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While I hate to do anything to muddy the waters…with paper clips!

Or ear buds…

In the absence of anything particularly controversial on the regulatory front, I tend to go back and cover “old” ground just to see if there are any new resources, altered realities, etc. So, last week I was doing some work that involved helping folks with their ligature risk assessment and was pondering the availability of ligature-resistant fire alarm notification appliances. This pondering led me to my usual primary source for such things, The Design Guide for the Built Behavioral Health Environment (now an offering from the Facilities Guidelines Institute); we’ve discussed the particulars of the Design Guide on any number of occasions, most recently back in late 2016, and hopefully by now everyone has obtained a copy for their e-library. At any rate, I was poking around looking for ligature-resistant fire alarm notification appliances and, lo and behold, I couldn’t find any.

So (as I am wont to do) I headed off to the Googlesphere to see what might be out and about and (in yet another lo and behold moment) found the latest edition of the New York State Office of Mental Health’s Patient Safety Standards, Materials and Systems Guide. As near as I can tell from the webpage, this is the 19th edition of this particular guide, though I will tell you that this is my first encounter and I think it’s pretty spiffy (I’m guessing you folks in the Empire State knew about this and kept it to yourselves…). One of the most interesting elements is that it covers what they recommend (including whether they’ve found the products, etc., to be effective based on the acuity of the setting), but they also list stuff that they have tested and found does not work as advertised (I will admit to being fascinated with the idea that some of these ligature-resistant products can be defeated by strategies as simple as paper clips and/or ear buds—I guess necessity remains the mother of invention). Admittedly, there could be different philosophies in other jurisdictions, but I can really appreciate the thought, analysis, and general effort that went in to this resource and I think the risks/benefits/alternatives are sufficiently clear cut that you could communicate the issues very effectively to those reluctant surveyor types. At any rate, I encourage you (yet again) to add this one to your resource library.

I’ve also learned that as folks work through the various and sundry parameters of the regulatory guidance sets floating around, folks have been considering the management of risks in relatively unsecured (at least in terms of ligature-resistance) common areas (lobbies, stairwells, offices), which (surprise, surprise surprise!) got me to thinking…

I think the appropriate strategy for these other areas needs to start with whatever clinical assessment/determination would need to occur before patients would be able to access unsecured common areas; to my mind, patients that are legitimately at risk of self-harm either need to have services come to them on the secured units or they are sufficiently escorted (sufficiently meaning enough folks to control a situation should it start to get out of hand). By nature, every organization has areas of greater and lesser levels of security, so the “burden of the process” (if you will) is to ensure that patients are not unilaterally exposed to risks greater than their (or, indeed, our) capacity to manage them. While the minimization of physical risk is a safety “function,” ensuring that patients are managed in an appropriate environment is a clinical “function” based on the needs/condition, etc., of the patients. For example, if a patient is clinically “well” enough to have access to the advocate beyond the advocate coming to see them on the unit, then my expectation would be that that determination would be made by the clinical folks, with full knowledge of the involved risks. I think (at least until CMS or someone else provides additional/different interpretations) that going with the stratification used by The Joint Commission, which for all intents and purposes parses out into inpatient psychiatric unit environments, acute care inpatient environments and emergency department environments, should remain the focus of your assessment and risk management activities. After all, the clinical management of the patient must work in concert with efforts to decrease risk in the environment and vice versa—everyone working together is the only thing that’s going to bring us success (which is rather a common strategy…).

Is you is or is you ain’t a required policy?

Yet another mixed bag this week, mostly from the mailbag, but perhaps some other bags will enter into the conversation. We shall see, we shall see.

First up, we have the announcement of a new Joint Commission portal that deals with resources for preventing workplace violence. The portal includes some real-world examples, some of the information coming from hospitals with whom I have done work in the past (both coasts are covered). There is also invocation of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (lots of links this week). I know that everyone out there in the listening audience is working very diligently towards minimizing workplace violence risks and perhaps there’s some information of value to be had. If you should happen to uncover something particularly compelling as you wander over to the Workplace Violence Portal, please share it with the group. Bullying behavior is a real culture disruptor and the more we can share ideas that help to manage all the various disruptors, we’ll definitely be in a better place.

And speaking of a better place, I did want to bring to your attention some findings that have been cropping up during Joint Commission surveys of late. The findings relate to being able to demonstrate that you have documented a risk assessment of the areas in which you manage behavioral health patients; particularly those areas of your ED that are perhaps not as absolutely safe as they might otherwise be, in order to have sufficient flexibility to use those rooms for “other” patients. Unless you have a pretty significant volume of behavioral health patients, it’s probably going to be tough to designate and “safe” rooms to be used for behavioral health patients only, so in all likelihood you’re going to have to deal with some level of risk. I suppose it would be appropriate at this juncture to point out that it is nigh on impossible to provide an absolutely risk-free environment; the reality of the situation is that for the management of individuals intent on hurting themselves, the “safety” of the environment on its own is not enough. Just as with any risk, we work to reduce the risk to the extent possible and work to manage what risks remain. That said, if you have not documented an assessment of the physical environment in the areas in which you manage behavioral health patients, it is probably a worthwhile activity to have in your back pocket. I think an excellent starting point would be to check out the most recent edition of the Design Guide for the Built Environment of Behavioral Health Facilities, which is available from the Facilities Guidelines Institute. There’s a ton of information about products, strategies, etc. for managing this at-risk patient population. And please keep in mind that, as you go through the process, you may very well uncover some risks for which you feel that some level of intervention is indicated (this is not a static patient population—they change, you may need to change your environment to keep pace), in which case it is very important to let the clinical folks know that you’ve identified an opportunity and then brainstorm with them to determine how to manage the identified risk(s) until such time as corrective measures can be taken. Staff being able to speak to the proactive management of identified risks is a very powerful strategy for keeping everybody safe. So please keep that in mind, particularly if you haven’t formally looked at this in a bit.

As a closing thought for the week, I know there are a number of folks (could be lots) who purchased those customizable EOC manuals back in the day and ever since have been managing like a billion policies, which, quite frankly, tends to be an enormous pain in the posterior. I’m not entirely certain where all these policies came from, but I can tell you that the list of policies that you are required to have is actually fairly limited:

  • Hazard Communications Plan (OSHA)
  • Bloodborne Pathogens Exposure Control Plan (OSHA)
  • Respiratory Protection Program (OSHA)
  • Emergency Operations Plan (CMS & Accreditation Organizations)
  • Interim Life Safety Measures Policy (CMS & Accreditation Organizations)
  • Radiation Protection Program (State)
  • Safety Management Plan (Accreditation Organizations)
  • Security Management Plan (Accreditation Organizations)
  • Hazardous Materials & Waste Management Plan (Accreditation Organizations)
  • Fire Safety Management Plan (Accreditation Organizations)
  • Medical Equipment Management Plan (Accreditation Organizations)
  • Utility Systems Management Plan (Accreditation Organizations)
  • Security Incident Procedure (Accreditation Organizations)
  • Smoking Policy (Accreditation Organizations)
  • Utility Disruption Response Procedure (Accreditation Organizations)

Now I will freely admit that I kind of stretched things a little bit (you could, for example, make the case that CMS does not specifically require an ILSM policy; you could also make the case that it is past time for the management plans to go the way of <insert defunct thing here> at the very least leaving it up to the individual organizations to determine how useful the management plans might be in real life…). At any rate, there is no requirement to have any policies, etc., beyond the list here (unless, of course, I have left one out). So, no policy for changing a light bulb (regardless of whether it wants to change) or policy for writing policies. You’ll want to have guidelines and procedures, but please don’t fall into the policy “trap”: Keep it simple, smarty!