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Oh, what fresh hell is this?

Much as 2016 has laid waste to the pantheon of pop culture, so has it decimated the status quo in the realm of facilities and safety management. While this year has brought “pleasures” expected (adoption of the 2012 edition of the Life Safety Code®) and unexpected (the demise of the Plan for Improvement process), it appears that the wheels (gears?) that drive this regulatory machine are not yet done churning out new stuff for us to ponder.

As you’ve probably heard by now, last week CMS finally dropped the mike on the federal requirements relating to emergency management and the healthcare world. (Press release can be found here; link to the final rule–the hospital requirements start on p. 584 of this oh so fabulous 651-page document. Monsieur Needle, please meet Monsieur Haystack…zut alors!)

Let’s do a quick run-through of the four primary components:

  • You have to have an emergency preparedness plan that must be reviewed and updated at least annually.
    • The plan must be based on, and include, a documented facility-based and community-based risk assessment, utilizing an all-hazards approach.
    • The plan must include strategies for addressing emergency events identified by the risk assessment, utilizing an all-hazards approach.
    • The plan must address patient population, including, but not limited to, persons at-risk; the type of services the hospital has ability to provide in an emergency; and continuity of operations, including delegations of authority and succession plans.
    • The plan must include a process for cooperation with the various AHJs’ efforts to maintain an integrated response during a disaster or emergency situation, including documentation of the hospital’s efforts to contact such officials, and when applicable, its participation in collaborative and cooperative planning efforts.
  • Develop emergency preparedness policies and procedures that must be reviewed and updated at least annually. The policies and procedures must address the following:
    • The provision of subsistence needs for staff and patients, whether they evacuate or shelter in place, include, but are not limited to the following:
      • Food, water, medical, and pharmaceutical supplies.
      • Alternate sources of energy to maintain the following:
        • Temperatures to protect patient health and safety and for the safe and sanitary storage of provisions.
        • Emergency lighting.
        • Fire detection, extinguishing, and alarm systems.
        • Sewage and waste disposal.
        • A system to track the location of on-duty staff and sheltered patients in the hospital’s care during an emergency. If on-duty staff and sheltered patients are relocated during the emergency, the hospital must document the specific name and location of the receiving facility or other location.
        • Safe evacuation from the hospital, which includes consideration of care and treatment needs of evacuees; staff responsibilities; transportation; identification of evacuation location(s); and primary and alternate means of communication with external sources of assistance.
        • A means to shelter in place for patients, staff, and volunteers who remain in the facility.
        • A system of medical documentation that preserves patient information, protects confidentiality of patient information, and secures and maintains the availability of records.
        • The use of volunteers in an emergency and other emergency staffing strategies, including the process and role for integration of State and Federally designated healthcare professionals to address surge needs during an emergency.
        • The development of arrangements with other hospitals and other providers to receive patients in the event of limitations or cessation of operations to maintain the continuity of services to hospital patients.
        • The role of the hospital under a waiver declared by the Secretary, in accordance with section 1135 of the Act, in the provision of care and treatment at an alternate care site identified by emergency management officials.
      • Develop and maintain an emergency preparedness communication plan that must be reviewed and updated at least annually, which includes names and contact information for the following:
        • Staff
        • Entities providing services under arrangement
        • Patients’ physicians
        • Other hospitals and CAHs
        • Volunteers
      • The communications plan must also include contact information for the following:
        • Federal, state, tribal, regional, and local emergency preparedness staff
        • Other sources of assistance
      • The communications plan must identify primary and alternate means for communicating with the following:
        • Hospital’s staff
        • Federal, state, tribal, regional, and local emergency management agencies
      • The communications plan must provide a method for sharing information and medical documentation for patients under the hospital’s care, as necessary, with other healthcare providers to maintain the continuity of care.
      • The communications plan must provide a means, in the event of an evacuation, to release patient information as permitted under 45 CFR 164.510(b)(1)(ii).
      • The communications plan must provide a means of providing information about the general condition and location of patients under the facility’s care as permitted under 45 CFR 164.510(b)(4).
      • The communications plan must provide a means of providing information about the hospital’s occupancy, needs, and its ability to provide assistance, to the authority having jurisdiction, the Incident Command Center, or designee.
    • Develop and maintain an emergency preparedness training and testing program that is reviewed and updated at least annually.
      • The training program must provide for:
        • Initial training in emergency preparedness policies and procedures to all new and existing staff, individuals providing services under arrangement, and volunteers, consistent with their expected role
        • Emergency preparedness training at least annually
        • Maintenance of documentation of the training
        • Demonstration of staff knowledge of emergency procedures
      • The testing program must provide for:
        • Participation in a full-scale exercise that is community-based or when a community-based exercise is not accessible, an individual, facility-based. If the hospital experiences an actual natural or man-made emergency that requires activation of the emergency plan, the hospital is exempt from engaging in a community-based or individual, facility-based full-scale exercise for one year following the onset of the actual event.
      • Conduction of an additional exercise that may include, but is not limited to the following:
        • A second full-scale exercise that is community-based or individual, facility-based
        • A tabletop exercise that includes a group discussion led by a facilitator, using a narrated, clinically-relevant emergency scenario, and a set of problem statements, directed messages, or prepared questions designed to challenge an emergency plan
      • Analysis of the hospital’s response to and maintain documentation of all drills, tabletop exercises, and emergency events, and revise the hospital’s emergency plan, as needed.

To be honest, at first blush, I don’t see anything of particularly dire consequence (feel free to disagree; I’m always up for some civil—or uncivil—discourse) unless you’ve done a less-than-complete job of documenting your communications with the various and sundry AHJs (“The plan must include a process for cooperation with the various AHJs’ efforts to maintain an integrated response during a disaster or emergency situation, including documentation of the hospital’s efforts to contact such officials, and when applicable, its participation in collaborative and cooperative planning efforts.”). In fact, it will be interesting to see if TJC backs off of their caveat that tabletops don’t count towards the annual exercise requirement though, as you can see, the tabletop must include some very specific elements.

There is some additional language relating to provisions for stand-by and emergency power that includes providing for generator locations when you build new or renovate (who wants an emergency generator that could end up under water?); maintaining fuel sources during an emergency; testing components in accordance with requirements, etc., but, again, I’m not seeing a lot of indigestion-inciting language. I suppose it is possible that, at the end of all this (I mean, what’s left to tweak), there will be enough certainty in the regulatory fabric to promote a consistent application of the standards, etc. during surveys. Wouldn’t that be nice…

And to the surprise of absolutely no one…

Last week, the good folks at The Joint Commission announced the list of the five most challenging standards for hospitals surveyed during the first six months of 2016 (for those of you remaining reluctant to subscribe to the email updates, you can find the details for all accreditation programs here. For the purpose of this discussion, the focus will be on the hospital accreditation program—but if you want to talk detail specific to your organization—and you are not a hospital, just drop a line).

While there has been some jockeying for position (the once insurmountable Integrity of Egress is starting to fade a wee bit—kind of like an aging heavyweight champion), I think we can place this little grouping squarely in the realm of the management of the physical environment:


  • 02.06.01—safe environment
  • 02.02.01—reducing the risk of infections associate with medical equipment, devices and supplies
  • 02.05.01—utility systems risks
  • 02.01.20—integrity of egress
  • 02.01.35—provision and maintenance of fire extinguishing systems

I suspect that these will be a topic of conversation at the various and sundry TJC Executive Briefings sessions to be held over the next couple of weeks or so, though it is interesting to note that about while project REFRESH (the survey process’s new makeover) has (more or less) star billing (we covered this a little bit back in May) , they are devoting the afternoon to the physical environment, both as a straight ahead session helmed by George Mills, but also as a function of the management of infection control risks, with a crossover that includes Mr. Mills. I shan’t be a fly on the wall for these sessions (sometimes it’s better to keep one’s head down in the witless protection program), but I know some folks who know some folks, so I’m sure I’ll get at least a little bit of the skinny…

I don’t think we need to discuss the details of the top five; we’ve been rassling with them for a couple of years now and PEP or no PEP (more on the Physical Environment Portal in a moment), I don’t believe that there’s much in the way or surprises lurking within these most challenging of quintuplets (if you have a pleasant or unpleasant surprise to share, please feel free to do so). And therein, I think, lies a bit of a conundrum/enigma/riddle. As near as I can tell, TJC and ASHE have devoted a fair amount of resources to populating the PEP with stuff. LS.02.01.35 has not had its day in the port-ular sunshine yet,  but it’s next on the list for publication…perhaps even this month; not sure about IC.02.02.01, though I believe that there is enough crossover into the physical environment world, that I think it might be even be the most valuable portal upon which they might chortle. And it does not appear to have had a substantial impact on how often these standards are being cited (I still long for the days of the list of the 20 most frequently cited standards—I suspect that that list is well-populated with EC/LS/IC/maybe EM findings). As I look at a lot of the content, I am not entirely certain that there’s a lot of information contained therein that was not very close to common knowledge—meaning, I don’t know that additional education is going to improve thing. Folks know what they’re not supposed to do. And with the elimination of “C” performance elements and the Plans for Improvement process, how difficult is it going to be to find a single

  • penetration
  • door that doesn’t latch
  • sprinkler head with dust or paint on it
  • fire extinguisher that is not quite mounted or inspected correctly
  • soiled utility room that is not demonstrably negative
  • day in which temperature or humidity was out of range
  • day of refrigerator temperature out of range with no documented action
  • missing crash cart check
  • infusion pump with an expired inspection sticker
  • lead apron in your offsite imaging center that dodged its annual fluoroscopy
  • missed eyewash station check
  • mis- or unlabeled spray bottle
  • open junction box


I think you understand what we’re looking at here.

At any rate, I look at this and I think about this (probably more than is of benefit, but what can one do…), even if you have the most robust ownership and accountability at point of care/point of service, I don’t see how it is possible to have a reasonably thorough survey (and I do recognize that there is still some fair variability in the survey “experience”) and not get tapped for a lot of this stuff. This may be the new survey reality. And while I don’t disagree that the management of the physical environment is deserving of focus during the survey process, I think it’s going to generate a lot of angst in the world of the folks charged with managing the many imperfections endemic to spaces occupied by people. I guess we can hope that at some point, the performance elements can be rewritten to push towards a systematic management of the physical environment as a performance improvement approach. The framework is certainly there, but doesn’t necessarily tie across as a function of the survey process (at least no demonstrably so). I guess the best thing for us to do is to focus very closely on the types of deficiencies/imperfections noted above and start to manage them as data, but only to the extent that the data can teach us something we don’t know. I’ve run into a lot of organizations that are rounding, rounding, rounding and collecting scads of information about stuff that is broken, needs correction, etc., but they never seem to get ahead. Often, this is a function of DRIP (Data Rich, Information Poor) at this point, I firmly believe that if we do not focus on making improvements that are aimed at preventing/mitigating these conditions (again, check out that list above—I don’t think there’s anything that should come as a surprise), the process is doomed to failure.

As I tell folks all the time, it is the easiest thing in the world to fix something (and we still need to keep the faith with that strategy), but it is the hardest thing in the world to keep it fixed. But that latter “thing” is exactly where the treasure is buried in this whole big mess. There is never going to be a time when we can round and not find anything—what we want to find is something new, something different. If we are rounding, rounding, rounding and finding the same thing time after time after time, then we are not improving anything. We’re just validating that we’re doing exactly the opposite. And that doesn’t seem like a very useful thing at all…

If accredited you wish to be, you must answer these questions three!

And other tales: If you thought the dervishes were whirling last week…you ain’t seen nothing!

Hortal hears a chortle from the portal: The much-anticipated (you tell me how hyperbolic that characterization might be…) return of updated content for the Joint Commission (oops, THE Joint Commission)’s Physical Environment Portal (PEP) has finally reached these shores. O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! He chortled in his joy (from Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll; see, chortling has been around for a while…).

The new content breaks down into three sections: one for facilities and safety folks, one for leadership, and one for clinical folks, lending further emphasis to the ongoing melding  of the management of the physical environment into a tripod-like structure (tripods having more stability and strength than a one- or two-legged structure—think about that one for a moment). At any rate, interestingly enough, the suggested solutions for both the clinical and leadership “legs” of the tripod are aimed at “supporting” the facilities “leg” through endorsement of the key process(es) as well as keeping smoke doors closed, not compromising closing devices (how may doors can a doorstop stop if a doorstop could stop doors?), and participation during construction activities. So, if you visit the noted URLs, you will find a whole bunch of stuff, some of it downloadable, to share with the other “legs” in your organization. It seems pretty evident to me, that at least part of the intent of the information shared, particularly the stuff earmarked for leadership and clinical folks, is to ratchet up the “investment” of those two groups in the management of the physical environment. On the face of it, nobody in healthcare has “time” to shoulder this burden on their own, hence the practical application of the tripod (sort of: that may be a bit of a reach on my part, but there’s some truth lurking around somewhere—and we will ferret it out).

Also breaking recently was the information (funneled from our fine friends at ASHE) that TJC is going to be including a set of three questions in the pre-building tour portion of the survey process (I think this is in addition to other questions that might be asked, including whether you have any identified Life Safety Code® (LSC) deficiencies). The intent, as described by Jim Kendig, TJC’s field director for surveyor management and development (I worked with Jim, like, a million years ago. Hi, Jim!), is to gather some pertinent/useful information before setting out to tour your facility.

Question 1: What type of firestopping is used in the facility?

Question 2: What is your organization’s policy regarding accessing interstitial spaces and ceiling panel removal?

Question 3: Which materials are used for high-level disinfection or sterilization?

On the face of it, I’m thinking the response to Question 1 might very well be the most challenging as I can’t recall too many facilities that have just one manufacturer’s product protecting their rated barriers. My consultative advice is you would be well-served to have some sort of document that identifies the various products in use, where they “live” in your organization, perhaps even color pictures of the products in situ so the surveyors will know what they are looking for (and please don’t try to pass off that yellow expanding foam stuff as an appropriate product—no point in getting into a urination competition with a surveyor over that). As to the other questions, as near as I can tell they’re pretty straightforward; the surveyor is going to have plan for extra time if a containment has to be erected/constructed for every ceiling tile removal or perhaps they will identify specific locations for inspections and just run through those one after the other. As to high-level disinfection and sterilization, lots of environmental and infection control opportunities for bungles there (BTW, it’s probably a very good idea to have a very good idea where those processes are occurring; it can be more widespread than you would prefer).

As a final thought for this week, I would encourage you to participate in ASHE’s survey of the potential impact of CMS’s requirement for all hospital outpatient surgery departments to be classified as Ambulatory Surgical occupancies under chapters 20 and 21 of the 2012 LSC. There is a fair amount of potential that this requirement is going to have an impact on facilities in which dental or oral surgery is being performed, plastic surgery, endoscopy, laser surgeries, etc. To help with the assessment of the impact of this change, ASHE is asking folks to complete a survey for each of the facilities you oversee that will be affected; you can find the survey here.

I think it’s probably well worth your time to at least see what they’re asking about; I’m beginning to think that we are going to look back on 2016 as a really ugly year (compliance, popular culture, you name it!). Where’s that fast-forward button…or do we talk to Mr. Peabody and Sherman about that Wayback Machine…

Devilish details and the whirling dervishes of compliance

In the absence of any new content on The Joint Commission’s Physical Environment Portal (the PEP ain’t none too peppy of late), I guess we’re going to have to return to our old standby for the latest and greatest coming out of Chicago: Perspectives! The August Perspectives has a fair amount of content pertinent to our little circle, so it probably makes too much sense to cover those key items and announcements.

The front page headline (as it should be) relates the ongoing tale of the dearly departing PFI process (which, I suppose, kind of makes this something of an obituary). Effective August 1, 2016, open PFI items will no longer be reviewed by the survey team nor will they be included in the Final Report generated by the survey. All Life Safety chapter deficiencies will become Requirements for Improvement (RFI) with a 60-day submittal window for your Evidence of Standards Compliance (and remember, one of the other TJC practices that departed this year was the “C” performance elements, so all of those pesky Opportunities for Improvement (OFI) at the end of your past survey reports will now become RFIs). Also, only equivalency requests related to survey events will be reviewed. More on that part of the big picture in a moment.

Also in the August Perspectives comes the official print announcement that the requirements of the 2012 Life Safety Code® will not be surveyed until November 1, 2016 (which should make for a very interesting few months in survey land for those of you moving towards the “closing” of your survey window), giving everyone on the regulatory compliance team a chance to complete the online education program, and give CMS time to update the survey forms and K-Tags. Apparently, the self-directed education program takes about 20 hours to complete (you can see the entire CMS memorandum here). The education program includes a pre- and post-test, and requires a passing score of 85%. I’m kind of curious about the format (I’m thinking perhaps the classic multiple choice format) and even more curious about whether they would ever make such a thing available to safety and facilities professionals. Presumably this means that whoever comes to your door on Tuesday, November 1 to survey your building will have passed the test. Would it be rude to ask them how they fared?

Next we turn to the “Clarifications and Expectations” column which, for all intents and purposes, is something of a recap of the PFI stuff, with the additional indication that TJC will no longer offer extensions and the automatic six-month grace period is no longer available. Ostensibly, this means that those of you with open PFIs had probably better start cleaning things up. I’m still waiting to see something (anything?) on the subject of the inaccessible fire and smoke dampers; I think I’ve mentioned previously of instances in which CMS has forced the issue of correcting the dampers, but I can’t help but think that that could be a very big pain in the posterior for some folks. I’d like to think that if these were simple to fix, they would already have been corrected (we wouldn’t take advantage of the process, would we?) so this could create a fairly burdensome situation for folks.

For those archivists among you, there is some interesting background on the 60-day time limit. Section §488.28(d) of the Code of Federal Regulations states: “Ordinarily a provider or supplier is expected to take the steps needed to achieve compliance within 60 days of being notified of the deficiencies, but the State survey agency may recommend that additional time be granted by the Secretary in individual situations, if in its judgment, it is not reasonable to expect compliance within 60 days, for example, a facility must obtain the approval of its governing body, or engage in competitive bidding.” Now that does provide a little sense of what will “fly” if one is forced to ask for a time-limited waiver (TLW—another acronym for the alphabet soup of compliance), but it’s tough to say whether any flexibility extends beyond those elements (who would ever have thought that competitive bidding might be helpful!).

Anyway, one thing relating to the SOC/PFI maelstrom (at least tangentially—and not mentioned in the August Perspectives) is the question of whether or not the presentation of the categorical waivers at the beginning of the survey process is still required. Certainly, the effective adoption date of the 2012 LSC (July 5, 2016) might potentially be the tipping point for informing the survey team of any categorical waivers your organization might have adopted, but I think the most appropriate cutoff date (if you will) for this practice would be on November 1, 2016 when CMS (and its minions) are charged with surveying to the requirements of the 2012 LSC. My overarching thought in this regard is that presenting the waivers to the survey team at the start of the survey certainly doesn’t hurt you and since the 2000 edition of the LSC is still the primary survey reference, it seems most appropriate to continue highlighting the waivers for the time being.

Back to Perspectives: One final EC-related item, for those of you with memory care units, there is specific coverage of the expectations under EC.02.06.01 relative to patient stimulation (or overstimulation), outdoor spaces for patients and residents with dementia, and other environmental elements. While these requirements apply to the Memory Care Certification chapter of the Nursing Care Center manual, again, if you happen to have a memory care unit within your span of control, you might find these expectations/performance elements useful in managing the environment. Even when not required, sometimes there are elements worth considering. After all, improving the patient experience as a function of the physical environment is one of our most important charges.

Breathe deep the gathering gloom…

As part of our (seemingly) never-ending quest to find topics of interest for you folks, we turn to the fascinating world of utility systems management, in particular, the management of aerosolizing water systems. As a safety generalist, I am always on the lookout for resources that will help increase my understanding of certain subjects and I try to pass on to you those that I find most useful (particularly over time). That said, I feel I have been somewhat remiss in not alerting you to a resource that I have been following for a fairly long time (it might even extend back to my days as a hospital safety manager—so we’re talking well into the safety Mesozoic era—love those birdsongs!). While the focus is Legionella prevention and education, there’s a lot of information regarding the management of risks associated with the aforementioned aerosolizing water systems—possibly the most risky (in terms of potential impact on patients, staff, and visitors) of the various high-risk utility systems.

The resource of which I am speaking is HCInfo; one of the highlights (at least for me) is that you can sign up for periodic e-mail updates; I find the updates, at the very least, to be thought provoking. The most recent blog posting on the site covers the potential impact on litigation relative to cases of Legionnaire’s disease in the wake of CDC’s release of its guidance for developing a water management program to reduce Legionella in buildings (you can find that august offering here). As noted in the blog entry, the CDC has come up with some very specific recommendations that could very well be the next bludgeon used by our regulatory friends. While the focus of the blog is on the litigious nature of things, there are a couple of take-home messages:


  1. “You should develop a water management program to reduce Legionella growth and spread that is specific to your building” (page ii of the CDC toolkit);
  2. “Legionella water management programs are now an industry standard for large buildings in the United States (ASHRAE 188: Legionellosis: Risk Management for Building Water Systems June 26, 2015. ASHRAE: Atlanta).”
  3. “This toolkit will help you develop and implement a water management program to reduce your building’s risk for growing and spreading Legionella.” (page ii of the CDC toolkit)
  4. “Environmental testing for Legionella is useful to validate the effectiveness of control measures.” (page 21 of the CDC toolkit)


So, while not quite “marching orders,” there is enough certainty lurking within the pages of the toolkit to push for having some sort of plan in place for the management of your aerosolizing water systems (TJC has had a long-standing requirement to minimize pathogenic biological agents in aerosolizing water systems, the CDC toolkit may increase specific focus on this area). The one area that would seem to represent something of a sea change is the “useful”-ness of environmental testing for Legionella. Back in 2003, when CDC published its Guidelines for Environmental Infection Control in Health Care Facilities, there was just enough wiggle room to more or less dismiss the need to do environmental testing for Legionella (to test or not to test, that is the question—and it appears to hinge on what one might consider due diligence). I think partially due to the amount of bureaucratic language in the recommendations section, the sense was that the regular testing was not only just optional, but not really recommended (again, lots of room for interpretation). The current toolkit language definitely makes the case for testing as a means of validating the effectiveness of your control measures. But (as always appears to be the case), it is up to the individual facility to determine frequency, etc. But there is a way to get to that:


One of the key components of the CDC toolkit is (wait for it…) a risk assessment of your facility to help determine the applicable risks in your facility. The question then becomes: how long before our regulatory fiends (oops, friends!) start asking pointed questions about what we’ve been doing in this regard. As always, I provide this as information, but as the survey process continues to evolve (mutate?) in how infection prevention concerns are covered, this one really feels like something we need to button down as soon as possible. No doubt there are those of you who have already embarked upon this journey, so if you have any useful war stories that you could share, I’m sure everyone would benefit from your insight. I think this stands a good shot at being next in the line of hot button survey topics—and it’s an important one. My prediction is that everyone will be in reasonably good stead relative to the recommendations in the toolkit (this could be a very timely—and useful—performance improvement initiative for the EOC Committee), but I would encourage you to take whatever steps are required to be certain that you are in good shape.

Tiers of a clown

With all the folderol relating to the changes in the management of life safety conditions in our facilities (Thanks CMS! Thanks TJC!), one of our other favorite regulatory acronyms got into the act when, effective August 1, our good friends at OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) increased the tiers of its penalty structure about 78% for citations issued by OSHA on or after August 1, if the related violations occurred after November 2, 2015. So the penalty structure looks a little something like this:


Type of Violation Current Maximum Penalty New Maximum Penalty
Posting Requirements
$7,000 per violation $12,471 per violation
Failure to Abate $7,000 per day beyond the abatement date $12,471 per day beyond the abatement date
Willful or Repeated $70,000 per violation $124,709 per violation


Apparently, this is all based on Congress enacting legislation requiring the various and sundry federal agencies to adjust their civil penalties to adjust for inflation, so I’m guessing there will be other entities jacking up the prices noncompliance. So, I guess the $5471 / $54,709 increases are based on inflation since the last time they did their adjustments (makes me think it’s probably been a while), though they are curious numbers, but I guess it’s not that often that anyone has to pay the top dollar penalty.

The question has been bandied about as to whether or not the increase in the civil penalty is going to increase compliance, but the more I think about it, the more I suspect that compliance will stay right around where it’s always been. I suppose you might have a boss or two who will take greater interest in occupational safety (especially those that read, say, the Wall Street Journal,  and it appears that the penalty structure changes about as often as a new edition of the Life Safety Code® is adopted by CMS), but I’m guessing that interest will be closer to fleeting than not.

I suppose I should clarify my thoughts about compliance: we are not perfect as an industry (and there are those that will take great pains to remind us of our imperfections, including all those acronymic wonders), but when you think about all the moving pieces that we have to deal with on a constant basis, I believe that healthcare generally does a pretty good job on the occupational safety and health front. Again, imperfections abound, and we typically recognize them and work towards reducing incident rates to the extent possible. But I don’t think we do that because we are afraid of being fined by OSHA; I think it’s because, as committed safety professionals (and some days, you really are eligible for commitment with this job), it is the right way of going about managing safety in our organizations.

So the “ding” is bigger if the Big O has an issue with how you’re managing things, but I think the charge to safety professionals is clear and constant. You can read the official “word” from OSHA, including the final rule and some spiffy FAQs. But drink plenty of coffee…


Maybe these maps and legends have been misunderstood…

I don’t know about you folks, but The Joint Commission’s discontinuation of the PFI process has left me in a rather unsettled state. Heretofore, I think many of us (and I will include myself among that number) relied on TJC to provide some level of illumination into the inner workings of compliance as a function of what CMS is requiring. As I think I noted earlier, I was fully cognizant that CMS has been no particular fan of the PFI process as a means of ensuring compliance with the Life Safety Code®, but (presumably) there was always a tacit understanding—falling somewhat short of acceptance—that the PFI process wasn’t causing enough of a ripple in the fabric of compliance to warrant any direct intervention.

And now we find ourselves officially in August and still awaiting the arrival of the latest modular addition to The Joint Commission’s Physical Environment Portal (PEP), which was “scheduled” for a July release (at least that’s been the info posted on the portal site). At this point, I’m starting to think that the life safety modules may be on hold until the updated Life Safety chapter is unveiled later this year (presumably sometime ’twixt now and November). But the greater concern I have (and hopefully this is just a hyperbolic response to the deluge of changes) is whether the information contained in the PEP (and, to some degree, the physical environment FAQs) is as valuable (Useful? Reliable?) when it comes to keeping in line with CMS’ expectations. I think to one extent or another, we all relied on TJC as an arbiter/translator of how the physical environment Conditions of Participation could be interpreted/implemented from a practical/operational standpoint, but now I can’t help but wonder if that status has been torn asunder along with the PFI process. I’m probably over-thinking this, but I don’t have a feeling of comfort with the current state of things. I guess we shall see what we shall see—I, as always, remain optimistic, but, for whatever reason, it seems to be more of a struggle at the moment. But enough of that, for the moment…

As I was checking to see if there was an update to be found, I stumbled upon a missive in TJC’s leadership blog that I do not recall having seen before. So let me take you back about 10 months to those halcyon days of the early chortlings of the portal… (insert going back in time sound effects here).

In looking at this particular missive (penned by one G. Mills, Director, Department of Engineering—you can find the whole magillah here), there is some ground covered that is among my most favoritest of topics: the universality of the responsibilities when it comes to the management of the physical environment (and for those you who are keeping count, I have no idea how many times I’ve discussed this particular topic, but I’m going to guess it’s well into double digits. And that’s not even counting the number of times I’ve had variations of this conversation with clients…). In the blog, Mr. Mills notes that “…the patient care environment is not owned by one group in the healthcare setting.” I couldn’t agree more and yet I still (still, still, still!) encounter organizations that have not fully embraced that concept—which results in very little surprise on my part that eight of the 10 most frequently cited standards are in the physical environment. Mr. Mills goes on to say, “(W)e cannot look to one group to keep the area clean, another to keep the area warm/cool and then another group to treat patients independently.” But organizations continue to do just that, get bounced around during surveys, and still (still, still, still!) fail to grasp the team concept of managing the environment.

Now it’s certainly not every organization that has these issues, but until every organization gets “down” with this as a way of conducting the business of healthcare, the EC/LS findings will continue to pile up. The silos of clinical and non-clinical functions in healthcare organizations are no longer a tenable model—I’ve said it before and I will (no doubt) say it again—every individual working at every level in every healthcare organization is a caregiver. I’ll give you the direct/indirect split, but taking care of the patient in the bed is the role and responsibility of everyone. It is past time for a new paradigm—let’s make it happen—even without updates to the PEP!

Regardless of what happens in regards to the TJC/CMS dynamic, I think that healthcare as an industry needs to embrace this model for management of the physical environment. I know on an individual basis, everyone is wicked busy, but the success or failure of the management of the physical environment is a function of how ingrained the “see something, say something” philosophy is at point of care/point of service. You and I both know that I could say that I will speak of this no more, but you and I also know that the chances of my avoiding this topic are somewhere between slim and none…

Blame it on Cain…

We’ll see how long this particular screed goes on when we get to the end…

In my mind (okay, what’s left of it), the “marketing” of safety and the management of the physical environment is an important component of your program. I have also learned over time that it is very rare indeed when one can “force” compliance onto an organization. Rather, I think you have to coax them into seeing things your way. At this point, I think we can all agree that compliance comes in many shapes, colors, sizes, etc., with the ideal “state” of compliance representing what it is easiest (or most convenient) for staff to do. If we make compliance too difficult (both from a practical standpoint, as well as the conceptual), we tend to lose folks right out of the gate—and believe you me—we need everybody on board for the duration of the compliance ride.

For instance, I believe one of the cornerstone processes/undertakings on the compliance ride is the effectiveness of the reporting of imperfections in the physical environment (ideally, that report is generated in the same moment—or just after—the imperfection “occurs”). There are few things that frustrate me more than a wall that was absolutely pristine the day before, and is suddenly in possession of a 2- to 3-inch hole! There’s no evidence that something bored out of the wall (no debris on the floor under the hole), so the source of the hole must have been something external to the hole (imagine that!). So you go to check and see if some sort of notification had occurred and you find out, not so much. Somebody had to be there when it happened and who knows how many folks had walked by since its “creation,” but it’s almost like the hole is invisible to the naked eye or perhaps there’s some sort of temporal/spatial disruption going on—but I’m thinking probably not.

I’m reasonably certain that one can (and does) develop an eye/sense for some of the more esoteric elements of compliance (e.g., the surveyor who opens a cabinet drawer, reaches in, and pulls out the one expired item in the drawer), but do we need to educate folks to recognize holes in the wall as something that might need a wee bit of fixing? It would seem so…

At any rate, in trying to come up with some sort of catch phrase/mantra, etc., to promote safety, I came up with something that I wanted to share with the studio audience. I’d appreciate any feedback you’d be inclined to share:






I’m a great believer in the power of the silly/hokey concept when you’re trying to inspire folks; when you think of the most memorable TV ads, the ones that are funny tend to be the most memorable in terms of concept and product (the truly weird ads are definitely memorable, but more often than not I couldn’t tell you what product was being advertised). I think that as a four-part vision, the above might be pretty workable. What do you think?

This week in hell: What about the damn dampers?

We are certainly in the (very) early stages of the departure of The Joint Commission’s Plans for Improvement (PFI) process from our midst (Is it possible for a process to have abandonment issues? I suspect we’re going to be feeling something like it for quite some time to come.) and there continues to be much to chew on. This week, I’m going to break it down into a couple of chunks that will hopefully allow us to more easily digest this big mouthful of unpleasantness, but first, a rant (ooooh, big surprise):


  • I honestly don’t have a dog in this particular fight beyond my position as an observer of accreditation and regulatory compliance activities in healthcare, but I continue to “bump” up against the practice of TJC revealing substantive (and substantial) changes in forums that are not completely accessible to everyone with a dog in the fight. I don’t know about you, but my boss is generally inclined for me to be busy doing productive work, so I don’t oft (okay, never) get to the annual ASHE conference (and yes, I recognize the educational value, etc., of such gatherings, but, as you all probably know pretty well, that can be a very tough sell). Consequently, I (and perhaps a whole bunch of “yous” out there in the audience) was not present when the discontinuation of the PFI process was announced. I don’t know if there was a Q&A that followed the announcement, so I have no idea if questions were asked and answered, asked and deferred, asked and not answered, etc. I suspect if we all had known what was coming down the pike this year, between adoption of the 2012 Life Safety Code® (LSC) and PFI getting kicked to the curb, we might all have made a little bit of an extra effort to get to ASHE (well, perhaps you would have—I was having way too much fun tripping around Texas). At any rate, at the very least, I would love to see a transcript of the presentation as well as any Q’s and A’s that might have occurred. As an alternative thought, I also believe that something this monumentally important is deserving of a free webinar from TJC that includes a live Q&A (or if not a live Q&A, answers to pre-submitted questions would be okay)—this has the potential to be enormously painful for facilities and safety folks over the next little while (the optimist in me says “little while,” my fear is fairly long while) and, as customers, I think those same facilities and safety folks deserve a little time with the powers that be.
  • So what do we do with the damn dampers? As near as I can tell (with absolutely no empirical data beyond the number of questions I’ve received on the topic), there are a fair number of folks who have taken advantage of the PFI process for managing inaccessible dampers. When the PFI process goes away, does this mean all those dampers have to be brought in to compliance within the 60-day window? I am truly hoping that something specific to this issue is forthcoming before folks start tying up all the mechanical contractors in the US. Perhaps there’s a categorical waiver in the future for this piece of business—I think that would be a nice surprise. One thing I can tell you is that I know of at least one hospital that CMS required to clean up the damper issues identified on the PFI, so I have no reason to think that leniency will be the order of the day.
  • For those of you that reflect the PFI process in either your management plans or your ILSM plans/policies, you should probably pull those out and update the process as a function of no PFI process (I’m still not quite over the initial shock of that). Certainly for many, many years, a fundamental part of the standards-based requirements relative to ILSM was the management of LSC deficiencies that could not be immediately corrected (or corrected immediately, depending on your perspective), which brings us squarely into the realm of the PFI process. At any rate, make sure you make a quick of any policies/processes (hey, maybe even in your work order system) to make sure that you expunge all evidence of the PFI process.
  • As to the discontinuation of the Basic Building Information component of the Statement of Conditions, one of the things that’s “driven” by the information contained therein is the number of survey days, based on the square footage of healthcare occupancies in your facility. I don’t believe that the square footage question is asked during the organizational application process (might be worth checking with the individual in your organization charged with filing the application to verify what may or may not be in the mix), which makes me wonder how they will make the determination if folks don’t update the eBBI information. I suppose they have a basic starting point now, so it probably won’t change that much, but I also think of the SOC as a great means of communicating certain information to the surveyors—existing waivers/equivalencies (which makes me wonder: are we looking at a day when all the existing waivers/equivalencies granted by TJC go away or at least have to be resubmitted to CMS?), locations and square footage of suites, level of sprinkler coverage, and other unique aspects of the building can all be memorialized in the comment section of the SOC. But if the surveyors aren’t going to look at the SOC any more, do we print out the information and provide it to them directly or does this become one more potential sticking point during a survey? I guess a lot of the same information can be included on the life safety drawings, but I know a lot of folks don’t have the wherewithal to manage the drawings themselves so they use an architect or fire protection engineer for updates, etc.


All that said, I guess we’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed that some level of sanity is restored to the process, but given the state of the world, I don’t think I’m going to be holding my breath while I wait.

Breaking news: PFIs take a flyer!

Well, I suppose there was a certain element of inevitability to this. First, the expulsion of the most global “FIs” in the Joint Commission arsenal—the Requirement for Improvement (RFI) and the Opportunity for Improvement (OFI)—which left only one FI to be expelled, our good friend and (sometimes) benefactor, the Plan for Improvement (PFI). And that day has come (I don’t think there are any intact FIs kicking around, but I could be mistaken…)!

In what will likely end up being filed under the “no good deed goes unpunished” category (I’m more or less characterizing the adoption of the 2012 Life Safety Code® (LSC) as a good deed, though I will submit to you that, if only coincidentally, there has been an unleashing of a most distressing pile of poop), The Joint Commission has announced that, beginning August 1, 2016, it will eliminate the PFI process as a means of managing LSC deficiencies that cannot be immediately corrected and will take longer than 45 days to resolve. Yes, you did not misread that last sentence: say so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good bye (can I get an au revoir or adios?!?) to one of the most beloved characters in all of regulatory nuance. So, in place of the PFI process is an expectation for life safety deficiencies to be corrected within 60 days—unless, of course, you want to pursue a time-limited waiver with the friendly folks at your regional CMS office (don’t that sound like a party?). This information comes to us courtesy of the good folks at the American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE), who provided this to members as an advisory released late yesterday afternoon.

When Jay Kumar, my editorial foil at BLR/HCPro asked me for my initial thoughts, there were several expletives that came to mind (and I suspect they are coursing through your collective craniums as well), but I do know that a fundamental means of having some element of control (even if it was somewhat illusory in nature) in managing conditions in the physical environment has pretty much been ripped from our hands. I guess we could look at this as one more piece of the “becoming more like CMS” movement that has been afoot for quite a few years now. Or maybe, as CMS never really accepted the PFI process as an alternative means of LSC compliance, they finally told TJC to cease and desist. I’m thinking this probably also pretty much quashes any thought that the Building Maintenance Program will ever be anything more than it is now (at this point, I’m not really sure what it is beyond a means of organizing the maintenance of certain life safety building features, not a bad thing, but not quite as compelling as it once was).

The process as outlined in the ASHE Advisory goes a little something like this:


  • Deficiencies will need to be corrected within 60 days of being identified unless the CMS regional office approves an extension.
  • All requests for extensions will be handled by CMS regional offices. However, The Joint Commission will allow facilities to submit requests and receive a receipt to show they are in the pipeline waiting for an extension.
  • The Joint Commission will not review open PFI items, and PFIs will not be a part of final reports.

Now before you get overly panicky, apparently we will still be able to use the PFI process as an “internal management process,” so everything’s good—right?

I guess we’re going to have to wait and see how this all unfolds in the field, but I have a sneaking suspicion that, of all the changes we’ve encountered this year, I suspect this one is going to result in the greatest amount of disruption, at least in the short term.

But hey, we work in healthcare—we embrace change! We grab change by the throat, throw it on the ground and kick it ’til it stops moving. We love change!