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Manage the environment, manage infection control risks

In looking back at 2018 (heck, even in looking back to the beginning of 2019—it already seems like forever ago and we’re only a week in!), I try to use the available data (recognizing that we will have additional data sometime towards the end of March/beginning of April when The Joint Commission (TJC) reveals its top 10 most frequently cited standards list) to hazard a guess on where things are heading as we embark upon the 2019 survey year.

First up, I do believe that the management of ligature risks is going to continue to be a “player.” We’re just about two years into TJC’s survey focus on this particular area of concern; and typically, the focus doesn’t shift until all accredited organizations have been surveyed, so I figure we’ve got just over a year to go. If you feel like revisiting those halcyon days before all the survey ugliness started, you could probably consider this the shot heard ’round the accreditation world or at least the opening salvo.

As to what other concerns lie in wait on the accreditation horizon, I am absolutely convinced that the physical environment focus is going to expand into every nook and cranny in which the environment and the management of infection control risks coexist. I am basing that prediction primarily on the incidence of healthcare-associated infections (HAI) and related stuff (and, as was the case with ligature risk, I suspect that having a good HAI track record is not going to keep you from being cited for breakdowns, gaps, etc.). We’ve certainly seen the “warning shots” relating to water management programs, the inspection, testing, and maintenance of infection control utility systems, management of temperature, humidity, air pressure relationships, general cleanliness, non-intact surfaces, construction projects, etc. Purely from a risk (and survey) management perspective, it makes all the sense in the world for the survey teams to cast an unblinking eye on the programmatic/environmental aspects of any—and every—healthcare organization. Past survey practice has certainly resulted in Condition-level deficiencies, particularly relative to air pressure relationships in critical areas, so the only question that I would have is whether they will be content with focusing on the volume of findings (which I suspect will continue to occur in greater numbers than in the past) or will they be looking to “push” follow-up survey visits. Time will tell, my friends, time will tell.

But it’s not necessarily just the environment as a function of patient care that will be under the spotlight; just recently there was a news story regarding the effects of mold on staff at a hospital in New York. TJC (as well as other accreditors including CMS) keeps an eye on healthcare-related news stories. And you can never be certain that it couldn’t happen in your “house” (it probably won’t—I know you folks do an awesome job, but that didn’t necessarily help a whole lot when it came to, for example, the management of ligature risks). Everything filters into how future surveys are administered, so any gap in process, etc., would have to be considered a survey vulnerability.

To (more or less) close the loop on this particular chain of thought (or chain of thoughtless…), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are offering a number of tools to help with the management of infection control risks in various healthcare settings, including ambulatory/outpatient settings. I think there is a good chance that surveys will start poking around the question of each organization’s capacity to deal with community vulnerabilities and these might just be a good way of starting to work through the analysis of those vulnerabilities and how your good planning has resulted in an appropriately robust response program.

Last Call for 2018: National Patient Safety Goal on suicide prevention

While I will freely admit that this based on nothing but my memory (and the seeming constant stream of reasons to reiterate), I believe that the management of behavioral health patients as a function of ligature risks, suicide prevention, etc., was the most frequently occurring topic in this space. That said, I feel (reasonably, but not totally) certain that this is the last time we’ll have to bring this up in 2018. But we’ve got a whole 52 weeks of 2019 to look forward to, so I suspect we’ll continue to return to this from time to time (to time, to time, to time—cue eerie sound effects and echo).

If you’ve had a chance to check out the December 2018 edition of Perspectives, you may have noticed that The Joint Commission is updating some of the particulars of National Patient Safety Goal (NPSG) #15, which will be effective July 1, 2019, though something tells me that strategies for compliance are likely to be bandied about during surveys before that. From a strategic perspective, I suspect that most folks are already taking things in the required direction(s), so hopefully the recent times of intense scrutiny (and resulting survey pain for organizations) will begin to shift to other subjects.

At any rate, for the purposes of today’s discussion, there is (and always will be) a component relating to the management of physical environment, both in (and on) psychiatric/behavioral health hospitals and psychiatric/behavioral health units in general hospitals (my mother-in-law loves General Hospital, but I never hear her talking about risk assessments…). So, the official “environmental risk assessment” must occur in/on behavioral health facilities/units, with a following program for minimizing the risks to ensure the environment is appropriately ligature-resistant. No big changes to that as an overarching theme.

But where I had hoped for a little more clarity is for those pesky areas in the general patient population in which we do/might manage patients at risk to harm themselves. We still don’t have to make those areas ligature resistant, with the recommendation aimed at mitigating the risk for patients at high risk (the rest of the NPSG covers a lot of ground relative to the clinical management of patients, including identification of the self-harm risks). But there is a note that recommends (the use of “should” in the note is the key here, though I know of more than a handful of surveyors that can turn that “should” into a “must” in the blink of an eye) assessment of clinical areas to identify stuff that could be used for self-harm (and there’s a whole heck of a lot of stuff that could be used for self-harm) and should be routinely removed when possible from the area around a patient who has been identified as high risk. Further, there is an expectation that that information would be used to train staff who monitor these high-risk patients, for example (and this is their example, but it’s a good ‘un), developing a checklist to help staff remember which equipment, etc., should be removed when possible.

It would seem we have a little time to get this completed, but I would encourage folks to start their risk identification process soon if you have not already done so. I personally think the best way to start this is to make a list of everything in the area being assessed and identify the stuff that can be removed (if it is not clinically necessary to care for the patient), the stuff that can’t be removed (that forms the basis of the education of staff—they need to be mindful of the stuff that can’t be removed after we’ve removed all that there is to be removed) and work from there. As I have maintained right along, in general, we do a good (not perfect) job with managing these patients and I don’t think the actual numbers support the degree to which this tail has been wagging the regulatory dog (everything is a risk, don’t you know). Hopefully, this is a sign that the regulatory eyeball will be moving on to other things.

You might have succeeded in changing: Using the annual evaluation to document progress!

I know some folks use the fiscal year (or as one boss a long time ago used to say, the physical year) for managing their annual evaluation process, but I think most lean towards the calendar year. At any rate, I want to urge you (and urge you most sincerely) to think about how you can use the annual evaluation process to demonstrate to leadership that you truly have an effective program: a program that goes beyond the plethora of little missteps of the interaction of humans and their environment. As we continue to paw through the data from various regulatory sources, it continues to be true more often than not that there will be findings in the physical environment during your organization’s next survey. In many ways, there is almost nothing you can do to hold the line at zero findings, so you need to help organizational leadership to understand the value of the process/program as a function of the management of a most imperfect environment.

I think I mentioned this not too long ago: I was probably cursing the notion of a dashboard that is so green that you can’t determine if folks are paying attention to real-life considerations or if they’re just good at cherry-picking measures/metrics that always look good. But as a safety scientist, I don’t want to know what’s going OK, I want to know about what’s not going OK and what steps are being taken to increase the OK-ness of the less than OK (ok?!?). There are no perfect buildings, just as there are no perfect organizations (exalted, maybe, but by no means perfect) and I don’t believe that I have ever encountered a safety officer that was not abundantly aware of the pitfalls/shortcomings/etc. within their organizations, but oh so often, there’s no evidence of that in the evaluation process (or, indeed, in committee minutes). It is the responsibility of organizational leadership to know what’s going on and to be able to allocate resources, etc., in the pursuit of excellence/perfection; if you don’t communicate effectively with leadership, then your program is potentially not as high-powered as it could be.

So, as the year draws to a close, I would encourage you to really start pushing down on your performance measures—look at your thresholds—have you set them at a point for which performance will always be within range. Use the process to drive improvement down to the “street” level of your organization—you’ve got to keep reaching out to the folks at point of care/point of service—in a lot of ways they have the most power to make your job easier (yeah, I know there’s something a little counterintuitive there, but I promise you it can work to your benefit).

At any rate, at the end of the process, you need to be able to speak about what you’ve improved and (perhaps most importantly) what needs to be improved. It’s always nice to be able to pat yourself on the back for good stuff, but you really need to be really clear on where you need to take things moving forward.

Time to bust a cap in your…eyewash station?!?

Howdy folks! A couple of quick items to warm the cockles of your heart as winter starts to make its arrival a little more obvious/foreboding (at least up here in the land of the New English) as we celebrate that most autumnal of days, All Hallows Eve (I’m writing this on All Hallows Eve Eve)…

The first item relates to some general safety considerations, mostly as a function of ensuring that the folks who rely on emergency equipment to work when there is an emergency are sufficiently prepared to ensure that happens. It seems that lately (though this is probably no more true than it usually is, but perhaps more noticeable of late) I’ve been running into a lot of emergency eyewash stations for which the protective caps are not in place. Now I know this is partially the result of too many eyewash stations in too many locations that don’t really need to have them (the reasoning behind the desire for eyewash stations seems to lean towards blood and body fluid splashes, for which we all know there is no specific requirement). At any rate, my concern is that, without the protective caps, the eyewash stations are capable of making the situation worse if someone flushes some sort of contaminant into their eyes because stuff got spilled/splashed/etc. on the “nekkid” eyewash stations. The same thing applies to making sure the caps are in place for the nozzles of the kitchen fire suppression system (nekkid nozzles—could be a band name!—can very quickly get gunked up with grease). We only need these things in the event of an emergency, but we need them to work correctly right away, not after someone wipes them off, etc. So, please remind the folks at point of care/point of service/point of culinary marvels to make sure those caps are in place at all times.

The other item relates to the recent changes in the fire safety management performance element that deals with your fire response plan. Please take a moment to review the response plan education process to ensure that you are capturing cooperation with firefighting authorities when (periodically) instructing staff and licensed independent practitioners. One of the ages-old survey techniques is to focus not so much on the time-honored compliance elements, but rather to poke around at what is new to the party, like cooperation with firefighting authorities (or 1135 waiver processes or continuity of operations plans or, I daresay, ligature risk assessments). It would seem that one of the primary directives of the survey process is to generate findings, so what better way to do that than to “pick” on the latest and (maybe not so) greatest.

Have a safe reorientation of the clocks!

A hospital in trouble is a temporary thing: Post-survey blues!

As you might well imagine, based on the number of findings floating around, as well as CMS’ continuing scrutiny of the various and sundry accreditation organizations (the latest report card is out and it doesn’t look too lovely—more on that next week after I’ve had a chance to digest some of the details), there are a fair number of organizations facing survey jeopardy for perhaps the first time in their history. And a lot of that jeopardy is based on findings in the physical environment (ligature risks and procedural environment management being the primary drivers), which has resulted in no little chagrin on the part of safety and facility professionals (I don’t think anyone really thinks that it would or could in their facility, but that’s not the type of philosophy that will keep the survey wolves at bay). The fact of the matter is (I know I’ve said this before, though it’s possible that I’ve not yet bent your collective ears on this point) that there are no perfect buildings, particularly in the healthcare world. They are never more perfect than the moment before you put people in them—after that, it is a constant battle.

Unlike any other time in recorded history, the current survey epoch is all about generating findings and the imperfect nature of humans and their interactions with their environment create a “perfect storm” of opportunities to grow those numbers. And when you think about it, there is always something to find, so those days of minimal to no findings were really more aberrant than it probably seemed at the time.

The other piece of this is the dreaded adverse accreditation decision: preliminary denial of this, termination of that and on, and on. The important thing to remember when those things happen is that you will be given (well, hopefully it’s you and not your organization sailing off into the sunset without you) an opportunity to identify corrective action plans for all those pesky little findings. I can’t tell you it doesn’t suck to be in the thick of an adverse accreditation decision because it truly, truly does suck, but just keep in mind that it is a process with an end point. There may be some choppy seas in the harbor, but you have the craft (both figuratively and literally) to successfully make landfall, so don’t give up the ship.

Shine on you crazy fire response plan!

On the things I’ve been doing over the past couple of weeks has been reading through the EC/LS/EM standards and performance elements to see what little pesky items may have shown up since the last time I did a really thorough review. My primary intent is to see if I can find any “Easter eggs” that might provide fodder for findings because of a combination of specificity and curiosity. At any rate, while looking through the fire safety portion of the manual, I noticed a performance element that speaks to the availability of a written copy of your fire response plan. That makes sense to me; you can never completely rely on electronic access (it is very reliable, but a hard-copy backup seems reasonable). The odd component of the performance element is the specificity of the location for the fire response plan to be available—“readily available with the telephone operator or security.”

Now, I know that most folks can pull off that combo as an either/or, but there are smaller, rural facilities that may not have that capacity (I think my personal backup would be the nursing supervisor), so it makes me wonder what the survey risks are for those folks who don’t have 24/7 switchboard or security coverage. At the end of the day, I would think that you could do a risk assessment (what, another one!?!?!?) and pass it through your EC Committee (that kind of makes the Committee sound like some sort of sieve or colander) and then if the topic comes up during survey, you can push back if you happen to encounter a literalist surveyor (insert comment about the likelihood of that occurring). As there is no specific requirement to have 24/7 telephone operator or security presence (is it useful from an operational standpoint to do so, absolutely—but nowhere is it specifically required), I think that this should be an effective means of ensuring you stay out of the hot waters of survey. For me, “readily available” is the important piece of this, not so much how you make it happen.

At any rate, this may be much ado about nothing (a concept of which I am no stranger), but it was just one of those curious requirements that struck me enough to blather on for a bit.

As a closing note, a quick shout-out to the folks in the areas hit by various and sundry weather-related emergencies the past little while. I hope that things are moving quickly back to normal and kudos for keeping things going during very trying times. Over the years, I’ve worked with a number of folks down in that area and I have always been impressed with the level of preparedness. I would wish that you didn’t have to be tested so dramatically, but I am confident that you all (or all y’all, as the case may be) were able to weather the weather in appropriate fashion.

Everybody here comes from somewhere: Leveling the post-survey field

Well, if the numbers published in the September Perspectives are any indication, a lot of folks are going to be working through the post-survey Evidence of Standards Compliance process, so I thought I would take a few moments to let you know what has changed since the last time (if ever—perhaps your last survey was a clean one) you may have embarked upon the process.

So, what used to be a (relatively) simple accounting of Who (is ultimately responsible for the corrective action), What (actions were taken to correct the findings), When (each of the applicable actions were taken), and How (compliance is going to be sustained) has now morphed into a somewhat more involved:

  • Assigning Accountability (for corrective actions and sustained compliance)
  • Assigning Accountability – Leadership Involvement (this is for those especially painful findings in the dark orange and red boxes in the SAFER matrix – again, corrective actions and sustained compliance)
  • Correcting the Non-Compliance – Preventive Analysis (again, this is for those big-ticket findings – the expectation is that there will be analysis of the findings/conditions cited to ensure that the underlying causative factors were addressed along with the correction of the findings)
  • Correcting the Non-Compliance (basically, this mashes together the What and When from the old regimen)
  • And last, but by no means least, Ensuring Sustained Compliance

This last bit is a multifocal outline of how ongoing compliance will be monitored, how often the monitoring activities will occur (don’t over-promise on those frequencies, boys and girls; keep it real and operationally possible), what data is going to be collected from the monitoring process, and, to whom and how often, that data is going to be reported.

Now, I “get” the whole sustaining correction “thing,” but I’ve worked in healthcare long enough to recognize that, while our goal may be perfection in all things, perfection tends not to exist within our various spheres of influence. And I know lots of folks feel rather more inadequate than not when they look at the list of findings at the end of survey (really, any survey—internal, external—there’s always lots to find), which I don’t think brings a ton of value to the process. Gee thanks, Mr. Surveyor, for pointing out that one sprinkler head with dust on it; gee thanks, Ms. Surveyor, for pointing out that missing eyewash check. I believe and take very seriously our charge to ensure that we are facilitating an appropriate physical environment for care, treatment, and services to be provided to patients in the safest possible manner. If I recall, the standards-based expectation refers to minimize or eliminate, and I can’t help thinking that minimization (which clearly doesn’t equal elimination).

Ah, I guess that’s just getting a little too whiny, but I think you see what I’m saying. At any rate, be prepared to provide a more in-depth accounting of the post-survey process than has been the case in the past.

The other piece of the post-survey picture is the correction of those Life Safety Code® deficiencies or ligature risk items that cannot be corrected within 60 days; the TJC portal for each organization, inclusive of the Statement of Conditions section, has a lot of information/instruction regarding how those processes unfold after the survey. While I know you can’t submit anything until you’ve been well and truly cited for it during survey, I think it would be a really good thing to hop on the old extranet site and check out what questions you need to consider, etc., if you have to engage a long-term corrective action or two. While in some ways it is not as daunting as it first seems, there is an expectation for a very (and I do mean very, very) thorough accounting of the corrective actions, timelines, etc., and I think it a far better strategy to at least eyeball the stuff (while familiarity is said to breed contempt, it also breeds understanding) before you’re embroiled in the survey process for real.

Pay a great deal of attention to the man behind the curtain: More ligature survey stuff!

This week’s installment is rather brief and (at least for the moment) is germane only to those folks with inpatient behavioral health units. During a recent TJC survey of a behavioral health hospital, I was able to catch a glimpse into the intentions of the information revealed last November (holy moly, it’s almost been a year!). I have to admit that the “cadence” of this particular guidance was a little confusing to me at the time, but now I “get” it.

In discussing the recommendations regarding nursing stations (nursing stations with an unobstructed view so that a patient attempt at self-harm at the nursing station would be easily seen and interrupted), the article in Perspectives goes on to indicate that areas behind self-closing/self-locking doors do not need to be ligature-resistant. The consideration that I want to share with you is that a self-closing/self-locking door is not the same as a door that is always locked (maybe you figured that out as a proactive stance, but I always considered control over locked spaces to be sufficiently reliable, but it would seem not to be the case). At any rate, if you take the guidance at its word, if you have a space on your behavioral health unit that has ligature risks contained therein, then you best have doors that self-close and lock. You may have a lot of doors that secure ligature-present spaces that do not self-close and lock; if that’s the case, you may want to reach out to the Standards Interpretation Group for official feedback on this. All I can tell you is that it’s been cited in at least one recent survey and it does reflect the content shared last November (I think it would have been my inclination to separate the nursing station concept from the “other” areas for the sake of clarity, but I can see where things “fall” now that it’s come up during a survey), so it’s definitely worth some consideration in your “house.”

I’ve been there, I know the way: More Executive Briefings goodness

You’ve probably seen a smattering of stuff related to the (still ongoing as I write this) rollout of this year’s edition of Joint Commission Executive Briefings. As near as I can tell, during the survey period of June 1, 2017 to May 31, 2018, there were about 27 hospitals that did not “experience” a finding in the Environment of Care (EC) chapter (98% of hospitals surveyed got an EC finding) and a slightly larger number (97% with a Life Safety chapter finding) that had no LS findings. So, bravo to those folks who managed to escape unscathed—that is no small feat given the amount of survey time (and survey eyes) looking at the physical environment. Not sure what he secret is for those folks, but if there’s anyone out there in the studio audience that would like to share their recipe for success (even anonymously: I can be reached directly at stevemacsafetyspace@gmail.com), please do, my friends, please do.

Another interesting bit of information deals with the EC/LS findings that are “pushing” into the upper right-hand sectors of the SAFER matrix (findings with moderate or high likelihood of harm with a pattern or widespread level of occurrence). Now, I will freely admit that I am not convinced that the matrix setup works as well for findings in the physical environment, particularly since the numbers are so small (and yes, I understand that it’s a very small sample size). For example, if you have three dusty sprinkler heads in three locations, that gets you a spot in the “widespread” category. I don’t know, it just makes me grind my teeth a little more fiercely. And the EP cited most frequently in the high likelihood of harm category? EC.02.02.01 EP5—handling of hazardous materials! I am reasonably confident that a lot of those findings have to do with the placement/maintenance of eyewash stations (and I’ve seen a fair number of what I would characterize as draconian “reads” on all manner of considerations relating to eyewash stations, which reminds me: if you don’t have maintenance-free batteries for your emergency generators and you don’t have ready access to emergency eyewash equipment when those batteries are being inspected/serviced, then you may be vulnerable during your next survey).

At the end of the day, I suppose there is no end to what can be (and, clearly, is) found in the physical environment, and I absolutely “get” the recent focus on pressure relationships and ligature risks (and, soon enough, probably Legionella–it was a featured topic of coverage in the EC presentation), but a lot of the rest of this “stuff” seems a little like padding to me…

If it’s September, it’s time for Executive Briefings!

I suspect that, over the next few weeks, as I learn of stuff coming out of the various and sundry Joint Commission Executive Briefings sessions, I’ll be sharing some thoughts, etc., in those regards here in the ol’ blog.

The first thing to “pop” at me was some information regarding Chapter 15 (Features of Fire Protection) in NFPA 99 Health Facilities Code (2012 edition) relating to the management of surgical fire risks. If you’ve not had a chance to check out section 13 of said chapter, I think it will be worth your while as there are a couple of things that in the past one might have described as a best practice. But, with the official adoption of NFPA 99 by CMS, this has become (more or less, but definitely more than before) the law of the land. From a practical standpoint, I can absolutely get behind the concepts contained in this section (I’m pretty comfortable with the position that any surgical fire is at least one more than we should have), but from a strict compliance standpoint, I know that it can be very challenging to get the folks up in surgery to “play ball” with the physical environment rules and regulations.

As one might expect, the whole thing breaks down into a few components: hazard assessment; establishment of fire prevention procedures; management of germicides and antiseptics; establishment of emergency procedures; orientation and training. I think the piece of this that might benefit from some focused attention relates to the management of germicides and antiseptics, particularly as a function of the required “timeout” for the germicide/antiseptic application process. And yes my friends, I did say “required”; Section 15.13.3.6 indicates (quite specifically) that a preoperative “timeout” period shall be conducted prior to the initiation of any surgical procedure using flammable liquid germicides or antiseptics to verify that:

  • Application site of flammable germicide or antiseptic is dry prior to draping and use of electrosurgery, cautery, or a laser
  • Pooling of solution has not occurred or has been corrected
  • Any solution-soaked materials have been removed from the operating room (OR) prior to draping and use of electrosurgery, cautery, or a laser

Now, I will freely and openly admit that I’ve not done a deep dive into the later chapters of NFPA 99 (though that’s on my to-do list), so I hadn’t bumped into this, but I can definitely see this being a potential vulnerability, particularly in light of the recent FDA scrutiny (and it goes to Linda B’s question in follow-up to a recent blog posting—I probably should have turtled to this at that point—mea maxima culpa). At any rate, nothing in this section of NFPA 99 is arguable unless you don’t have it in place and a surveyor “goes there,” so perhaps you should be sure that your OR folks are already “there” sooner rather than later.

Two closing items:

  • The good folks at the Facilities Guidelines Institute have provided a state-by-state resource identifying which states have adopted the FGI guidelines (completely, partially, not really). You can find that information here.
  • Also,  Triumvirate Environmental is presenting a couple of webinars over the next little while that might be of interest. The one this week (sorry for the short notice) deals with the recently established by EPA’s Hazardous Waste e-Manifest Program and then the week after next, there’s a program on Best Practices to Optimize Your Waste Documentation Program. While I can’t call these crazy risky survey vulnerabilities, EC.02.02.01 is still percolating around the top of the most frequently cited list, so it never hurts to obtain greater familiarity with this stuff.

Enjoy your week safely!