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Walking in the shadow of the big man: CMS isn’t done with emergency preparedness

Imagine that!

The turn of February brought with it the latest epistle from our friends at CMS as they continue to noodle on the preparedness of the nation’s hospitals. I don’t know that this represents a ton of hardship for folks and I do know, for at least some folks, the latest directive is fairly straightforward as a function of their emergency preparedness programs, activities, etc. As we’ve discussed once or twice over the years (decades?!?), emergency preparedness is a journey, it is not a destination. And while we do have the opportunity to plot our own course on this, it seems that the regulatory oversight piece will never be very far away.

So, the first piece of this (you can find the whole missive here) is the pronouncement that planning for using an all-hazards approach to emergency management (and who isn’t?!?) should also include consideration of emerging infectious disease (EID: Influenza, Ebola, Zika, etc.) threats. The guidance goes on to indicate that planning for EIDs “may require modifications to facility protocols to protect the health and safety of patients, such as isolation and personal protective measures.” I think my immediate inclination would be to include EID threats as a separate line item for your HVA (my fear being if you integrate things too well into your existing, then you’ll be that much harder-pressed to “pull out” the EID portion of your organizational analysis). And/or if you combine all the IC stuff into one, then you might make changes to your plan to address the higher-risk stuff and create some operational challenges for your “normal” stuff. It’s early in the game on this one, so we’ll see how the process matures.

Next up we have some discussion relative to the use of portable/mobile generators as part of our emergency preparedness activities. It would seem that a lot of folks reached out to CMS to see if they were going to have to replace portable/mobile generators with the typical generator equipment found in hospitals, and (hooray!) the answer to that question is no, you don’t have to: unless your risk assessment indicates that you should. Apparently, there were other questions relating to the care and feeding of portable/mobile generators and the ruling on the field is that you would have to maintain them in accordance with NFPA 70 (and, presumably, the manufacturers’ IFUs), which includes:

  • Have all wiring to each unit installed in accordance with the requirements of any of the wiring methods in Chapter 3.
  • Be designed and located to minimize the hazards that might cause complete failure due to flooding, fires, icing, and vandalism.
  • Be located so that adequate ventilation is provided.
  • Be located or protected so that sparks cannot reach adjacent combustible material.
  • Be operated, tested and maintained in accordance with manufacturer, local and/or state requirements.

It also mentions that extension cords and other temporary wiring devices may not be used with the portable generators, so make sure that you have those ducks in a row.

There are a few more things to cover, but I think those can wait until next week. See you then!

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.

Never say never: The ligature risk conversation continues…

I truly was thinking that perhaps I could go a couple more weeks without coming back to the ligature risk topic, but continued percolation in this area dictates otherwise. So here’s one news item and one (all too consultative) recommendation.

If you took a gander at the September issue of Briefings on Accreditation and Quality, you will have noted that the Healthcare Facilities Accreditation Program (HFAP) isn’t revising their existing standards in the wake of the recent CMS memorandum indicating that The Joint Commission’s (TJC) focus work on the subject of managing physical environment risks and behavioral health patients is an acceptable starting point (and I am very serious about that descriptor—I don’t see this ending real soon, but more on that in a moment). I’m not sure if HFAP makes as much use of Frequently Asked Questions forums as TJC does (and with that use, the “weight” of standards), so it may be that they will start to pinpoint things (strategies, etc.) outside of revising their standards (which prompts the question—at least to me—as to whether TJC will eventually carve out the FAQs into specific elements of performance…only time will tell). At any rate, HFAP had done some updating prior (already approved by CMS) to the recent CMS memorandum, but, in using existing CMS guidance (which tends not to be too specific in terms of how you do things), should be in reasonable shape. You can see a little more detail as to where the applicable HFAP standards “live” by checking out this and this. I would imagine that the other accreditation organizations are looking at/planning on how to go after this stuff in the field and I suspect that everyone is going to get a taste of over-interpretation and all that fun stuff.

In the “dropping of the other shoe” department, recent survey results are pointing towards a more concerted look at the “back end” of this whole process—clear identification of mitigation strategies, education of applicable staff to the risks and mitigation strategies, and building this whole process into ongoing competency evaluation. You really have to look at the proactive risk assessment (and please, please, please make sure that you identify everything in the environment as a risk to be managed; I know it’s a pain in the butt to think so, but there continues to be survey findings relating to items the survey team feels are risks that were not specifically identified in the assessment) as the starting point and build a whole system/program around that assessment, inclusive of initial and ongoing education, ongoing competency evaluation, etc. Once again, I would seem that we are not going to be given credit for doing the math in our (collective) head; you have to be prepared to “show” all your work, because if you don’t, you’ll find yourself with a collection of survey findings in the orange/red sections of the ol’ SAFER matrix—and that is not a good thing at all. We are (likely) not perfect in the management of behavioral health patients and that is clearly the goal/end game of this, but right now anything short of that has to be considered a vulnerability. If you self-identify a risk that you have not yet resolved and you do not specifically indicate the mitigation strategy (in very nearly all circumstances, that’s going to be one-to-one observation), then you are at survey risk. I cannot stress enough that (at least for the now) less is not more, so plan accordingly!

CMS Ligature Risk Update: Not quite finished…

Cast aside the doubt that nothing good came come this way again!

On July 20, 2018, CMS issued further information regarding its expectations for ensuring that behavioral health patients are being provided a safe and appropriate environment. There had been some indication that CMS might be undertaking their own analysis of the current state of things, but it appears that CMS is going to incorporate the outcomes of The Joint Commission’s (TJC) suicide panel (in which CMS representatives participated) into a comprehensive ligature risk interpretive guidance. The memorandum does not indicate when we can expect the finalized interpretive guidance, but things do seem to be moving at a pretty good clip, so I’m thinking (maybe, just maybe), we’ll see that information before the end of the year. As a point of information (and you know I’m all about the points), the Joint Commission guidance cited in the CMS memorandum can be found here: and some clarifying FAQs issued by TJC last month (but not specifically referenced in the CMS memorandum) can be found here: (the information specific to ligature risks is about half way down the page). I know we’ve covered this over the past few months, but I can never be sure at which point in the conversation folks tune in, so I figured it doesn’t hurt to have links for what is current (at the moment…).

For those of you who have not yet tackled all of the particulars relating to the guidance issued from Joint Commission (mostly because you do not use TJC for deemed status accreditation purposes), I do think that the compliance path appears to be fairly reasonable and straightforward from an implementation standpoint. That said, until the interpretive guidance is finalized by CMS, there will likely continue to be some surveyor interpretation in the mix, particularly on the part of those accreditation and regulatory organizations other than Joint Commission (DNV, CIHQ, HFAP, state agencies, etc.). Which means it will be incumbent upon pretty much all hospitals to know where they stand relative to TJC recommendations, particularly as a function of how the strategies and facilities modifications they’ve made meet the intent of the recommendations. Some recent non-TJC survey activities indicate that the “other” accreditation organizations are starting to focus on this topic and, right now, are very much where TJC was in early 2017 when surveyors were inclined to identify anything and everything as a potential, unmanageable risk. And lots of re-surveys following in the wake of those determinations

Beyond a familiarity/assessment relative to the TJC recommendations, the “other” piece of which you need to be mindful is that whatever fixes they identify need to be completed before survey or there will likely be some back and forth relative to Immediate Threat, the need for re-survey, etc.  As we’ve discussed in the past (and this surely goes beyond ligature-resistant hardware), a lot of folks with a significant number of fixes are very much at the mercy of the supplies of needed hardware, etc. At a minimum, hospitals that haven’t completed their “laundry list” of fixes must have a risk assessment in place that outlines not only what is to be done from a facilities standpoint, but what strategies are in place to ensure that the risk to patients is being properly managed in the interim (this is very similar to the survey methodology dealing with Interim Life Safety Measures). As I’ve told folks time and again, you don’t get credit for doing the math in your head—at the end of the day, when you have a survey team “in the house,” the only “good” risk assessment is a risk assessment that is fully documented, approved by the appropriate organizational authorities, etc. If you don’t have an assessment ready to go for survey, it’s likely to be a very tough slog.

At any rate, it does appear that this one is going to be winding down in terms of survey activity, which will bring no small measure of relief to the survey preparation process, but it does beg the question of whether this is the last big environmental dope-slap or if there’s something else waiting in the wings to make us crazy. Any thoughts?

Hanging on in quiet desperation is the safety way: Thought of something more to say!

Recognizing that authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) always reserve the right to disagree with any decision you’ve ever made or, indeed, anything they (or any other AHJ) have told you in the past, how long are existing waivers, guidance and/or equivalencies good for? Answer: It depends (with more permutations that you can shake a stick at…).

Last week, we chatted a little bit about the whole water management thing, including mention of what CMS is telling surveyors to look for, but I thought it might be useful to extract some of the specifics from that missive (if you missed it last week, it’s here). So, here we have:

Expectations for Healthcare Facilities

CMS expects Medicare and Medicare/Medicaid certified healthcare facilities to have water management policies and procedures to reduce the risk of growth and spread of Legionella and other opportunistic pathogens in building water systems.

Facilities must have water management plans and documentation that, at a minimum, ensure each facility:

  • Conducts a facility risk assessment to identify where Legionella and other opportunistic waterborne pathogens (e.g., Pseudomonas, Acinetobacter, Burkholderia, Stenotrophomonas, nontuberculous mycobacteria, and fungi) could grow and spread in the facility water system.
  • Develops and implements a water management program that considers the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) industry standard and the CDC toolkit.
  • Specifies testing protocols and acceptable ranges for control measures, and document the results of testing and corrective actions taken when control limits are not maintained.
  • Maintains compliance with other applicable federal, state, and local requirements.

Note: CMS does not require water cultures for Legionella or other opportunistic waterborne pathogens. Testing protocols are at the discretion of the provider.

Healthcare facilities are expected to comply with CMS requirements and Conditions of Participation to protect the health and safety of its patients. Those facilities unable to demonstrate measures to minimize the risk of LD are at risk of citation for noncompliance.

Expectations for Surveyors and Accrediting Organizations

Long-term care (LTC) surveyors will expect that a water management plan (which includes a facility risk assessment and testing protocols) is available for review but will not cite the facility based on the specific risk assessment or testing protocols in use. Further LTC surveyor guidance and process will be communicated in an upcoming survey process computer software update. Until that occurs, please use this paragraph as guiding instructions.

Just so you know, I chose to use some of the text in bold font because I think that’s probably the most important piece of this for folks moving forward (kind of makes me think that, just perhaps, there have been citations for folks not actively pursuing water cultures). But it does establish the expectation that a piece of the required risk assessment is going to include something that relates to whether you choose to culture, how often, and how you came to make that determination. I think this helps folks manage some of the ins and outs of this process, but I still feel like this could end up being a source of consternation as surveyors “kick the tires” in the field.

 

Wagging the dog: Can Accreditation Organizations influence each other?

In last week’s issue of HCPro’s Accreditation Insider, there was an item regarding the decision of the folks at the Healthcare Facilities Accreditation Program (HFAP) to update their Infection Control standards for acute care hospitals, with the intent of alignment with CMS expectations (you can find the article here) We’ve certainly covered the concerns relative to Legionella and the management of risks associated with aerosolizing water systems and this may only be a move to catch up on ground already covered by other accreditation organizations (our friends in Chicago already require the minimization of pathogenic biological agents in cooling towers, domestic hot- and cold-water systems, and other aerosolizing water systems), but I’m thinking it might also be something of a “tell” as to where survey focus might be drifting as we embark upon the second half of 2018. Certainly, waterborne pathogens are of critical importance to manage as a function of patient vulnerability (ideally, we want folks to get better during their hospital stays), so it makes perfect sense for this to be on the radar to some degree. At this point, the memorandum from CMS outlining their concerns has been with us for about a year, with an immediate effective date, so hopefully you are well-entrenched in managing those water systems. If this one is still on your to-do list, I think it’s probably advisable to making it a priority to get it to your “to-done” list. But you should definitely check out the latest “clarification” from CMS. While the memo indicates that this does not impose any new expectations or requirements, it does make it a little clearer as to what surveyors are supposed to be checking.

As I think Mr. Gershwin once opined about summer and the easiness of living, it would be nice to be able to set a spell and take one’s shoes off, but vigilance is always the order of the day.

On a somewhat lighter note, I just finished reading Our Towns – A 100,000 Mile Journey Into The Heart of America, which outlines the efforts of a number of (mostly smallish) municipalities across the United States in positioning themselves for a positive future (positive positioning—I kind of like that). The focus is mostly on the socioeconomics of different parts of the country, with a focus on how diversity can be employed in bettering a community (that’s probably a little ham-handed as a descriptor, but you can find an excerpt here if you like). As my work allows me to travel to a lot of places, while I haven’t been to a lot of the same destinations as the Fallows, I do recognize a lot of the stories and a lot of the challenges facing folks lately (and I think you might, too). I would describe the tone of the book as hopeful, so if you’re looking for something to read at beach/pond/summer cottage, etc., you might consider giving Our Towns a shot.

 

Emergency Management Monkeyshines: All Things Must Pass…

Sometimes like a kidney stone, but nonetheless…

Before we dive into this week’s “content,” I have a thought for you to ponder as to the nature of basing future survey results on the results of surveys past (rather Dickensian, the results of surveys past): Recognizing that authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) always reserve the right to disagree with any decision you’ve ever made or, indeed, anything they (or any other AHJ) have told you in the past, how long are existing waivers and/or equivalencies good for? Hopefully this ponderable will not visit itself upon you or your organization, but one must be prepared for any (and every) eventuality. Which neatly brings us to:

In digging around past emails and such, I noticed that I had not visited the Department of Health and Human Services Healthcare Emergency Preparedness Gateway in rather a while and what to my wondering eyes should appear but some updated info and a link to CMS that I think you’ll find useful. So, the current headlines/topics:

  • Considerations for the Use of Temporary Care Locations for Managing Seasonal Patient Surge
  • Pediatric Issues in Disasters Webinar
  • 2017 Hurricane Response – Resources for Children with Special Health Care Needs
  • Supporting Non-resident/Foreign Citizen Patients
  • A new issue of The Exchange newsletter
  • A link to the CMS Emergency Preparedness Final Rule surveyor training (you can find the information available to providers here). Unfortunately, the post-test is not available to providers, but sometimes it’s like that.

It is my intent over the next little while to check out the education package, so I will let you know if I have any grave reservations about the content, etc., or if I think you need to earmark it for priority viewing.

So, kind of brief this week, but I’m sure there’ll be more to discuss in the not too distant future. And so, with the end of wintah on the horizon, I wish you a moderately temperate week!

There’s no such thing as someone else’s code: Infection control and the environment (again…)

Periodically, I field questions from folks that require a little bit (well, perhaps sometimes more than a little) of conjecture. Recently, I received a question regarding the requirements in ASHRAE 170-2008 regarding appropriate pressure relationships in emergency department and radiology waiting rooms (ASHRAE 170-2008 says those areas would be under negative pressure, with the caveat that the requirement applies only to “waiting rooms programmed to hold patients awaiting chest x-rays for diagnosis of respiratory disease”).

Right now, that particular question is kind of the elephant in the room from a regulatory perspective; there is every indication that The Joint Commission/CMS are working their way through ASHRAE 170-2008 and have yet to make landfall on this particular requirement—as far as I know—feel free to disabuse me of that notion. The intent of the requirement (as I interpret it) is to have some fundamental protections in place to ensure that an isolated respiratory contagion does not have the capacity of becoming a legitimate outbreak because of inadequate ventilation. Now, you could certainly use the annual infection control program risk assessment to identify whether your waiting rooms are “programmed to hold patients awaiting chest x-rays for diagnosis of respiratory disease” based on the respiratory disease data from the local community (and you might be able to obtain data from a larger geographic area, which one might consider a “buffer zone”).

Best case scenario results in you being able to take this completely off the table from a risk standpoint, next best would be that you introduce protocols for respiratory patients that remove them from the general waiting rooms (depending on the potential numbers, you may not have the space for it), worst case being that you have to modify the current environment to provide appropriate levels of protection. The notation for this requirement does provide some relief for folks with a recirculating air system in these areas, which allows for HEPA filters to be used instead of exhausting the air from these spaces to the outdoors, providing the return air passes through the HEPA filters before it introduced into any other spaces.

Knowing what I do about some of the ventilation challenges folks have, I suspect that it may make more sense to pursue the HEPA filtration setup than it would be to try to bring each of the spaces under negative pressure, but (going out on a limb here) that might be a question best answered by a group of knowledgeable folks (including an individual of the mechanical engineering persuasion) as a function of the (wait for it…) risk assessment process.

Ultimately, it comes down to what the Authority Having Jurisdiction chooses to enforce; that said, it might be worth having someone work through your state channels or by putting the question to the Standards Interpretation Group at Joint Commission (I suspect that their response would not be not particularly instructive beyond the usual “do a risk assessment” strategy, but there is a new person running the Engineering group at TJC, so perhaps something a little more helpful might be forthcoming). At any rate, as noted above, I’ve not heard of this being cited, but I also know that if there’s an outbreak tied to inadequate ventilation somewhere, this could become a hot topic pretty quickly (probably not as hot as ligature risks at the moment, but you never know…).

You don’t have to be a weather(person)man to tell: Kicking off survey year 2018!

Your guess is as good as mine…

Just a couple of brief items (relatively—you know how I do go on, but I will try) of interest. I don’t know that there’s a common theme besides an effort to anticipate in which direction the survey winds might blow in 2018:

  •  Previously in this space, I’ve mentioned the work of Matt Freije and his team at HCInfo as they have done yeoman’s (yeoperson’s?) work in the field of water systems management and the “fight” against In response to last year’s letter of intent by CMS to take a more focused look at how hospitals and nursing homes are providing appropriately safe water systems for their patients, Mr. Freije has developed a checklist to help folks evaluate their current situations and has posted the checklist online for comment, suggestions, etc. I’m having a hard time thinking that this might not become something of a hardship for folks arriving late to the party, so if you’ve not yet embraced poking around this subject (and even if you have), you’d do well to check out the checklist.
  •  A couple of inspection items relative to the ongoing rollout of the various and sundry changes wrought by the adoption of the 2012 Life Safety Code®, some of which have yet to migrate in detail to the accreditation organization publications (at least the ones that I’ve seen), but have popped up during recent CMS surveys:
    • Make sure you fire alarm circuit breakers are clearly marked in red (check out NFPA 72 10.5.5.2 for the skinny on this).
    • Make sure your ILSM/fire watch policy/process reflects the appropriate AHJs—you need to make sure that you know for sure whether your state department of public health, et al, want to be notified. They do in California, and probably elsewhere.
    • In NFPA 25, chapters 5 and 13 indicate some monthly inspections of gauges, valves for condition, appropriate position (open or closed) and normal pressures—again, they’re not specifically listed in the accreditation manuals yet, but I suspect that they’ll be coming to a survey report near you before too long.
    • A final note for the moment in this category, NFPA 70 (2011 edition) 400.10 indicates that “flexible cords and cables shall be connected to devices and to fittings so that tension is not transmitted to joints of terminals.” Keep an eye on power strips, particularly in your IT and communications closets for those dangling power strips (and some of them aren’t so much dangling as they are pulled across open spaces, etc. I suspect you know what I mean.) I know the folks who manage this stuff think that we are just being pains in the butt, but now you may have a little codified leverage.
  •  In my post a couple of weeks ago, I don’t think I played the personal protective equipment (PPE) card with sufficient gravity; part of folks’ understanding of the hazards of using chemicals is recognizing the importance of actually using appropriate PPE as identified on the product SDS. When you think about it, the emergency eyewash station is not intended to be the first line of defense in the management of exposures to chemical hazards, but rather what happens when there is an emergency exposure. If the use of PPE is hardwired into the process, then the only time they’ll need to use the eyewash equipment is when they do their weekly testing. At that, my friends, is as it should be.

 

It’s knowing (hoping) that this can’t go on forever: A little bit of regulatory mishegas…

It being only the third week of the New Year, it’s a little early for any trends to fully manifest themselves, so a couple of odds and ends to get you caught up on (or, upon which to get you caught up, for any hard-core grammarians in the crowd…).

The latest issue of Health Facilities Management has a couple of articles (and a risk assessment available to ASHE members—gotta love a new risk assessment) that should prove of some value/interest over the next little bit:

  •  ASHE issues update on CMS ligature-risk policy – this is basically a recap of the CMS memo issued in December (details here) but also includes mention of an environmental ligature risk tool (updated to include a worksheet for EDs) that is available to ASHE members. I’m not sure if the “hand in glove” relationship between ASHE and TJC will remain the same with the departure of George Mills, but there is every reason to feel that ASHE’s position as an advocacy group will continue. In that light, probably a good idea to check out the ligature risk tool and adopt any elements that you may not have yet considered. I still feel that you have to rule everything in as a risk until you can start ruling stuff out, but I also think that we should be checking out any and all available resources.
  • An interesting article on airflow in the OR; to be honest, I love this kind of digging around into the corners of what makes the surgical environment such a bear from a compliance standpoint and where regulatory scrutiny might be headed as a function of increasing attention to the infection control impact of the environment. I’m not suggesting you have to mimic the study, but it might help you anticipate some pointed survey questions or requests.
  • Also in the latest issue of HFM, there’s an update on the CMS interpretations relative to rolling latches and related concerns as well as a request for volunteers to assist in gathering information, policies, etc. on how folks are keeping things quiet at night.

Moving on to our friends from Chicago, in the continuing unfolding of information regarding the management of ligature risks, the latest issue of Joint Commission Online includes further guidance relating to “other” (my quotation marks) behavioral health environments such as residential treatment, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient and outpatient treatment programs. The guidance indicates that these settings are not required to be ligature resistant, but then goes on to indicate that a risk assessment should be conducted in these environments, and then policies and procedures implemented to address how to manage patients in these settings that may experience and increase in symptoms that could result in self-harm or risk of suicide. The piece also indicates that the expert panel met again in December and there will be additional guidance relating to suicide risk assessment and safe monitoring of high-risk patients. And so the conversation continues…