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Keeping an eye on things: Managing behavioral health patients

What, again?!?

Recently, our friends in Chicago added a new FAQ to the canon, this time reflecting on the use of video monitoring/electronic sitters for patients at high risk for suicide (you can find the details here). For those of you paying attention over the years—and I think that’s everybody within the sound of my “voice”—the situational requirements are based on a clear invocation of the “it depends” metric. I think it is pretty clear (and pretty much the standard “problem” relative to the management of behavioral health patients at serious risk for suicide) that providing sufficient flexibility of staffing to be able to provide 1:1 observation of these patients is where folks are looking for that flexibility in technological monitoring and the FAQ pretty much puts a big stop on that front. I think the quote that comes into focus for this aspect is, “The use of video monitoring or ‘electronic-sitters’ would not be acceptable in this situation because staff would not be immediately available to intervene.” So, as a general practice, a 1:1 observation means that somebody (a human somebody) is “immediately available to intervene,” which means all the time, at any time.

At this point in the discussion, I think the important piece of this is (and is likely to remain so) the clinical assessment of the patient, inclusive of the identification of the risk level for suicide. I don’t think that the “reality” of having to deal with way more of these patients than we would prefer is going to change any time soon, and with it, the complete unpredictability of that patient volume as a function of staffing (full moons notwithstanding).

The FAQ goes on to discuss the use of video monitoring in those instances in which it is not safe for staff to be physically located in the patient’s room, but the use of video monitoring has to result in the same level of observation, immediacy of response, etc. It also indicates that video monitoring for patients that are not at high risk for suicide is at the discretion of the organization, indicating that there are no “leading practices” in this regard. I guess that means that you’re really going to have to make your own way if you chose the video monitoring route, which should include (as also noted in the FAQ) provisions for reassessment of the patient(s). Interesting times, my friends, interesting times…

As a final (and almost completely unrelated) note, I wanted to bring to your attention some discussion over at the Motor & Generator Institute (MGI) relating to recent CMS guidance regarding expected temperatures in the care environment during normal power outages and how, if you have a long-term care facility in your mix, a risk assessment might not be enough. You can find the details here and the folks at MGI are encouraging feedback, so I think it might be worth checking out and weighing in.

 

Eat, drink, and be safe: Some guidance on the care and feeding of staff

One of the more universal conditions I find is the whole issue of where staff can grab something to eat or drink in the midst of busy periods, particularly when staffing levels don’t necessarily dovetail with leaving the work space to go to the cafeteria, etc. And there’s always the specter of someone, somewhere having invoked the “You can’t eat there, it’s against TJC regulations” or “You can’t drink there, it’s against regulations” and so forth and so on. And what better strategy than to use a regulatory presence from outside the organization to be the heavy.

Many’s the time I’ve tried to convince folks that, from a regulatory perspective (with some fairly well-defined exceptions, like laboratories), there is nothing that approaches a general prohibition when it comes to the how, when, and where of eating and drinking in the workplace (and yes, I absolutely understand that prohibition is the easiest thing to “police,” but I think prohibitions also tend to “drive” more creative workarounds). And in the March 2019 edition of Perspectives, our friends in Chicago provide a couple of clarifications for folks, and if you think that there’s a risk assessment involved, then you would be correct.

So, the clarifications are two in number:

  • There are no TJC standards that specifically address where staff can have food or drink in the work areas.
  • You can identify safe spaces for food and drink as long as those locations  comply with the evaluation (read: risk assessment) of the space and your exposure control plan as far as risks of contamination from chemicals, blood, or body fluids, etc.

The guiding light in all of this, if you will, are the regulations provided by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, and while they have a lot to say about such things (Bloodborne Pathogens and Sanitation), a careful analysis should yield a means of designating some spaces. I have seen a lot of designated “hydration stations,” particularly in clinical areas, to help keep folks hydrated over the course of the working day, so clearly some folks are working towards providing some flexibility based on a risk assessment. This is a good thing both in terms of staff support, but also in not drawing a line in the sand that they don’t have to. Prohibitions can bring about some of your toughest compliance challenges, so if you can work with folks to build in some flexibility, it could mean fewer headaches during rounding activities.

Making a checklist, making it right: Reducing compliance errors

As you may have noticed, I am something of a fan of public radio (most of my listening in vehicles involves NPR and its analogues) and every once in a while, I hear something that I think would be useful to you folks out in the field. One show that I don’t hear too often (one of the things about terrestrial radio is that it’s all in the timing) is called “Hidden Brain”, the common subject thread being “A conversation about life’s unseen patterns.” I find the programs to be very thought-provoking, well-produced, and generally worth checking out.

This past weekend, they repeated a show from 2017 that described Dr. Atul Gawande’s (among others) use of checklists during surgical (and other) procedures to try to anticipate what unexpected things could occur based on the procedure, where they were operating, etc. One of the remarks that came up during the course of the program dealt with how extensive a checklist one might need, with the overarching thought being that a more limited checklist tends to work better because it’s more brain-friendly (I’m paraphrasing quite a bit here) than a checklist that goes on for pages and pages. I get a lot of questions/requests for tools/checklists for doing surveillance rounds, etc. (to be honest, it has been a very long time since I’ve actually “used” a physical checklist; my methodology, such as it is, tends to involve looking at the environment to see what “falls out”). Folks always seem a little disappointed when the checklist I cough up (so to speak) has about 15-20 items, particularly when I encourage them not to use all the items. When it comes to actual checklists that you’re going to use (particularly if you’re going to try and enlist the assistance of department-level folks) for survey prep, I think starting with five to seven items and working to hardwire those items into how folks “see” the environment is the best way to start. I recall a couple of years ago when first visiting a hospital—every day each manager was charged with completing a five-page environmental surveillance checklist—and I still was able to find imperfections in the environment (both items that they were actually checking on and a couple of other items that weren’t featured in the five-pager and later turned out to be somewhat important). At the point of my arrival, this particular organization was (more or less) under siege from various regulatory forces and were really in a state of shock (sometimes a little regulatory trouble is like exsanguination in shark-infested waters) and had latched on to a process that, at the end of the day, was not particularly effective and became almost like a sleepwalk to ensure compliance (hey, that could be a new show about zombie safety officers, “The Walking Safe”).

At any rate, I think one of the defining tasks/charges of the safety professional is to facilitate the participation of point-of-care/point-of-service folks by helping them learn how to “see” the stuff that jumps out at us when we do our rounds. When you look at the stuff that tends to get cited during surveys (at least when it comes to the physical environment), there’s not a lot of crazy, dangerous stuff; it is the myriad imperfections that come from introducing people into the environment. Buildings are never more perfect than the moment before occupancy—after that, the struggle is real! And checklists might be a good way to get folks on the same page: just remember to start small and focus on the things that are most likely to cause trouble and are most “invisible” to folks.

Don’t bleed before you are wounded, and if you can avoid being wounded…

…so much the better!

Part of me is wondering what took them so long to get to this point in the conversation.

In their latest Quick Safety utterance, our friends in Chicago are advocating de-escalation as a “first-line response to potential violence and aggression in health care settings.”  I believe the last time we touched upon this general topic was back in the spring of 2017 and I was very much in agreement with the importance of “arming” frontline staff (point of care/point of service—it matters not) with a quiver of de-escalation techniques. As noted at the time, there are a lot of instances in which our customers are rather grumpier than not and being able to manage the grumpies early on in the “grumprocess” (see what I did there?!?) makes so much operational sense that it seems somewhat odd that we are still having this conversation. To that end, I think I’m going to have to start gathering data as I wander the highways and byways of these United States and see how much emphasis is being placed on de-escalation skills as a function of everyday customer service. From orientation to periodic refreshers, this one is too important to keep ignoring, but maybe we’re not—you tell me!

At any rate, the latest Quick Safety offers up a whole slate of techniques and methods for preparing staff to deal with aggressive behaviors; there is mention of Sentinel Event Alert 57 regarding violence and health workers, so I think there is every reason to think that (much as ligature risks have taken center stage in the survey process) how well we prepare folks to proactively deal with aggressive behaviors could bubble up over the next little while. It is a certainty that the incidence rate in healthcare has caught the eyes and ears of OSHA (and they merit a mention in the Quick Safety as well as CDC and CMS), and I think that, in the industry overall, there are improvements to be made (recognizing that some of this is the result of others abdicating responsibility for behavioral health and other marginalized populations, but, as parents seem to indicate frequently, nobody ever said it would be fair…or equitable…or reasonable…). I personally think (and have for a very long time, pretty much since I had operational responsibilities for security) that de-escalation skills are vital in any service environment, but who has the time to make it happen?

Please weigh in if you have experiences (positive or negative are fine by me) that you’d feel like sharing—and you can absolutely request anonymity, just reach out to the Gmail account (stevemacsafetyspace@gmail.com) and I will remove any identifying marks…

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.