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Plan be nimble, plan be quick

As we have discussed (pretty much ad nauseum) in this hallowed hall of electrons, there is likely to be a renewed (and I don’t mean renewed in a healthful way, this would be more like a subscription to a magazine that someone sent you as a prank) interest/scrutiny in how you and your organization are complying with all these lovely (and pesky, can’t forget pesky) new emergency management considerations. But there is one word of caution that I wanted to inject into the conversation, and while it probably doesn’t “need” to be said, I try not to leave any card unplayed when it comes to compliance activities.

Over the years (officially 16 of consulting—time flies!) I have found that sometimes (OK, maybe more frequently than sometimes), the prettiest plans, policies, procedures, etc. end up falling to the ground in demonic spasms because they did not accurately reflect the practice of the organization. The general mantra for this is “do the right thing, do what you say, say what you do,” but sometimes it’s tough to figure out exactly what constitutes “the right thing” (as opposed to “The Right Stuff,” natch). When it comes to emergency preparedness, response, recovery, etc. probably the single most important aspect of the plan (at least I think it’s an aspect—if you can think of a better descriptor, please sing out!) is that it is flexible enough to be able to react to minute-by-minute changes that are (frequently) the hallmark of catastrophic events. I think anyone who has worked in healthcare for any length of time has seen what happens to a rigid structure, be it policy, plan, expectations, buildings, flora and fauna—whatever, when things get to swirling around in intense fashion—things start to pull apart (figuratively and/or literally) and sustaining your response becomes that much more difficult.

So, as we “embrace” the challenges of the changes, I would encourage you to think about how you’ll maintain (and test during exercises) that flexibility of response that will give you enough wiggle room to weather the storms (of outrageous and other fabulous fortune). Exercise scenarios can push (or be pushed) in any number of directions (strangely, it is very much like real life)—make sure you take full advantage of those folks in the Command Center—if they’re not sweating—turn up the heat!

Is this the survey we really want?

Moving on to the type of pain that can only be inflicted at the federal level, a couple of things that might require an increase in your intake of acid-reducing supplements…

As it appears that CMS doesn’t love that dirty water (and yes, my friends, that is a shameless local plug, but it is also a pretty awesome tune), now their attentions are turning to the management of aerosolizing and other such water systems as a function of Legionella prevention. Now, this is certainly not a new issue with which to wrestle, which likely means that the aim of this whole thing, as indicated in the above notification—“Facilities must develop and adhere to policies and procedures that inhibit microbial growth in building water systems that reduce the risk of growth and spread of Legionella and other opportunistic pathogens in water”—is something with which we are abundantly familiar. But I will admit to having been curious about the implied prevalence in healthcare facilities as that’s the type of stuff that typically is pretty newsworthy, so I did a quick web search of “Legionella outbreaks in US hospital.” I was able to piece together some information indicating that hospitals are not doing a perfect job on this front, but the numbers are really kind of small in terms of cases that can be verifiably traced back to hospitals. When you think about it, the waters could be a bit muddy as Legionella patients that are very sick are probably going to show up at your front door and there may be a delay in diagnosis as it may not be definitively evident that that’s what you’re dealing with. At any rate, sounds like a zero-tolerance stance is going to be, but the Survey & Certification letter does spell out the instructions for surveyors:

Surveyors will review policies, procedures, and reports documenting water management implementation results to verify that facilities:

 

  • Conduct a facility risk assessment to identify where Legionella and other opportunistic waterborne pathogens (e.g., Pseudomonas, Acinetobacter, Burkholderia, Stenotrophomonas, nontuberculous mycobacteria, and fungi) could grow and spread in the facility water system.
  • Implement a water management program that considers the ASHRAE industry standard and the CDC toolkit, and includes control measures such as physical controls, temperature management, disinfectant level control, visual inspections, and environmental testing for pathogens.
  • Specify testing protocols and acceptable ranges for control measures, and document the results of testing and corrective actions taken when control limits are not maintained.

I have little doubt that you folks already have most, if not all, of this stuff in place, but it might not be a bad idea to go back and review what you do have to make sure that everything is in order. And if you are interested in some of the additional information (including some numbers) available, the following links should be useful:

Moving on to the world of emergency management, during the recent webinar hosted by CMS to cover the Emergency Preparedness final rule, one of the critical (at that time, more or less unanswered) questions revolved around whether we could expect some Interpretive Guidelines (basically, instructions for surveyors in how to make their assessments) for the EP Final Rule. And to what to my wondering eyes should appear, but those very same Interpretive Guidelines.  I will feely admit that the setup of the document is rather confusing as there are a lot of different types of providers for which the Final Rule applies and not all the requirements apply to all of the providers, etc., so it is a bit of a jumble, to say the least. That said, while I don’t think that I am sufficiently well-versed with the specific EM requirements of the various and sundry accreditation organizations (HFAP, DNV, CIHQ, etc.), I can say that those of you using TJC for deemed status purposes should be in pretty good shape as it does appear that one of the early iterations of the TJC EM standards was used in devising the Final Rule, so the concepts are pretty familiar.  A couple of things to keep in mind in terms of how the CMS “take” might skew a little differently are these:

 

  • You want to make sure you have a fairly detailed Continuity of Operations Plan (CoOP); this was a hot button topic back in the immediately post-9/11 days, but it’s kind of languished a bit in the hierarchy of emergency response. While the various and sundry performance elements in the TJC EM chapter pretty much add up to the CoOP, as a federal agency, it is likely that CMS will be looking for something closer to the FEMA model (information about which you can find here), so if you have a CoOP and haven’t dusted it off in a while, it would probably be useful to give it the once over before things start heating up in November…
  • As a function of the CoOP, you also want to pay close attention to the delegation of authority during an emergency, primarily, but not exclusively the plan of succession during an emergency (I found the following information useful and a little irreverent—a mix of which I am quite fond). It does no good at all for an organization to be leaderless in an emergency—a succession plan will help keep the party going.
  • Finally, another (formerly) hot button is the alternate care site (ACS), which also appears to be a focus of the final rule; the efficacy of this as a strategy has been subject to some debate over the years, but I think this one’s going to be a source of interest as they start to roll out the Interpretive Guidelines. At least at the moment, I think the key component of this whole thing is to have a really clear understanding (might be worth setting up a checklist, if you have not already) of what you need to have in place to make appropriate use if whatever space you might be choosing. I suspect that making sure that you have a solid evaluation of any possible ACS in the mix: remember, you’re going to be taking care of “their” (CMS’) patients, so you’d better make sure that you are doing so in an appropriate environment.

And then came the last days of May…

There’s been a ton of activity the past few weeks on both the Joint Commission and CMS sides of the equation (and if you are starting to feel like the ref in a heavyweight prize fight who keeps getting in the line of fire, yup, that’d be you!) with lots of information coming fast and furious. Some of it helpful (well, as helpful as things are likely to be), some perhaps less so than would be desirable (we can have all the expectations we want as to how we’d ask for things to be “shared,” but I’m not thinking that the “sharers” are contemplating the end users with much of this stuff). This week we’ll joust on TJC stuff (the June issue of Perspectives and an article published towards the end of May) and turn our attentions (just in time for the solstice—yippee!) to the CMS stuff (emergency preparedness and legionella, a match made in DC) next week.

Turning first to Perspectives, this month’s Clarifications & Expectations column deals with means of egress—still one of the more frequently cited standards, though it’s not hogging all the limelight like back in the early days of compliance. There are some anticipated changes to reflect the intricacies of the 2012 Life Safety Code® (LSC), including some renumbering of performance elements, but, for the most part, the basic tenets are still in place. People have to have a reliable means of exiting the (really, any) building in an emergency and part of that reliability revolves around managing the environment. So, we have the time-honored concept of cluttah (that’s the New English version), which has gained some flexibility over time to include crash carts, wheeled equipment, including chemotherapy carts and isolation carts that are being used for current patients, transport equipment, including wheelchairs and stretchers/gurneys (whichever is the term you know and love), and patient lift equipment. There is also an exception for fixed (securely attached to the wall or floor) furnishings in corridors as long as here is full smoke detector coverage or the furniture is in direct supervision of staff.

Also, we’ll be seeing some additional granularity when it comes to exiting in general: each floor of a building having two remote exits; every corridor providing access to at least two approved exits without passing through any intervening rooms or spaces other than corridors or lobbies, etc. Nothing particularly earth-shattering on that count. We’ll also be dealing with some additional guidance relative to suites, particularly separations of the suites from other areas and subdividing the areas within the suite—jolly good fun!

Finally, Clarifications & Expectations covers the pesky subject of illumination, particularly as a function of reliability and visibility, so head on over to the June Perspectives for some proper illuminative ruminations.

A couple of weeks back (May 24, to be exact), TJC unveiled some clarifications. I think they’re of moderate interest as a group, with one being particularly useful, one being somewhat curious and the other two falling somewhere in the middle:

ED occupancy classifications: This has been out in the world for a bit and, presumably, any angst relating to how one might classify one’s ED has dissipated, unless, of course, one had the temerity to classify the ED as a business occupancy—the residual pain from that will probably linger for a bit. Also (and I freely confess that I’m not at all sure about this one), is there a benefit of maintaining a suite designation when the ED is an ambulatory healthcare occupancy? As suites do not feature in the Ambulatory Occupancy chapters of the LSC, is it even possible to do so? Hmmmm…

Annual inspection of fire and smoke doors: No surprise here, with the possible exception of not requiring corridor doors and office doors (no combustibles) to be included. Not sure how that will fly with the CMSers…

Rated fire doors in lesser or non-rated barriers: I know this occurs with a fair degree of frequency, but the amount of attention this is receiving makes me wonder if there is a “gotcha” lurking somewhere in the language of the, particularly the general concept of “existing fire protection features obvious to the public.” I’m not really sure how far that can go and, given the general level of obliviousness (obliviosity?) of the general public, this one just makes me shake my head…

Fire drill times: I think this one has some value because the “spread” of fire drill times has resulted in a fair number of findings, though the clarification language doesn’t necessarily get you all the way there (I think I would have provided an example just to be on the safe side). What the clarification says is that a fire drill conducted no closer than one hour apart would be acceptable…there should not be a pattern of drills being conducted one hour apart. Where this crops up during survey is, for example, say all your third shift drills in 2016 were conducted in the range of 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. (Q1 – 0520; Q2 – 0559; Q3 – 0530; Q4 – 0540), that would be a finding, based on the need for the drills to be conducted under varying circumstances. Now, I think that anyone who’s worked in healthcare and been responsible for scheduling fire drills would tell you (at least I certainly would) that nobody remembers from quarter to quarter what time the last fire drill was conducted (and if they think about it at all, they’re quite sure that you “just” did a fire drill, like last week and don’t you understand how disruptive this is, etc.) If you can’t tell, third shift fire drills were never my favorite thing to do, though it beats being responsible for snow removal…

So that’s the Joint Commission side of the equation (if you can truly call it an equation). Next time: CMS!

Welcome to a new kind of tension…

In the “old” days, The Joint Commission’s FAQ page would indicate the date on which the individual FAQs had been updated, but now that feature seems to be missing from the site (it may be that deluge of changes to the FAQs (past, present, and, presumably, future) makes that a more challenging task than previously (I will freely admit that there wasn’t a ton of activity with the FAQs until recently). That said, there does appear to be some indication when there is new material. For example, when you click on the link (or clink on the lick), a little short of halfway down the page you will see that there’s something new relative to the storage of needles and syringes (they have it listed under the “Medical Equipment” function—more on that in a moment), so I think that’s OK.

But in last week’s (dated May 31, 2017) Joint Commission e-Alert, they indicate that there is a just posted FAQ item relating to ligature risks, but the FAQ does not appear to be highlighted in the same manner as the needle and syringe storage FAQ (at least as of June 1, when I am penning this item). Now I don’t disagree that the appropriate storage (recognizing that appropriate is in the eye of the beholder) of needles and syringes is an important topic of consideration, I’m thinking that anything that TJC issues relative to the appropriate management of ligature risks (and yes, it appears that I am far from done covering this particular topic) is of pretty close to utmost importance, particularly for those of you likely to experience a TJC survey in the next little while. I would encourage you to take a few moments to take a peek at the details here.

So, parsing these updates a bit: I don’t know that I’ve ever considered needles and syringes “medical equipment,” but I suppose they are really not medications, so I guess medical equipment is the appropriate descriptor—it will be interesting to see where issues related to the storage of needles and syringes are cited. As usual (at least on the TJC front) it all revolves around the (wait for it…) risk assessment. It’s kind of interesting in that this particular FAQ deals somewhat less specifically with the topic at hand (storage of needles and syringes) and more about the general concepts of the risk assessment process, including mention of the model risk assessment that can be found in the introductory section of the Leadership chapter (Leadership, to my mind, is a very good place to highlight the risk assessment process). So no particularly new or brilliant illumination here, but perhaps an indicator of future survey focus.

As to the ligature risks, I think it is reasonable to believe that there will be very few instances in which every single possible ligature risk will be removed from the care environment, which means that everyone is going to have to come up with some sort of mitigation strategy to manage those risks that have not been removed. With the FAQ, TJC has provided some guidance relative to what would minimally be expected of that mitigation strategy; while I dare not indicate verbatim (you will have to do your own clicking on this one—sorry!), you might imagine that there would need to be: communication of current risks; process for assessing patient risk; implementation of appropriate interventions; ongoing assessments of at-risk behavior; training of staff relative to levels of risk and appropriate interventions; inclusion of reduction strategies in the QAPI program; and inclusion of equipment-related risks in patient assessments, with subsequent implementation of interventions.

I don’t see any of this as particularly unusual/foreign/daunting, though (as usual) the staff education piece is probably the most complicated aspect of the equation as that is the most variable output. I am not convinced that we are doing poorly in this realm, but I guess this one really has to be a zero-harm philosophy. No arguments from me, but perhaps some important work to do.

I have nothing to say and I’m saying it!

A somewhat funky news item for this week’s bloggy goodness: In the March edition of the American Journal of Infection Control (house organ of APIC), there was a news release sharing the results of a study that indicates that hospital room floors may be an overlooked source of infection . The study also got a mention in Physicians Weekly, which means that in all likelihood it’s been noticed by any of the regulatory folks—and you know what that’s likely to mean…

At any rate, once I got past the “no, duh” thought (somehow this comes as no surprise to me), I got to thinking about the complexities of cleaning, particularly as a function of the omnipresent application of dwell times for disinfectant products and the whole concept of keeping things wet long enough to kill the bugs. I think we’ve focused a lot on getting folks who use disinfectants to be able to articulate how long something has to stay wet (good thing), but not as much on watching to make sure that we are applying that knowledge along with the application of the disinfectant. For example, it’s 3 p.m. on a Monday afternoon and the ED is jammed with patients waiting for inpatient beds. The EVS staff is scrambling to get the rooms ready for occupancy and somebody, somewhere is tapping their foot (and perhaps grousing about “how long is this gonna take?”). The question I keep coming back to is this: when there’s a rush on anything, have we well and truly built enough time into the process for surfaces to be properly disinfected? The study mentions surfaces in some hospital rooms in the Cleveland area, but there’s not a lot of discussion in the press release about cleaning methodologies, so I’m not sure what might be in play. The press release also talks about high-contact objects (personal items, medical devices, nurse call buttons) coming into contact with floors and subsequent transmission to other surfaces (including hands!). To me, this sounds like occupied rooms and I suspect that the likelihood of the floor in an occupied room staying wet long enough to properly disinfect is fairly remote. Wet floors are slippery floors and slippery falls increase the potential for falls. I mean think about it: how many times have you seen somebody waving a wet floor sign over a wet floor to get it to dry more quickly? In my experience, the last piece of any process is frequently the one that gets jammed the most time-wise. Think about construction projects that ended up having issues with improperly installed flooring. When you think about it (or when I think about it), it makes perfect sense: the flooring install is usually the last thing to happen and those folks are almost always under the gun to get things finished (so the project is on time, so the project is not quite so late, so the project gets done early) and floor prep (particularly preparation of the surface upon which the flooring is installed) becomes the sprint to the finish line at the end of the marathon. I am absolutely convinced that we are not going to “solve” this problem until everyone agrees to a reasonable amount of time for these tasks to be completed. Is it physically (and that includes making sure that surfaces are wet enough, long enough) possible to properly do a terminal disinfection of the room of a discharged patient in 20 minutes? 30 minutes? 45 minutes? And that’s not even considering the cleaning of the room of a discharged isolation patient. Maybe there are (or will be) quicker ways to disinfect surfaces; UV disinfection technology is growing, but it’s still pretty expensive technology and I think the jury is still out on how absolutely effective it is on all surfaces.

There’s little question that there are improvements to be made in the area of cleaning and, most times, the EVS folks seem to end up with the fingers pointed in their direction. But in the absence of some clearly established parameters that allow for proper administration of the disinfection process (parameters that are resistant to the tap-tap-tapping of feet…are you done yet?), I don’t know that it’s going to happen any time soon.

Come on, I Lean: Do you Lean?

As you are no doubt aware by now, there’s been a wee bit of a shift in this forum away from all things Joint Commission, as the CMSers seem more inclined to assert themselves in the accreditation market place. I personally have had a lot of work this year in follow-up activities relating to CMS visits and one of the structural/organizational vulnerabilities/opportunities that seem to be cropping with some regularity are those relating to the integration of the physical environment program into organizational Quality Assessment/Performance Improvement (hereafter referred to as QAPI, pronounced “Kwoppee”—I think you’re going to find that you’ll be hearing that term a lot in the coming years/decades) activities. This very much goes back to a topic we discussed back in January (it’s funny, when I started looking for the link to this story, I could have sworn that we had covered this within the last month) relative to making sure that organizational leadership is abundantly familiar with any issues that are (more or less) “stuck” in your safety committee. There is no “sin” in admitting that there are or may be improvement opportunities for which traction in making those improvements is a little slippery—you have to have a means of escalating things to point where reasonable traction is possible. So, from a regulatory standpoint, this all falls under §482.21 Condition of Participation: Quality Assessment and Performance Improvement, which includes the rejoinder: “The hospital must develop, implement, and maintain an effective, ongoing, hospital-wide, data-driven quality assessment and performance improvement program. The hospital’s governing body must ensure that the program reflects the complexity of the hospital’s organization and services; involves all hospital departments and services (including those services furnished under contract or arrangement); and focuses on indicators related to improved health outcomes and the prevention and reduction of medical errors.”

Now, I can tell you that this is a very big deal, particularly when it comes to the reporting up of data, occurrence reporting, etc.—even from the likes of our little world of physical environment safety and related topics. And sometimes you have to be willing to throw some light on those process areas that are not performing as you would want them to; improvement doesn’t typically happen in a vacuum and that absence of vacuum tends to require a fair amount of conversation/collaboration (with some resultant caterwauling) in order to make things happen/get things done.

One QAPI topic you will probably be hearing about (if you have not already) is Lean methodology, which pretty much embraces the general concept of reducing “waste” while still delivering positive service outcomes by focusing on what the customer wants (you can find some useful highlights here; the books are worth a look—perhaps your local library can hook you up). One organization that appears to be endorsing the Lean methodology is that kooky bunch in Chicago and while the article focuses on behavioral health, I think there is enough practical information to be worth a look. And, since we know from past experience that TJC tends to adopt a more pervasive stance when it comes to these types of things, I think it would be very useful (at the very least for those of you using TJC for accreditation) to be conversant in Lean. It’s probably going to rock your boat at some point—life preservers mandatory!

Ticking away the moments

As we continue our (hopefully not futile) attempts to peel back the layers of the current Joint Commission survey process, I think it is of great importance to pay close attention to all the various blogs and missives emanating from the mothership in Chicago. While the information shared in this is not “enforceable” as a standard, it does seem that a lot of the general concepts manage to find their way into the practical administration of accreditation surveys. And since we know with a fair degree of certainty that the physical environment is still going to be somewhere in their default survey setting, I wanted to bring to your attention a recent (April 25) blog posting from Ann Scott Blouin, TJC’s Executive VP of Customer Relations, that focuses on the management of workplace violence.

The blog suggests focusing on a couple of key elements (none of which I would have any disagreement):

 

  • Personal risk factors
  • De-escalation education for all staff
  • Development of a workplace violence prevention plan
  • Enforcing zero tolerance for violence/bullying

I know from my own experience that de-escalation education for all staff is not nearly as widespread as I think it should be. Elements of de-escalation technique should be included in basic customer service education for pretty much anybody in a service job, regardless of the industry. I see way too many ticked-off people floating around—I’m entirely certain why folks seem to be so primed to vent/fume/fuss, etc. (I have some theories, only some of them based on the influence of certain elements of popular culture), but there has very clearly been a reduction in patience levels in far too many encounters.

At any rate, as another brick in the accreditation wall, I think you would be well-served to check out Ms. Blouin’s blog posting; ostensibly, it is aimed at organizational leadership, but hey: Are we not leaders?

That’s the FAQ, Jack!

It may be that I am covering one topic of conversation more than necessary (it’s getting to the point where this might eclipse the discussion of eyewash stations—yow!), but I cannot help but be very concerned about the amount of play that the management of the environment in which we place behavioral health patients is receiving in the annals of The Joint Commission. April 24 saw an electronic update announcing the “birth” of a new standards FAQ regarding ligature risks that appears to be aimed at dovetailing with Sentinel Event Alert #56 and includes mention of a “Suicide Risk Booster” (who comes up with these names?!?). As we have discussed before, FAQs, Sentinel Event Alerts, and stuff that finds its way into Perspectives all take on the weight of standards when applied in the field, so clearly organizations need to have all their ducks in a row. (And this is starting to look like a whole mess o’ ducks to be “rowed”, which brings new meaning to that Willie Nelson classic “On The Rowed Again,” but I digress—and who wouldn’t?) The question I keep coming back to is whether there’s been an uptick in actual events in which patients have come to harm as the result of poorly or inappropriately managed ligature risks. Or is this the result of surveyors in the field citing organizations for having ligature risks and not being able to produce a risk assessment of the existing conditions and the identification (and communication to staff—key point, that one) of mitigation strategies to manage the identified risks?

Part of the challenge with this particular issue (and this is true of a great many things in the physical environment) is that it is virtually impossible to provide an environment that is entirely, absolutely (please insert your favorite qualifier here) impossible to provide a completely risk-free environment—at least on this planet (perhaps there are safer planets in the Federation, but I couldn’t say for sure), so there’s always going to be something with which patients intent on hurting themselves might use to that end. Now I know that not every healthcare setting is set up to deal with behavioral health patients (and somehow, I do think that for any hospital that has not come face-to-face with the management of BH patients in areas not designed for that purpose, it is just a matter of time) and I also know that the BH patient volumes can be very mercurial. Even if you have one “safe” room, there are no guarantees that, at any given moment, that will be enough to handle however many patients you have in the queue—and you really can’t leave these folks out in the waiting room. Again, I’m not convinced that the issue here is that there is data to support that folks are not managing things appropriately, but rather more along the lines of not being able to consistently communicate the process for assessing and identifying risks, educating staff to be able to speak to the mitigation strategies being used to manage the identified risks, etc. I would (as I have been for a while now) encourage you to really take this topic and do a deep dive into the particulars of your organization. I firmly believe that this is not going to be one of those “one and done” instances of risk assessment and that you will be well-served by periodically revisiting the initial assessment (if it has been completed) to ensure that the conditions upon which you based your initial assessment have not changed (and that includes the volume and acuity of the patients). There is every indication that TJC is going to be hammering on this for some time to come (remembering that EC.02.06.01 was the most frequently cited standard in 2016; the ligature risk findings tend to show up there when cited) and, much as issues with the surgical environment and interim life safety measures, process gaps can get you in a heap of trouble. A little extra work on this (and those others) can only increase your chances for a successful survey (or at least a not spectacularly ugly survey).

As a closing note, after a dinner discussion with my wife (who happens to be a nurse), I’ve been contemplating how the role of the safety professional has changed over the last 10-15 years, including my surprise when I encounter evidence of “old school” approaches to safety. To my mind (such as it is), where safety compliance was once the result of (more or less) coercion, sustained compliance can truly only come as the result of collaboration with the folks who have to manage the environment on a day to day basis—pretty much everyone at point of care/point of service. It is not enough for a safety professional to periodically stroll through an area and point out deficiencies, there has to be a conversation and there has to be problem-solving. I think the old coercive style was based on something approaching a lack of faith in the folks out in the environment to be able (or willing) to “do the right thing.” But in this era of “just” culture and empowerment, etc., safety has to happen all the time and that, my friends, can only come with an atmosphere of collaboration. If people hide stuff or behave more appropriately when they hear you are coming, then it makes the surveillance process less useful. And if you don’t work with folks to figure out how to resolve the issues that you “keep finding,” the likelihood of it fixing itself on its own is pretty remote. I freely admit that problem-solving is my favorite part of my safety consulting work (meeting folks is also a fave); there is nothing better than talking through a problem and achieving some sort of consensus on how to proceed. It’s not always easy, but it is worth every moment you put into it!

Or the light that never warms

Continuing in our somewhat CMS-centric trajectory, I did want to touch upon one last topic (for the moment) as it portends some angst in the field. A couple of weeks ago (April 14, 2017, to be exact), the friendly folks at CMS issued notice of a proposed regulation change focusing on how Accrediting Organizations (AO) communicate survey results to the general public (you can find the details of the notice here).

At present, the various AOs do not make survey results and subsequent corrective action plans available to the general public, but apparently the intent is for that to change. So, using the Joint Commission data from 2016 as test data, it seems that a lot of folks are going to be highlighted in a manner that is not going to paint the prettiest picture. As we covered last week, hospitals and other healthcare organizations are not CMS’ customers, so their interest is pretty much solely in making sure that their customers are able to obtain information that may be helpful in making healthcare decisions. Returning to the Joint Commission data from last year, pretty much at least 50% of the hospitals surveyed will be “portrayed” as having issues in the environment (I’m standing by my prediction that those numbers are going to increase before they decrease—a prediction about which I will be more than happy to be incorrect). Now, the stated goal of this whole magillah is to improve the quality and safety of services provided to patients (can’t argue with that as a general concept), but I’m not entirely certain how memorializing a missed fire extinguisher check at an outpatient clinic or a missed weekly eyewash station check is going to help patients figure out where they want to obtain healthcare. So, I guess the question becomes one of how the folks we hire to assist with accreditation services (the folks for whom we are the customers) are going to share this information in the name of transparency? (Though I suppose if you were really diligent, it might be a little easier to discern trends in survey findings if you’re of a mind to dig through all the survey results.) It will be interesting to see how this plays out; I can’t imagine that they’d be able to publish survey results particularly quickly (I would think they would have to wait until the corrective action plan/evidence of standards compliance process worked itself through).

As with so many things related to the survey process, I understand what they are trying to do (begging the question: Is transparency always helpful?), but I’m not quite catching how this is going to help the process. I absolutely believe that the CMS and the AOs (could be a band name!) have a duty and an obligation to step in when patients are being placed at risk, as the result of care, environment, abuse, whatever. But does that extend to the “potential” of a process gap that “could” result in something bad happening—even in the presence of evidence that the risk is being appropriately managed? There always have been, and always will be, imperfections in any organization—and interpretations of what those imperfections may or may not represent. Does this process make us better or more fearful?

Remembering it wasn’t fair outside…

First off, a mea culpa. It turns out that there was an educational presentation by CMS to (nominally) discuss the final Emergency Preparedness rule, with a focus on the training and testing requirements (you can find the slide deck here; the presentation will be uploaded sometime in the next couple of weeks or so) and I neglected to make sure that I had shared that information with you in time for you to check it out. My bad!

That said, I don’t know that it was the most compelling hour I’ve ever spent on the phone, but there were one or two (maybe as many as three) aspects of the conversation that were of interest, bordering on instructive. First off, when the final rule speaks to the topic of educating all staff on an annual basis, the pudding proof is going to be during survey when staff are asked specific questions about their roles in your plan (presumably based on what you come up with through the hazard vulnerability assessment—HVA—process). Do they know what to do if there is a condition that requires evacuation? Do they know how to summon additional resources during an emergency? Do they know what works and what doesn’t work as the result of various scenarios, etc.? This is certainly in line with what I’ve seen popping up (particularly during, but not limited to, CMS/state surveys)—there is an expectation (and I personally can’t argue against this as a general concept) that point-of-care/point-of-service staff are competent and knowledgeable when it comes to emergency management (and, not to mention, management of the care environment). As I’ve noted to I can’t tell you how many folks, the management of the physical environment, inclusive of emergency preparedness/management does not live on a committee and it is not “administered” during surveillance rounds or during fire drills. Folks who are taking care of the patients’ needs to know what their role is in the environment, particularly as a function of what to do when things are not perfect (I’ll stop for a moment and let you chew on that one for a moment).

Another expectation that was discussed (and this dovetails a wee bit with the last paragraph) is that your annual review of your emergency preparedness/management process/program must include a review of all (and I do mean all) of the associate/applicable policies and procedures that are needed for appropriate response. So far (at least on the TJC front—I’m less clear on what some of the other accrediting organizations (AO)—might be doing, though I suspect not too very far from this. More on the AO front in a moment), the survey review of documentation has focused on the emergency plan (or emergency operations plan or emergency response plan—if only a rose were a rose were a rose…), the exercise/drill documentation, HVA, and annual evaluation process. But now that the gauntlet has been expanded to include all those pesky policies and procedures. I will freely admit that I’m still trying to figure out how I would be inclined to proceed if I still had daily operational responsibility for emergency management stuff. My gut tells me that the key to this is going to be to start with the HVA and then try to reduce the number of policies and procedures to the smallest number of essential elements. I know there are going to be individual response plans—fire, hazmat, utility systems failures, etc.—is it worth “appendicizing” them to your basic response plan document (if you’ve already done so, I’d be interested to hear how it’s worked out, particularly when it comes to providing staff education)? I’m going to guess that pretty much everybody addresses the basic functions (communications, resources and assets, safety and security, utility systems, staff roles and responsibilities, patient care activities) with the structure of the E-plan, which I guess limits the amount of reviewable materials. There was a question from the listening audience about the difficulty in managing review of all these various and sundry documents and the potential for missing something in the review process (I am, of course, paraphrasing) and the response was not very forgiving—the whole of it has to be reviewed/revised/etc. So, I guess the job is to minimize/compact your response plans to their most essential (the final rule mentions the development of policies and procedures, but doesn’t stipulate what those might be) elements and guard them diligently.

The final takeaways for me are two in number. Number 1: Eventually, there will be Interpretive Guidelines published for the Emergency Preparedness final rule, but there is no firm pub date, so please don’t wait for that august publication before working towards the November implementation deadline. Number 2: While there is an expectation that the AOs will be reviewing their requirements and bringing them into accordance with the CMS requirements, there is no deadline for that to occur. Something makes me think that perhaps they are waiting on the Interpretive Guidelines to “make their move”—remembering it’s not going to be fair any time soon. I think the important dynamic to keep in mind when it comes to our friends at CMS (in all their permutations) is that they are paying hospitals to take care of their patients: the patients are CMS’ customers, not us. Which kind of goes a ways towards explaining why they are not so nice sometimes…

A bientot!