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An interesting security development: To arm or not to arm?

In a February 18 Joint Commission leadership blog post, Mark Crafton, TJC’s executive director of communications and external relations, focuses on the benefits of investigating different approaches for mitigating violence in hospitals. At least that’s where the conversation starts, but it ends up in kind of an interesting (and to my eyes, unexpected) direction: the question of whether hospital security officers are a more effective deterrent/mitigation strategy when they are armed. (N.B.: In Crafton’s post, he refers to security “guards”; call me whatever you like, but I think the term “guard” just doesn’t ring well with me. I’m okay with the terms “security staff” or “security officers,” but “guards” just gives me the vapors—metaphorically speaking, of course.)

In the course of the posting, Crafton points to an article in the Chattanooga Time Free Press that will likely generate some debate among healthcare security professionals, and I tend to agree with that thought. Apparently the article was the result of a healthcare system’s decision to disarm their security staff and adopt the “soft” uniform look (e.g., blazers, etc.) to more effectively emphasize the security officer’s role as a more customer-oriented (my description) countenance. Now we’ve touched on the subject of arming security officers in the past (it’s been a really long time) and it’s probably way past the time for looking at this topic, particularly as the good folks at CMS have some rather strong thoughts on the subject:

CMS does not consider the use of weapons in the application of restraint or seclusion as a safe, appropriate health care intervention. For the purposes of this regulation, the term  “weapon” includes, but is not limited to, pepper spray, mace, nightsticks, tazers, cattle prods, stun guns, and pistols. Security staff may carry weapons as allowed by hospital policy, and State and Federal law. However, the use of weapons by security staff is considered a law enforcement action, not a health care intervention. CMS does not support the use of weapons by any hospital staff as a means of subduing a patient in order to place that patient in restraint or seclusion. If a weapon is used by security or law enforcement personnel on a person in a hospital (patient, staff, or visitor) to protect people or hospital property from harm, we would expect the situation to be handled as a criminal activity and the perpetrator be placed in the custody of local law enforcement.

The use of handcuffs, manacles, shackles, other chain-type restraint devices, or other restrictive devices applied by non-hospital employed or contracted law enforcement officials for custody, detention, and public safety reasons are not governed by this rule. The use of such devices are considered law enforcement restraint devices and would not be considered safe, appropriate health care restraint interventions for use by hospital staff to restrain patients. The law enforcement officers who maintain custody and direct supervision of their prisoner (the hospital’s patient) are responsible for the use, application, and monitoring of these restrictive devices in accordance with Federal and State law. However, the hospital is still responsible for an appropriate patient assessment and the provision of safe, appropriate care to its patient (the law enforcement officer’s prisoner).

As you can well imagine, equipping security staff with weapons of almost any stripe can result in the classic slippery slope. My personal practice was to have a clear delineation between security staff and law enforcement responders. Security staff were provided ongoing crisis management education and worked closely with clinical staff to proactively manage at-risk situations. Law enforcement response was summoned when appropriate and the use of weapons was solely at the discretion of those responders. I know those lines can get pretty blurry in the heat of the moment, but specific roles are, I think, the best starting point for an effective security program.

At any rate, Crafton goes on to discuss the following: the cases for armed/not armed security staff; armed staff as authority figures vs. armed staff as a potential for raised anxiety of patients who are already distressed/stressed; and how do you make patients and staff safe, etc. There are, of course, good arguments on both sides, but ultimately (and this is one of the common threads when it comes to TJC standards and expectations), it is the responsibility of each organization to determine how best to manage, in this case, security risks. It doesn’t seem likely that peace, love, and understanding are going to be breaking out any time soon; the role of the security officer has never been more important.

I guess it really doesn’t matter where you set your humidity…

Because someone else will come along and move it—and it’s always been the same…

Returning to the Adding Insult to Injury desk here at the Safety Space plaza (with apologies to the Magliozzi clan), last week we learned of a delightful new development in the ongoing saga of the management of environmental conditions in surgery. You can find the opening salvo in this little skirmish here. To recap, back in January, AHA/ASHE/AHRMM issued a Joint Quality Advisory indicating that there may be supplies and equipment that are not/were not manufactured to tolerate the lower humidity levels (down to 20% relative humidity) that could be in place based on the Categorical Waiver issued back in 2013 (details here). In the Quality Advisory, there was a recommendation for a risk assessment, etc., to ensure that any risks associated with equipment/supplies and the lower humidity levels are being appropriately managed.

But apparently, that was not enough tumult to introduce into the mix (it almost makes me long for those halcyon first days of the relocatable power tap dictum). To wit, CMS (in its way beyond infinite wisdom) has weighed in on the topic of supplies and equipment that may not tolerate the lower temperature and humidity levels allowed by the categorical waiver. The sum and substance of the CMS position echoes the risk assessment process outlined by AHA/ASHE/AHRMM, but does it one step further by indicating that until the assessment has been completed and you know all your “stuff” can appropriately tolerate the lower humidity levels, you have to go back to the pre-waiver humidity levels. By the way, that could mean either the 30% low point indicated by ASHRAE or the 35% low point indicated by NFPA 99-1999. You can find links to the memorandum issued by CMS here.  By the way, this memorandum is also notable for the appearance of a kicky new term—IFU (instructions for use)—to add to the pantheon of acronymic stardom. Welcome IFU!

Now, I think we can all agree that looking at all the supplies and equipment being stored in these sensitive areas is going to be a fairly labor-intensive pursuit (Can you say pain in the gluteus maximus? I knew you could!) and it makes me wonder if there’s a way to push back at our vendors to help in at least reducing the number and type of materials we would need to evaluate. The Joint Quality Advisory makes note of some examples of materials that could be in the mix—EKG electrodes are noted—but I can’t help but hope that someone, somewhere is starting to parse this into a more manageable pursuit. I fully recognize that this is probably something of which everyone should already be aware; the CMS memo is rather pointed in mentioning just that: “The CMS expects hospitals, CAHs, and ASCs to follow the current IFUs for supplies and equipment used in their ORs. Failure to adhere to the IFUs must be cited, even if the facility has opted to use the categorical waiver of the [Life Safety Code] RH requirements.”

Sometimes doing the right thing ain’t so easy…

(P.S. If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, Jorge Sosa and I will host a webcast, “Surgical Environment Compliance: Meet Joint Commission and CMS Requirements,” on Friday, May 8 at 1 p.m. Eastern. Find out more and register online here.)

 

And to further complicate matters… (aka: Adding insult to injury)

On January 21, 2015, the American Society of Healthcare Engineering (ASHE), in coordination with the American Hospital Association (AHA) and the Association for Healthcare Resource & Materials Management (ASHRMM), issued a Joint Quality Advisory, offering new guidance on humidity levels in the OR. The short version is that the CMS waiver allowing hospitals to maintain humidity levels in operating rooms at a level down to 20% relative humidity (RH) is presenting some conflicts relative to the care and feeding of certain sterile supplies and surgical equipment that were designed to be in surgical environments with a humidity level of no less than 30% RH. Can I get an “Oh yeah!”?

One of the conversations I’ve bene having with greater frequency with clients relates to the storage of sterile supplies as a function of ASHRAE 170 Standard for Ventilation of Health Care Facilities, which has very clear design specifications for sterile storage (must have positive pressure, a minimum of two outdoor air exchanges, a minimum of four total air exchanges, a maximum of 60% RH (no identified minimum) and a temperature between 72 and 78 degrees F). The conversations generally grow out of thinking about all the areas in a hospital where sterile supplies can be found and whether all of those locations constitute “sterile storage” and thus would have to adhere to the design specifications listed in ASHRAE 170.

The upshot of those conversations is typically the need for a risk assessment of what supplies are being stored where (so to speak) and determining what locations and products need to be considered in the mix for “protection” in accordance with the ASHRAE standard. For all intents and purposes, the ASHE Joint Quality Advisory is recommending the same type of process (with the “net” being cast a little further afield to include equipment stored in these locations).

As we have learned over the past little while (and reinforced through TJC surveys pretty much everywhere), there is a concerted effort on the part of regulators to scrutinize the management of special environments with an ever-broadening list of locations to be included in those ranks. I believe that I have recommended using the table in ASHRAE 170 as a starting point for conducting a risk assessment of all the potentially applicable locations in each organization, so I’m just going to put it back out there—if you haven’t looked closely at how you are maintaining compliance with this stuff, I can only encourage you to do so. But please know that any lack of preparedness on this count can lead only to survey peril.

Be prepared!

Now that Superstorm Sandy has taken on the rosy hue of nostalgia…you mean it hasn’t?!?

By now I’m sure you’ve seen information regarding the CMS report that weighs in on hospital response during Superstorm Sandy and the challenges faced by hospitals during that October 2012 event.

Now, some of the media reports covering this particular issuance from CMS have painted kind of a bleak picture, but I don’t know if that is strictly the case. Certainly, there were, and likely will continue to be, challenges relating to response to any emergencies, but in looking at the data contained in the report, I ultimately can’t help but think the response efforts on the part of the hospitals in the New York metropolitan area and adjacent areas were pretty darn good.

Again, some of the coverage seems to highlight the 89% of hospitals that “reported experiencing critical challenges during Sandy, such as breakdowns in infrastructure and community collaboration” and equate “experiencing critical challenges” with “not being prepared.” Now I will freely admit that I have not exercised operational responsibilities in a hospital for about 13 or so years, but my recollection about such things is that one of the things that makes emergencies, like, emergencies, is that you experience critical challenges that could include breakdowns in infrastructure, etc. For me, the most important nuggets that are presented in the report are that:

  • Only 7% of the hospitals involved had to fully or partially evacuate (and yes, I do indeed recognize that evacuation is an entirely acceptable and appropriate response if the conditions dictate)
  • Only one hospital indicated that its emergency plan was not useful
  • No patient perished as the result of a hospital’s inability to appropriately respond to the disaster

Of course, there were a number of instances of flooding out of infrastructure components and some challenges relating to the whole idea of clinical folks not being able to use powered equipment to deliver IV fluids, etc., (I think it’s probably a good idea to look at those pesky clinical interventions in the case of utility systems or medical equipment failures; something tells me that this might become a wee bit more of a focus during your next TJC visit), but I will direct you back to #3. To me, this means that there was definitely some rough sledding as Sandy came and went, but the folks on the ground were able to keep things together, which is a pretty good measure of preparedness. If nothing happens, how do you know for sure you really were prepared?

Again, if you haven’t had a chance to read through the report, it’s a pretty interesting read (even for the Feds) and I think that some of the stories regarding somewhat rocky interactions with the community might sound at least a little familiar to folks. As with any emergency, there are lessons to be learned and there is much in this report to think on for just about everyone involved with hospital emergency management.

But perhaps the most instructive thing of all is the “tenor” of the conclusion and recommendations section, which doesn’t really point any fingers at the hospitals involved in responding to Sandy. Sure, there are some rather generic references to findings during previous Joint Commission surveys that could have had an impact on response capabilities, but to me it appears nothing more than a classic case of post hoc ergo propter hoc (for those of you not “down” with Latin, that translates roughly as “after this, therefore because of this”). They really don’t seem to be able to tie any survey findings to what happened, but I guess they have to tie the survey process in somehow—such is life.

A curiosity from the (left) coast

This is another plucked from the oblivion of the mailbag…

Back towards the end of September, I received an email from an acquaintance out in California who had attended The Joint Commission’s Executive Briefings conference, which included a session on CMS compliance, presented (or so it would seem) jointly by TJC and Joint Commission Resources. In their never-ending pursuit of encouraging customer participation, the audience (or learners as they are identified on the slide sheet) got to submit some questions to the faculty (who shall remain nameless … primarily because I don’t have that information), for which responses were prepared and shared with the group (there were 6 questions asked, based on the document I’ve seen).

At any rate, there are two questions asked for which the responses were somewhat illuminating, albeit in a rather frightening way:

Q. Does temperature and humidity need to be done/recorded daily in procedural areas even if they are closed (i.e., operating room closed on a Sunday or holiday)?

A. Indoor air quality testing that includes directional air flow, humidity, and temperatures should be done daily when in use, however, it is only recommended monthly when the rooms are not in use. So if the rooms are closed they need not be tested unless they are closed for more than one month, but tested when they are put back in use.

The question I have for the studio audience is this (and it’s not like we’ve had this conversation before in various permutations): Where in the regulations does it require daily performance of “indoor air quality testing that includes (which by extension can be interpreted as “not limited to”) directional air flow, humidity and temperatures”? Now it may very well be that this is an extension of the whole magillah regarding the maintenance and testing of critical utility systems components in accordance with manufacturer recommendations (and I don’t have nearly enough knowledge of the OEM guidance on the various and sundry HVAC systems there are out in TV land to be able to speak to that piece of it). Maybe this is destined to show up on TJC’s FAQ page (I see we’re getting a little acronym-heavy here, so I will try to refrain from further acronymization), but this one seems a little beyond the pale. My advice for the moment is that you really ought to look at this as a risk assessment and make the determination of frequencies, etc. for this kind of stuff. Which brings me to the other question of note, but let’s leave that for next time…

Waivering my magic wand

Season’s Greetings to you all and please accept my very best wishes for a safe and fulfilling New Year.

And speaking of the holiday season (please excuse my tardiness on this one—probably should have come up with this before Halloween came and went—oh well…), I was wondering how folks had been coming to grips with the allowances contained within the CMS Categorical Waiver on combustible decorations, now that we are in the midst of our third end-of-the-year-holiday-timey-wimey period since the waiver was issued back in March 2012.

I can anecdotally speak to a fair amount of reluctance on the part of safety and facilities folks in running too far with the decoration waivers (or, to be a wee bit more precise, running too far in terms of communicating the changes to frontline staff; to a degree, I share the horror of what might happen, but I also believe that there is a therapeutic value in making the place look festive during the holidays, but I digress).

So has anybody come up with some creative decorating ideas or are you still embracing your inner Scrooge? You know me, I’m always curious about such things…

You may need to reset your compliance calendar

As the trees turn over their colors, it (sometimes) gives me time to go back over stuff we’ve covered out here in the blogosphere, with the intent of trying to capture some things of note that I think are worth mentioning, even if they are not quite “hot off the presses.”

One of the interesting shifts is the subtle redefining of several of the compliance time frames invoked throughout the standards and performance elements. Not all of the definitions changed, but in the interest of full disclosure, I think we should include the lot of them:

  •           Every 36 months/every three years = 36 months from the date of the last event, plus or minus 45 days
  •           Annually/every 12 months/once a year/every year = one year from the date of the last event, plus or minus 30 days
  •           Every six months = six months from the date of the last event, plus or minus 20 days
  •           Quarterly/every quarter = every three months, plus or minus 10 days
  •           Monthly/30-day intervals/every month = 12 times per year, once per month
  •           Every week = once per week

 

A particularly curious impact of this shift is the abandonment of the time-honored “not less than 20 days and not more than 40 days” intervals for emergency power testing activities. Now we have “at least monthly” for those very same activities, which probably means that you may want to consider scheduling your generator tests earlier in the month so if you have to postpone/delay the testing of your generator(s) to work around patient care activities, etc. You don’t want to run out of “month.” It will be interesting to see how this translates into the survey process.

The other thing that I’m “watching” is how that definition of quarterly is going to dovetail with how you would conduct fire drills. Is there going to be yet another “counting” vulnerability? I know the Conditions of Participation indicate that fire drills are to be conducted at “unexpected times under varying conditions,” which somehow seems to fly in the face of an every three months plus or minus 10 days. Maybe that’s a big enough window to keep things unexpected; I guess we’ll see how things unfold.

Sometimes miracles really do happen…BREAKING NEWS!

In what is clearly one of the busiest years for regulatory upheaval in the healthcare safety world (at least in recent memory), CMS has, yet again, turned things on their ear—and to what all appearances seems to be a most positive potential outcome—in its ongoing series of categorical waivers. And this on a topic that has caused a ton of gnashed teeth and much sorrowful wailing: the use of relocatable power taps.

You will recall (it seems no more than minutes ago) that back in June (2014), George Mills, director of The Joint Commission’s Department of Engineering, was tasked with the dubious honor of announcing to the world that, basically, the use of relocatable power taps to power medical equipment in patient care areas was on the no-no list. Since then, many (okay, probably just about everyone to one degree or another) facilities and safety folks have been spending countless hours trying to figure out how to make this happen. So I guess this means that CMS has decided that Mr. Mills doesn’t have to get painted with the “bad guy” brush any longer as they have issued a categorical waiver that provides a fair amount of flexibility for the presence of RPTs in the patient care environment.

Now history has taught us, if nothing else, that that flexibility is going to vary quite a bit depending on your facility and the results of the inevitable risk assessment; but presumably you’ve already started the risk assessment process like good little girls and boys, yes? There is a lot of fairly useful (at least at first blush—we also have learned how useful can become useless in the blink of an eye) information to be had in the memo, which you can find here. If you have not yet had a chance to look this over, I would encourage you to do so before you make any “big” decisions on how you’re going to manage these pesky little items (hopefully, this “relief” is not coming too late to avoid having undo sweeping seizures of power strips, etc.).

Maybe it’s Christmas come a bit early (or maybe we just power-shifted into winter), but I would encourage you to unwrap this present very carefully (some assembly required) and try not to break it on the first day…

No doubt there will be questions, so please use this forum as you wish.

How many plans must a response planner plan before he is called a response planner?

Recently I fielded a question regarding the requirements for organizations to have department-level emergency response plans and what those requirements might represent in terms of specific elements, etc.  I have to admit that my initial reaction was that I really didn’t see much rationale in the creation of detailed department-level response plans;  to be honest, it sounded very much like busy work, but that may just be me. But upon reflection of what is actually required (at least for the moment—still waiting on the Conditions of Participation “version” of emergency response—I’m sure that will result in some interesting conversation), while I can’t make a completely unassailable case for department-level plans (with some exceptions, but those may pivot on an organization versus department assessment), there may be some value in at least looking at the concept (in recognition that there is nothing in the requirements that specifies department-level plans; department level planning is certainly in the mix, but written plans, not so much).

By parsing the response elements to the tried and true Joint Commission model, we’d want to account for communications, management of resources and assets, management of staff roles and responsibilities, management of safety and security, management of utility systems and capacities, and the management of patient care and support activities (is that six elements? Yes!).  My thought is that the critical infrastructure needs would “live” in the organization’s response plan and that most of the department-level plans would be along the lines of “consult with incident command” during a response activation—and isn’t that kind of the purpose of IC anyway?

Which leads me to the question of how much a department-level plan is going to deviate from/bring value to what is already included in the organizational response plan? I’m having a very difficult time convincing myself that what any organization “needs” when it comes to emergency response is yet another layer of plans. For all intents and purposes, the more layers you have underneath the command function, the more intricate the communications lines, etc. and to my way of thinking, intricacy is not necessarily a hallmark of effective emergency response. When I think of the command function/structure, while you certainly want to have some “distance” between the deciders and the doers, I would think that (at least at the organization level) you would want an org chart that is reasonably “flat” (precipitous command structures make me nervous; they just seem to be less flexible in the moment).

So, dear audience, have any of you folks gone down this road of developing department-level response plans (recognizing that there are certain departments, like materials management and food services, that have a role in supporting the entire organization’s response capabilities)? If you have, has it been worth the efforts to do so? Or did you look at it and decide, from a prioritization standpoint, that the value in doing so did not represent a worthwhile investment? Any feedback/discussion would be very much appreciated.

May you live in interesting times…no duh!

Well, now that we are well and truly ensconced in the post-July 2014 world, perhaps things will quiet down a bit on the updated standards front. It’s been a very busy first half of 2014 relative to The Joint Commission’s ongoing alignment with the CMS Conditions of Participation and perhaps they’ll allow the smoke to clear a bit so we can get down to figuring out how much impact the changes to the standards will have in the medical equipment and utility systems management pursuits. Kind of makes you wonder what’s left to update/align, but let’s hold that card for another day.

So, the last salvo in June saw some fairly interesting edits of (to? you be the judge) the medical equipment and utility systems management standards and performance elements (visit here for details). As near as I can tell, the most eventful changes relate to the change of the life support and non-life support equipment categories to a somewhat more expansive (or at least it seems that way to me) categorization of high-risk (which includes life support medical and utility systems equipment) and non-high-risk (which includes pretty much everything else). To be honest, most (probably all, but I don’t want to use too big a blanket for this) of the programs I’ve had the privilege to review/evaluate have moved to the high-medium-low-no risk strategy for assigning preventive maintenance activities and frequencies, so I’m not sure that this will require any fundamental changes to how folks are administering their programs. But (and there’s always, always, always one of those when there is an official change in the standards), I am curious to see how these changes will be applied during accreditation surveys. I expect the life safety surveyors to have a good grasp on the practical impact of the changes, but what about the rest of the survey team as they wander around the corridors of healthcare organizations across the country. It’s not unheard of for standards changes to “drive” an increase in findings in those particular areas as surveyor knowledge expands/contracts/evolves/mutates so it will be interesting to see what types of findings may fall out of the changes.

I guess my best advice at the moment is to do a careful assessment of where your program is relative to the “new” standards, particularly if you have adopted an “alternative equipment maintenance” (AEM) program (this must be that alternative lifestyle I keep hearing about…). I suspect we are all going to need to be prepared to make full use of the post-survey process (especially the clarification process) to demonstrate the “compliance-ness” of our programs. As I tell folks at virtually every stop on my never-ending tour of hospitals, there will always be surveyors that will disagree with programmatic decisions that you’ve made. Your task/responsibility is to have a very clear understanding of how your program meets the intent and the spirit of the standards, regardless of how something might “look” to a surveyor. At the end of the day, it’s about supplying to our customers safe and reliable medical and utility systems equipment—and as long as we can demonstrate that within the confines of the standards –then we have fully honored that obligation. And that, my friends, is what compliance-ness is all about.