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Manage the environment, manage infection control risks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Musings from Rantopolis

There are a couple of developments on the Joint Commission front. They’re deleting some 131 performance elements from across the accreditation manual; a few are EC-related, but none in the EM or LS chapters, I want to take a few moments to look at the tea leaves before I weigh—maybe I’ll include in our upcoming edition of portal chortlings—we’re about due for a fireside chat, but anyways…

This just in: The Clarifications and Expectations column penned by Mr. Mills is “on hiatus,” but scheduled to return in June 2016. Curiouser and curiouser…

Last week I was working with a client on answering a citation that had come up during a TJC survey (not their survey, but someone else’s—sometimes folks will share post-survey intel). The finding was related to the storage of toilet paper and paper towel in a housekeeping closet, based on (presumably) the notion of the housekeeping closet as a “soiled” area and the toilet paper and paper towel being “clean” supplies (remembering that when we use toilet paper, the rolls are right next to the toilet OMG…OMG…OMG!). Now I am reasonably certain that (much like some other conditions and/or practices I will note in a moment) there are no specific regulatory standards that speak to how and where one is to store paper supplies, etc., so, once again, we come up against the assumed role of the surveyor cadre in prescribing practices instead of assessing how well a risk is being managed. Are there housekeeping closets that are somewhat less reputable looking than others? Absolutely! Are there risks associated with storing paper products in housekeeping closets? Absolutely! Are there risks associated with storing paper products in clean utility rooms, including the potential for pests? Absolutely! Is this a discussion that could go on forever? Absolutely!

To paraphrase the late, great Lewis Allen (you probably know him just as “Lou”) Reed, I am sick of it. I am sick of seeing findings like “linen cart cover was not down,” “solid bottom shelf was not in place,” “materials stored under a sink,” “toilet paper and paper towel stored in a housekeeping closets,” “cardboard boxes in clean utility rooms.” The whole concept of the management of the physical environment is supposed to be based on managing the risks is that very same physical environment. Show me how whatever condition being cited is actually resulted in a risk that is being appropriate managed—not merely the possibility of a potentially increased risk if the planets are in the correct alignment, etc., etc., ad nauseum. Every time I think about the “war on cardboard,” I grind my whole being (not just my teeth); yes, there are places where cardboard ought not be broken down (sterile supply areas, etc.) but those locations are very limited. Show me that we’re not managing the cardboard appropriately. Show me real evidence (not online pictures) that we are legitimately dealing with cardboard critter condos. I absolutely, beyond any shadow of doubt, understand and recognize the risk potential of cardboard, but if there’s no evidence that the cardboard boxes are doing anything more than appropriately holding the contents of said boxes, how does that become a citable offence? When I think of the hundreds of thousands of dollars that have been wasted purchasing plastic bins that (channeling T. Swift here) never, ever, ever, ever (is that too many “evers”?)  get cleaned…check ’em out if you don’t believe me. And never mind the kabillion of labor hours devoted to removing all the whatevers from those cardboard boxes and putting them in the plastic bins as opposed to delivering the box full of stuff and then throwing that every same box away when it is empty. In fact, I would submit to you that by getting rid of the cardboard, we have made it exponentially more difficult to manage expiring product. Old days: case with expiration date on it; when case is empty, throw case away—boom! New days: plastic bin almost empty so we dump more product in on top of the old stuff (Oh sure, we’re taking the old stuff out and then placing it in a bag on top of the new stuff to ensure the old stuff gets used first. Yup, that’s what’s happening, yes indeedy…) I’m sure each of you can think of some “practice” that’s being enforced in your organization that is based on not much in the way of logic (logic doesn’t seem to prevail as much as it used to—I can’t think that that’s a good thing). I think we need to take a stand. (“I’m rather unhappy about the current state and I’m not inclined to support it any longer” or the more pointed “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” We safety professionals are more inclined towards the genteel first versions when in polite conversation, but deep inside, you know what I’m talkin’ about!)

Okay, that’s probably enough on that topic for the moment (I’m going to guess that there may be one or two heads nodding in the affirmative at this point in my screed, though perhaps there are others that might disagree). If there’s such a strong feeling about this stuff, then the regulators should be very clear about those “clarifications and expectations.” There’s a process for reviewing the survey results before the final results are provided to each organization. Use it to remove these findings that are truly no more than surveyor bias (yeah, it’s like how tough it is to reverse an official decision in sports). Unless, of course, the purpose of the current survey process is to generate as many findings as humanly possible…nah—who’d believe that!

So join us next week as we add another section to our construction of the immortal portal cortile chortle…

If you set things up correctly…they will still find stuff!

Those of you who are frequent readers of this little space are probably getting tired of me harping on this subject. And while I will admit that I find the whole thing a tad disconcerting, I guess this gives me something to write about (the toughest thing about doing the blog is coming up with stuff I think you folks would find of interest). And so, there is an extraordinary likelihood that you will have multiple EC/LS findings during your next triennial Joint Commission visit—and I’m not entirely convinced that there’s a whole lot you can do to prevent that from happening (you are not powerless in the process, but more in that in a moment).

Look at this way: Do you really think that you can have a regulatory surveyor run through your place for two or three days and at the end “admit” that they couldn’t find any deficiencies? I’ve worked in healthcare long enough to remember when a “no finding” survey was possible, but the odds are definitely stacked against the healthcare professionals when it comes to this “game.” And what amazes me even more than that is when folks are surprised when it happens! Think about, CMS has been taking free kicks on TJC’s noggin for almost 10 years at this point—because they weren’t finding enough issues during the triennial survey process. BTW, I’m not saying that there’s a quota system in place; although there are certainly instances in which surveyors over-interpret standards and performance elements, I can honestly say that I don’t find too many findings that were not (more or less) legitimate. But we’re really and truly not talking about big-ticket scary, immediate jeopardy kind of conditions. We are definitely talking mostly about the minutiae of the safety world—the imperfections, if you will—the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that one must endure when one allows humans to enter one’s hallowed halls. People mess stuff up. They usually don’t mean to (though there are some mistakes, and I think you can probably think of some examples in your own halls), but as one is wont to say, feces occurs. And there’s a whole segment of each healthcare organization charged with cleaning up that feces—wherever and however it occurs.

So what it all comes down to is this: you have to know what’s going on in your building and you have to know where you stand as a function of compliance, with the subset of that being that you have to have a robust process for identifying conditions soon enough and far enough “upstream” to be able to manage them appropriately. We’ve discussed the finder/fixer dynamic in the past (here’s a refresher), so I won’t belabor that point, but we need to use that process to generate compliance data. Strictly speaking, you really, really, really need to acquaint yourselves with the “C” Elements of Performance; compliance is determined as a rate and if you can demonstrate that your historical compliance rate is 90% or better, then you are in compliance with that standard/EP. But if you’re not using the surveillance process, the finder/fixer process, the tracer process, the work order process, the above the ceiling permitting process, ad nauseum, to generate data that can be used to determine compliance, then you are potentially looking at a very long survey process. Again, it goes back to my opening salvo; they are going to find “stuff” and if you are paying good attention to what goes on in your organization, then they shouldn’t be able to find anything that you don’t already know about.

The management of the physical environment is, at its heart, a performance improvement undertaking. As a support process for hardwiring ongoing sustained improvement, a process for the proactive risk assessment of conditions in the physical environment is essential. As an example, the next assessment would use the slate of findings from your most recent surveillance rounds to extrapolate the identification of additional risks in the physical environment. For all intents and purposes, it is impossible to provide a physical environment that is completely risk free, so the key focus becomes one of identification of risks, prioritizing the resolution of those risks that can be resolved (immediate and long-term), and to develop strategies for managing those risks that are going to require resource planning and allocation over an extended period of time. The goal of the process is to ensure that the organization can articulate the appropriate management of these risks and to be able to provide data (occurrence reporting, etc.) to support the determination of that level of safety. By establishing a feedback loop for the management of risk, it allows the organization to fully integrate past actions into the improvement continuum. If you think of the improvement continuum as a football field (it is, after all, the season for such metaphors) or indeed any game “environment,” you need to know where you are in order to figure out where you need to go/be. The scrutiny of the physical environment has never been greater and there’s no reason to think that that is going to change any time soon. Your “power” is in preparing for the survey by being prepared to make full use of the post-survey clarification process—yup, they found a couple of doors that didn’t close and latch, a fire extinguisher that missed a monthly inspection or two, and on and on. Anticipate what they’ll find based on what you see every time you “look” (again, it’s nothing “new” to you—or shouldn’t be) and start figuring out where you are on the grid. That way, they can find what they want (which they will; no point in fighting it anymore) and you can say, thanks for pointing that out, but I know that my compliance rate for doors/fire extinguishers/etc. is 90%, 91%, 92%, etc. We want them to work very hard to find stuff, but find stuff they will (that’s a little Yoda-esque). We just have to know what do “aftah.”