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Punching above your weight: Virtual inspections are coming!

As we continue the endurance test that is 2020, one of the general concepts that keeps cropping up relates to external folks (I hesitate to characterize them as “agencies” because of the potential for this to extend well beyond intrinsically compliance or regulatory-related processes) wanting to “visit” with you while minimizing the potential for physical “exposure” to your organization. For example, those of you who have been able to complete construction and/or renovation projects that require oversight from various folks, including your contractors, as a function of the punch list process before one can “close out” the project—in full recognition that the closing out of a project tends to represent a process under which as much of the “to-do” list is handed over to the onsite facilities folks by the contractor. And, yes, I suspect that statement reveals something in the way of a bias regarding the close-out process—but it’s a shoe that fits far more often than I would like, based on my experience.

Be that as it may, virtual inspections can be very much a double-edged sword (once again mixing far too many metaphors) in that, in some instances, the less that is found, the better (think the regulatory compliance angle), and, in other instances, the more that is found, the more “real” the assignment of responsibility for repair, etc. (i.e., the project close-out process). A little bit ago, I was chatting with a facilities director who was bemoaning the fact that his contractor had elected to conduct the punch list inspection virtually (not exactly sure how the process was administered, but it sounds like the facilities folks did not have representation in that process until after the punch list was received). An internal review of the space revealed a number of items that were not otherwise complete that (for whatever reason; you might be able to guess one or two) did not make it to the virtual punch list.

Ideally, the virtual inspection process would be an effective means of ensuring that everything in your building is “up to snuff,” but is the technology at a reliable point? Particularly if you’re the one left “holding the bag” if conditions, etc., get missed during the process and show up sometime in the future. I know some of the tech solutions are more than fascinating at first blush, but how do you folks feel is the appropriate level of trust for the results of the virtual survey? Please weigh in as you see fit. I’m really curious about folks’ experiences.

As we head towards the inevitability of autumn, I hope this finds you in good health and safe. Please keep it that way!

If you’re the AHJ, it really isn’t an “interpretation,” is it?

I’m sure we all have stories about Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) whose “sense” of what is required by code was less operationally friendly than one might have preferred. The instructor at my first educational program at NFPA headquarters indicated that there is a single response to any question than can be asked regarding compliance with (in this case, but it applies fairly universally) the Life Safety Code®: “It depends.” There may be some that think that that was a rather flippant thing to say, but in my experience it holds way more truth than hyperbole, pretty much to the point of embracing it as a central concept for pursuing compliance. The corollary that extends from that is one of the other compliance “truths”: Any AHJ can disagree with any decision you’ve made, or, indeed, anything that they or another (competing) AHJ might have told you in the past. A good example of this is when you run into a state surveyor who is not particularly inclined to “honor” an existing waiver or equivalency. If I’ve learned anything over the past X number of years, it’s that results of previous encounters have little bearing on future encounters.

At any rate, I recently received a question regarding the audibility of occupant notification appliances as a function of NFPA 72 and the interpretation of an AHJ that there is no such thing as an “average ambient sound level.” It would seem that this particular interpretation is based on the “sense” that “average ambient sound level” (and it’s cousin “ambient sound level”) are unrelated to any measurements taken by a contractor or through the AHJ’s office. As we know (being the stewards responsible for ensuring that care environment is as functionally quiet as possible), NFPA 72 does indeed invoke (for audible public mode appliances) that the sound level of those appliances must have a sound level of at least 15 dB above the average ambient sound level or 5 dB above the maximum sound level having a duration of at least 60 seconds, whichever is greater, etc. NFPA 72 also stipulates a process for making that determination, calling for sound pressure level being measure over the period of time any person is present, or a 24-hour period, whichever time period is lesser. And to be honest, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen (perhaps because I never asked for it, but I may start) any documentary evidence of that measurement when determining the sound levels for a fire alarm system.

So, the thought occurs to me that it is entirely possible that, based on his observations and experience, his statement regarding the measurement of ambient noise levels is accurate to the extent of that experience, etc. He may know the contractor that installs fire alarm systems in his jurisdiction and received feedback that the process stipulated under NFPA 72 is not routinely included in acceptance testing of a system. Or it may be that, in his determination, the standard industry practice in his jurisdiction is not sufficiently consistent to allow for the use of the ambient noise levels as a determining factor and has identified an acceptable range for his jurisdiction (75 to 110 dB). He also knows that his office is not performing this measurement, so his statement, while perhaps a bit hyperbolic, is accurate from his standpoint. But I know there are areas in which even 75 dB can make quite a racket (I’m thinking recovery rooms, ICUs, etc.), which leads me to a closing anecdote.

Back when I was responsible for day-to-day operations, I had (on a number of occasions) tried to convince my local AHJ that we could reduce the volume of the notification appliances in the PACU (which, of course, begs the question of why anyone would spec audible devices in the PACU, but sometimes…) and still achieve the same level of safety in the event of fire, etc. (primarily based on staffing levels), but I couldn’t sell that scheme. This went on over the course of several years until one day I happened to find out this individual was coming in for surgery and darn if there wasn’t a fire alarm activation when he was in the PACU. Long story, short: His next visit resulted in him signing off on reducing the volumes on the appliances (I couldn’t get my boss to sign off on replacing them—lean budget times, but sometimes you have to take what you can get).

Hope you’re staying away from any exceptionally pesky AHJs, but if you’re dealing with an unbending presence, I hope you get the opportunity to cast some illumination on your “interpretation.”

Take care and stay safe!

Why does it happen? Because it happens…

As to that thought/question (or question/thought), for those of you working through your utility systems risk assessments to ensure compliance with NFPA 99 Chapter 4: How are you accounting for components/equipment that aren’t necessarily being managed through your work order system? I’m think of systems like pharmacy hoods, nurse call systems, IT equipment, etc. Strictly speaking, those would fall under the categories found in NFPA 99, so are you reaching out for the info or are those stakeholders doing their own risk assessments? To be honest, I’m not sure how much of a compliance vulnerability this might be. I know it’s important to identify and appropriately manage your high-risk utility systems components and that’s certainly a potential area of scrutiny during a survey (particularly if they start moving towards a more extensive, virtual document review process). It can be a chore trying to account for everything that would be considered a utility system component, especially if you don’t have it in “your” inventory.

I know there have been instances in the past relative to the management of medical equipment in which primary stakeholders like imaging or lab services manage their own equipment inspection, testing, and maintenance without ever really bringing performance data, etc., up through the EOC committee function. Anything that is considered medical equipment, as would be the case with utility systems equipment, is part of the hospitalwide program and needs to be represented as such. There is no specific frequency for these “branches” of your programmatic “tree” to be reported at EOC, but you need to be able to trace the associated processes as a function of your EOC program.

Have a great week and stay safe. Perhaps autumn will bring a change in fortunes!

Why are we here? Because we’re here!

One item came up on the radar this past week or so and it appears (I poked around in the archival blogosphere and could find no mention) that I’ve not discussed this before—mea maxima culpa! This has the potential for generating some findings, perhaps at a higher risk level than would seem reasonable in the moment, but I guess that will sort itself out one way or the other.

I can’t quite remember how it all came to be, but at some point in the misty past, I was “schooled” that decontamination showers (like the ones that you typically find in areas near emergency room ambulance entrances) are not required to undergo weekly testing as they are not, as defined, “emergency eyewash or shower equipment” and, thus, not subject to the requirements of ANSI Z358.1 Standard for Emergency Eyewash and Shower Equipment. I was skeptical at the time, but I can say that the latter part of that concept is, indeed, correct in that decontamination shower equipment is not subject to ANSI Z358.1. But it is not correct relative to the weekly testing sequence because there is an ANSI standard—ANSI 113 Standard for Fixed and Portable Decontamination Shower Units—that covers decontamination showers and, lo and behold, it covers exactly what is required for those pesky fixed and portable decon shower units. So we have:

7.2 Fixed shower units shall be activated weekly for a period long enough to verify operation and ensure that flushing fluid is available.

That should sound familiar as a general concept, so you may need to add the decon shower(s) to the weekly to-do list, but things get even more interesting for the portables:

7.3 Portable shower units shall be deployed every 3 months to ensure proper operation.

I’m going to guess that we have some room for improvement on the weekly testing side of things, but I’m going to guess that we may even more of an opportunity on the portable side of things (those of you who possess portable decon showers). I daresay it’s almost enough to make someone not want to have anything elaborate or portable when it comes to decon shower equipment. I’ll let you gnaw on that for a bit…

I feel like we’ve crossed this bridge before…fire drills are all the RACE!

While the numbers are fairly small (though at almost 30% for a noncompliance rate during 2019 surveys, you could certainly make the case that almost any deficiencies in this area is too much), there remain a couple of common stumbling points when it comes to conducting fire drills. According to the August 2020 issue of Perspectives (get it at your newsstand now!), there continue to be issues with:

  • Not completing/documenting quarterly drills on every shift. I don’t know that there’s a whole lot of mystery here—sometimes you miss a drill. You don’t want to miss a drill; nobody wants to miss a drill! But sometimes the quarter expires so quickly that you don’t realize that a drill was missed until it’s too late. The links below will take you to The Joint Commission’s guidance on the topic, but my best advice is to set a reminder for March 10, June 10, September 10, and December 10 to check fire drill status. That way, you’ve got a couple of weeks if you need to get one in.

https://www.jointcommission.org/resources/news-and-multimedia/podcasts/take-5-the-environment-of-care-fire-drill-matrix-tool/

https://www.jointcommission.org/resources/patient-safety-topics/the-physical-environment/

  • The fire alarm signal was not transmitted on the third shift drills. I absolutely understand why this is still in the mix (as TJC has noted, the allowance for a coded signal for drills between 9P and 5A, does not preclude the transmission of the fire alarm signal). My best advice is to have a line item on your fire drill critique form that goes a little something like: Fire alarm signal transmitted – Yes   No. That way you are providing a surveyor documentation of the signal transmission where you know they’ll be looking.

https://www.jointcommission.org/standards/standard-faqs/hospital-and-hospital-clinics/environment-of-care-ec/000001235/

  • Not enough variation of times when fire drills are conducted; not too much more to say that hasn’t already been said—you have to mix it up—and make sure that the folks conducting the drills understand that once you’ve set up a fire drill schedule, it is to remain unchanged without approval. I know that sounds kind of draconian (and I suppose it is), but our surveyor friends have been rather inflexible on this count and you don’t want to get dinged for a measly 15 or 30 minutes of overlap in your drill times. In the words of the inimitable Moe Howard, when it comes to fire drills—SPREAD OUT! Or, if you’d rather use George Mills’ take on it, you can find that here (with some other Life Safety bon mots).

Now, at the moment, the survey process is not focusing on fire drills as a function of the 1135 Waivers in effect due to the COVID-19 maelstrom. So it would seem that we have a little bit of time to work on the finer points of fire drill compliance. I think the overarching focus is going to end up being (and I think this is likely to be the case with emergency management exercises) is how well you are doing relative to ensuring that “all staff” are participating. For the purposes of the education and training component, I would like to think that if we can demonstrate that everyone in the organization (including the folks in administration) participated, to some degree, over a two-year period, that will result in a finding of compliance during survey. Is it even possible for most places of size to get to everyone, every year? I’m thinking not, but feel free to disagree. I think it may end up going the route of hazard surveillance round frequency—you have to do as many as you have to do to cover the territory you need to cover. So, if in order to be effective, you have to do more than one fire drill per shift per quarter, then that becomes part of the algorithm used for your annual evaluation (or to use the annual evaluation as a place to ensure your clear assessment of the effectiveness of the program). There is always the potential for a surveyor to disagree with your fire drill schedule, as it relates to effective education of staff. Use the annual evaluation to document your assessment of the effectiveness—it may be the only way to keep the survey wolves away from the flock.

So, let’s get the flock out of here…

As always, hope you are well and staying safe. I’ve been traveling some over the past few weeks and, humans being humans, I think we’ve got a ways to go before we wrestle this thing to the ground, so keep those shields up!

Just when you thought it couldn’t possibly get any stranger…

But first (as promised), a word about fire drills (there will be more, maybe next week, depends on what comes flying over the transom…): About a month ago, I mentioned the possibility of a shift in fire drill frequencies for business occupancies from annual to quarterly. This was based on actual experiences during a state/CMS survey in the Southeast. At the time, it seemed a bit incongruous, but the lead Life Safety surveyor was very pointed in indicating that this was the “real deal.” Well, as it should turn out, it appears that somewhere between that pointed closing, and the receipt of the survey report and follow-up, there may have been a little excess stretching of the interpretive dance that we’ve all come to know (and not love). As of the moment, business occupancy fire drills will continue to be on the annual calendar and not the quarterly one. So, three cheers for that!

But the oddest headline of the past couple of weeks revolves around CMS and their “sense” that our friends in Chicago are being, for lack of a better term, overly transparent during the survey process, particularly during exit conferences at the end of each survey day. The thought given voice is The Joint Commission (TJC) is “(p)roviding too much detail or having extensive discussions before or during a facility inspection survey can potentially compromise the integrity of the survey process. Based on the level of detail shared, a facility could correct potential deficiencies mid-course, which would skew the findings and final outcome of the investigation,” (you can read the source article here). Exactly how this determination was made is not crystal clear to me, but it did occur during the process through which TJC’s deemed status was renewed—but only for two years.

For those of you who have participated in surveys over the year, I think we are in agreement that excessive clarity was not one of the hallmarks of the survey process, though it shivers my timbers to think of how they could become even less so. I have noticed a marked decrease in useful information, per issue, in Perspectives over the past few years, so maybe that’s one of the forums that will be less instructive as we enter the post-COVID era of accreditation surveys. We know that much of what goes down during a survey is the result of interpretation of regulations that are as broadly-scoped as they could possibly be (or are they?), so it would seem that we are looking at an even more opaque survey process—holy moley!

Until next time, be well and stay safe. We need each other—and perhaps never more than now!

Yes, I know I said fire drills, but…

Please feel free to accuse me of “dogging it,” but since I am on vacation this week and you all probably need something of a vacation from me, here’s just a quick blast relating to our latest conversation thread.

Hopefully, you noted the recent headlines indicating The Joint Commission’s (TJC) continued status as an accreditation organization with deemed status; you probably also noted that CMS continues to tighten the leash (if you will), approving their accreditation status for only two years. The CMS indicated, among other things that they “…are concerned about TJC’s review of medical records and surveying off-site locations, in particular for the Physical Environment Condition of Participation (CoP).” Talk about waving a red flag in front of a bovine nose or two!

I think we can intuit that the folks from CMS (not unlike, say, The Man from Glad, or UNCLE) were reasonably pointed in their discussions with TJC prior to making the announcement and, in the face of what might reasonably be interpreted as an existential threat, we can expect lots of attention paid to the outpatient setting(s) in general, and a keen focus on all things relating to the care environment. Certainly, the level of angst generated by this “omen” will hinge closely on how widespread your organization is and (potentially) how well your corporate structure compartmentalizes offsite locations. If you’re not sure, one thing you might consider doing is hopping over to TJC’s website for searching accredited organizations and see how your place “shakes out.” Nominally, each of the care locations they think you have should be represented, and it’s always fun to see if what’s there matches up with what you think you have. I can tell you with absolute certainty that there have been some surprises in the past and I have no reason to think the future holds anything different.

So, that’s our missive for this week  and we’ll cover fire drills next time—I wicked promise! Unless something else happens…

Take care and stay safe!

Emergency management in (you guessed it) ambulatory healthcare

I was really, really, really thinking that I’d be able to glom on to some other subject matter this week (which I suppose it partially true), but it would seem that I’m going to be mining this particular vein of compliance (recognizing that “vein” rhymes with “bane”—make of that what you will…) for at least a bit longer.

At any rate, our friends in Chicago recently indicated some changes relative to the requirements for emergency exercises, but it does seem to be that the changes are intended to reflect CMS reducing the number of required exercises, as referenced in the Emergency Preparedness final rule, to one exercise per year and you only have to conduct a “big” (for lack of a better descriptor) exercise every other year. By big, that would be either a community-based, full-scale exercise (if available) or a facility-based functional exercise.

You may, of course, conduct as many “big” exercises as you like, but in the opposite years, you can even run with a tabletop exercise (though there is a fairly specific setup for the tabletop, so make sure each of the elements is accounted for before you try to take credit). Also, if your organization experiences an actual emergency that requires activation of the emergency plan, you can count that as your activation for the year (and it’s beginning to look a lot like COVID-19 is going to populate a lot of folks’ 2020-2021 emergency management program events).

As a somewhat related aside, this reduces the number of performance elements relating to exercises from three to one, so I think we can count this as a victory for the downtrodden, etc.

I know a lot of folks sometimes struggle with how to involve the ambulatory healthcare locations in exercises, so I think this provides a simpler framework to consider when identifying potential compliance gaps/shortfalls.

I think next week we’re probably going to have a little chat regarding fire drills; the July 2020 issue of The Joint Commission Perspectives has some “clarifying” thoughts on the topic that are probably worth kicking around.

Until next time, hope all is well and you’re staying safe!

Stuck on the same refrain: Outpatient! Outpatient! Outpatient!

I’m hoping to break the spell in kind of a reverse Beetlejuice invocation…

As we try to obtain some level of clarity relative to the Joint Commission survey process moving forward, there is some indication (and a fair amount of it as far as I’m concerned) that they will be focusing even more closely (thoroughly, exhaustively, etc.) on documentation, which means the survey devil will be, as it always has been, in the details. And one of the truisms of spending more time with the documents is the element of interpretation that surveyors will be bringing to the table and what they will consider evidence of compliance. At the moment, it’s not clear who will be engaging in the document review for the outpatient settings if they are not defined as a healthcare or ambulatory healthcare occupancy, but there is most definitely a movement afoot to include LS/EOC documentation for all care locations. Now, the applicability of the document review is going to be based on what systems, protections, etc., are present at each of the care locations, but the clear expectation is that any system that is present will be maintained in accordance with the applicable code and/or regulation. For example, if you have an outpatient care location that has a fire department connection, then you need to make sure that you have the appropriate documentation of that inspection activity. Likewise, if you have sprinklers, then you better make sure that the sprinkler list is up to date and all pertinent information is available for inspection.

It seems that every week I’m thinking that I can set this aside and each week something else pops up that I feel is worth sharing (have you done an eyewash assessment yet for your outpatient care locations?) and I suspect that we’ve not reached the end of this conversation. That said, I think there is going to be increased focus on generating more findings and you could say that outpatient locations represent a whole mess of opportunities for doing just that. We know they’re coming, we just need to get ahead of the curve. Hope these are helping you strategize.

Be well and stay safe until next time…

Brother/Sister, can you spare a sprinkler head?

This week, I continue my ruminations on all things relating to outpatient care sites (Quick question: Is there anyone out there who doesn’t have responsibility for any outpatient care locations? I hope not, because this is probably getting a little tedious, though I guess in that hope it means that your existence has become more complicated over time, but if you don’t, you probably will). At any rate, this week’s tidbit revolves around the requirements for all (and I do mean “all”) properties having sprinkler heads to have a list of the sprinkler heads installed in the property, with the list being posted in the sprinkler cabinet. I think everyone is familiar with the requirements to have a stock of spare sprinklers, which would include all the types and ratings installed, with the number of spares guided by the following algorithm:

6.2.9.5 The stock of spare sprinklers shall include all types and ratings installed and shall be as follows (this also shows up in NFPA 25-2011 in Chapter 5) :

(1) For protected facilities having under 300 sprinklers – no fewer than 6 sprinklers

(2) For protected facilities having 300 to 1000 sprinklers – no fewer than 12 sprinklers

(3) For protected facilities having over 1000 sprinklers – no fewer than 24 sprinklers

By the way, the information contained in this week’s missive is sourced from the 2010 edition of NFPA 13 Standard for Installation of Sprinkler Systems, which came into play when CMS adopted the 2012 edition of the Life Safety Code® (LSC). As a cautionary note, now this information “lives” in NFPA 25 Standard for the Inspection, Testing & Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems, so if you happen to have a state authority having jurisdiction that’s using a more recent edition of the LSC, then NFPA 25 is where you’ll find this stuff.

At any rate, back to that all-important list (and kudos to those of you who have your lists in place), bopping back to NFPA 13, we find the following:

6.2.9.7.1* The list shall include the following:

(1) Sprinkler identification number (SIN) if equipped; or the manufacturer, model, orifice, deflector type, thermal sensitivity, and pressure rating

(2) General description

(3) Quantity of each type to be contained in the cabinet

(4) Issue or revision date of the list

The Appendix provides a little more info:

A.6.2.9.7.1 The minimum information in the list contained in the spare sprinkler cabinet should be marked with the following:

(1) General description of the sprinkler, including upright, pendent, residential, ESFR, and so forth

(2) Quantity of sprinklers to be maintained in the spare sprinkler cabinet

Where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, is the requirement for an annual verification of all this stuff:

NFPA 25-2011: 5.2.1.4 The supply of sprinklers shall be inspected annually for the following:

(1) The correct number and type of sprinklers as required by 5.4.1.4 and 5.4.1.5

(2) A sprinkler wrench for each type of sprinkler as required by 5.4.1.5.6

5.4.1.5* A supply of at least six spare sprinklers shall be maintained on the premises so that any sprinklers that have operated or been damaged in any way can be promptly replaced.

A.5.4.1.5 – A minimum of two sprinklers of each type and temperature rating installed should be provided.

5.4.1.5.1 The sprinklers shall correspond to the types and temperature ratings of the sprinklers in the property.

5.4.1.5.2 The sprinklers shall be kept in a cabinet located where the temperatures will at no time exceed 100 degrees F.

5.4.1.4.2.1 Where dry sprinklers of different lengths are installed, spare dry sprinklers shall not be required, provided that a means of returning the system to service is furnished.

So that’s the partial skinny on sprinklers; the primary reason for plunking this down in front of you is because this showed up as a finding (mostly the list, but the other stuff is fair game) in a recent survey (not The Joint Commission, but these things tend to move through the various regulatory tribes).

I did want to leave you with a final thought for the week. I subscribe to a weekly email newsletter from James Clear (the following lives here); I find the newsletter interesting and much more often than not, useful, so I give you:

“What is the real goal?

  • The real goal is not to ‘beat the market.’ The goal is to build wealth.
  • The real goal is not to read more books. The goal is to understand what you read.
  • Don’t let a proxy become the target. Don’t optimize for the wrong outcome.”

Stay well and stay safe—that’s all I need you to do!