspection frequency that is not a regulatory requirement? I would tend to think: Not so much.

As we have established beyond any reasonable doubt, there will always (always, always, always) be imperfections in the environment, but don’t go crazy trying to chase all these things yourself (or have your staff do the chasing). As I’ve said any number of times (before any number of audiences), all this stuff “lives” at the point of care/point of service and if you can’t get the folks that “live” in those areas to help feed the gaping maw of work order system, you are managing a process that is not as efficient as it might otherwise be. With the ongoing impact of the “do more with less” mantra, it’s not so much about working smarter (though there is certainly an element of that), but about working collaboratively. Everyone is caregiver—everyone is a steward of the environment—and by judicious application of only what is actually required by code and/or regulation, you can start to break down the barriers between mutually assured noncompliance and an environment that appropriately supports care. Compliance is the byproduct of consistently doing the right thing.

He held his head in his hands: Outpatient/Offsite Vulnerabilities

Being something of a quiet week on the compliance front (as we embrace the “dog days” of summer—and spring’s got 10 or so days to go), I wanted to use a recent Joint Commission announcement relative to Environment of Care standards relating to fluoroscopy as they apply to outpatient/office-based surgery practices (which seems rather more logical than not, particularly when one reflects on the Conditions of Participation requirements relating to the management of imaging equipment). You can find the particulars here, but I don’t think that there’s anything that’s going to come as a surprise. To my mind, why would the expectations be any different based on where the equipment “lives”? Just as there must be continuity of care, there must also be continuity of compliance.

Now one could certainly disagree as to how much of a sea change this represents relative to the survey process, but (and I’m going out on a limb here, but it’s a very, very stout one) I think the next significant survey “beachhead” (mixing all sort of metaphors today) is going to be all those pesky little physician practices and clinics and such that dot the landscape and are covered by the “umbrella” of hospital operations (you know, offsite locations that have become “departments of the hospital”). If we accept the premise that the primary goal of the survey process is to generate as many findings as possible (and I accept that premise—the evidence doesn’t really point to much else), then the likelihood of the regulatory folks looking for areas with greater levels of vulnerability seems, again, rather more logical than not.

At any rate, my best advice to those of you with these types of sites is to really kick the tires when you’re rounding. As you are no doubt aware, there can be a lot of resistance when compliance comes to the hinterlands (think about how much angst fire drills can generate!), but the stakes for non-compliance have never been greater and, for the record, one can never be too safe…or too compliant!

Dry your eyes: Keeping ahead of the water(s)

One of the more ubiquitous findings in my travels are those relating to water infiltration/intrusion: peeling paint, stained ceiling tiles, pesky growths, etc.

And, not everybody gets to put on a new roof as often as they would like, so it ends up becoming a function of maintaining and managing your building in such a way as to minimize where water can impact your organization’s operations—from routine hassles to indoor air quality concerns. Michael Crandall, CIH, penned an article that I think might be of interest/use—you can check it out here.

Remember: In the confrontation between water and the rock, water always wins. Not through strength, but through persistence.

As a final note for this week, it might be worth your while to check out the June issue of Perspectives, which includes a missive (barely a missive, perhaps mini-missive) relating to the use of power strips (aka relocatable power taps—or the Notorious RTPs). Just over 20% of hospitals surveyed in 2018 were cited for issues with power strips, primarily: not having the appropriate devices in patient care areas; and power strips attached to walls in OR procedure rooms. As you may recall, CMS issued a categorical waiver, way back when, describing the requirements and, strangely enough, the attachment of power strips to walls in ORs is not considered a compliant approach. The thing that concerns me about that is a question of who did the install of the strips in the OR. I “get” that sometimes these things will migrate from wherever, by the hands of those who always remain nameless. But wall-mounted installations “smells” like the work of someone who should know better.