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Shine on you crazy fire response plan!

On the things I’ve been doing over the past couple of weeks has been reading through the EC/LS/EM standards and performance elements to see what little pesky items may have shown up since the last time I did a really thorough review. My primary intent is to see if I can find any “Easter eggs” that might provide fodder for findings because of a combination of specificity and curiosity. At any rate, while looking through the fire safety portion of the manual, I noticed a performance element that speaks to the availability of a written copy of your fire response plan. That makes sense to me; you can never completely rely on electronic access (it is very reliable, but a hard-copy backup seems reasonable). The odd component of the performance element is the specificity of the location for the fire response plan to be available—“readily available with the telephone operator or security.”

Now, I know that most folks can pull off that combo as an either/or, but there are smaller, rural facilities that may not have that capacity (I think my personal backup would be the nursing supervisor), so it makes me wonder what the survey risks are for those folks who don’t have 24/7 switchboard or security coverage. At the end of the day, I would think that you could do a risk assessment (what, another one!?!?!?) and pass it through your EC Committee (that kind of makes the Committee sound like some sort of sieve or colander) and then if the topic comes up during survey, you can push back if you happen to encounter a literalist surveyor (insert comment about the likelihood of that occurring). As there is no specific requirement to have 24/7 telephone operator or security presence (is it useful from an operational standpoint to do so, absolutely—but nowhere is it specifically required), I think that this should be an effective means of ensuring you stay out of the hot waters of survey. For me, “readily available” is the important piece of this, not so much how you make it happen.

At any rate, this may be much ado about nothing (a concept of which I am no stranger), but it was just one of those curious requirements that struck me enough to blather on for a bit.

As a closing note, a quick shout-out to the folks in the areas hit by various and sundry weather-related emergencies the past little while. I hope that things are moving quickly back to normal and kudos for keeping things going during very trying times. Over the years, I’ve worked with a number of folks down in that area and I have always been impressed with the level of preparedness. I would wish that you didn’t have to be tested so dramatically, but I am confident that you all (or all y’all, as the case may be) were able to weather the weather in appropriate fashion.

No one told you when to run: Closing out one year, embarking on another…

Every once in a while, I like to poke back through recent missives from our friends in Chicago and elsewhere to see if there was anything that I missed on first review or something that didn’t really “pop” out at me at the time. And, somewhat typically, the really pressing hard news stories are in rather shorter supply as we get closer to year’s end. Truth be told, the whole ligature picture has really held sway in recent weeks, almost to the exclusion of everything else.

At any rate, in looking at the most recent (I think) slate of pre-publication standards, I noticed a couple of “new” requirements that gave me a little bit of pause. Due to some editorial constraints, I won’t identify the standards and EP numbers, but I will try to give you a sense of where there “live”: they are identified as “new” on the webpage, so that may be enough for you to find them (you’re a pretty smaht bunch and I have every confidence in your detective-ing abilities). This week we’ll cover the Environment of Care changes and hit the Life Safety changes next week (where did the year go!?!):

 

  • The hospital has a library of information regarding inspection, testing, and maintenance of its equipment and systems. Note: This library includes manuals, procedures provided by manufacturers, technical bulletins, and other information. (Safety Management)
  • Management of smoking materials for patients receiving respiratory therapy. (Smoking Policy)
  • Periodic evaluations of fire hazards during surgical procedures (don’t forget to define that period!) (Fire Safety Management)
  • Process for reducing risks when flammable germicides or antiseptics are using during “hot” surgical procedures (electrosurgery, cautery, lasers) (Fire Safety Management)
  • The hospital meets all other Health Care Facilities Code fire protection requirements, as related to NFPA 99-2012: Chapter 15. (Fire Safety Management)
  • Elevators with firefighters’ emergency operations are tested monthly. The test completion dates and results are documented. (Inspection, Testing & Maintenance of Life Safety Systems equipment)
  • Hyperbaric facility safety, including labeling of equipment used in oxygen-enriched atmospheres (we covered this a couple of weeks ago, with a couple of folks weighing in with questions on how far to go with Chapter 14 of NFPA 99; if the past is any indicator of the future, I would be moving towards adoption of the whole thing and probably start to extend the labeling of equipment out to all oxygen equipment—this is where they start digging into this—we know the targets will move over the next survey years, so better to be ahead of the game than behind). (Medical Equipment Inspection, Testing & Maintenance)
  • Inspection, testing, and maintenance of anesthesia apparatus, including gas flow and oxygen concentration verification; no oil, grease or flammables for oxygen equipment. (Medical Equipment Inspection, Testing & Maintenance)
  • ORs are wet locations unless you have a risk assessment that says otherwise and has been approved by the governing body (it appears that risk assessments done in “isolation” will no longer meet the mark—organizational leadership has to be involved in the process. Written record of the risk assessment is available for survey review. We covered this before.  (Utility Systems Management)
  • Risk level identification of electrical distribution; we did this one before as well.  (Utility Systems Management)
  • Hospital-grade receptacles at patient bed locations and where deep sedation or general anesthesia is administered are tested after initial installation, replacement, or servicing. In pediatric locations, receptacles in patient rooms (other than nurseries), bathrooms, play rooms, and activity rooms are listed tamper-resistant or have a listed cover. Electrical receptacles or cover plates supplied from the life safety and critical branches have a distinctive color or marking.  Keep an eye on those pediatric locations, particularly areas that can “swing” – tamper-resistant receptacles could well become a moderate risk of harm during survey. (Utility Systems Management)
  • Power strips must be appropriately listed for use in patient care vicinity, patient care rooms, etc. Focus on this has already started, so you better start working with your IT folks to make sure everything is going in the right direction. (Utility Systems Management)
  • Extension cords are not used as a substitute for fixed wiring in a building. Extension cords used temporarily are removed immediately upon completion of the purpose for which it was intended. I predict that this is going to keep this standard at the top of the most frequently cited standards list. (Utility Systems Management)
  • Areas designated for administration of general anesthesia using medical gases or vacuum are in accordance with NFPA 101-2012 and NFPA 99-2012 (Utility Systems Management)
  • Electrical system critical branch supplies power for specific needs (task illumination, fixed equipment, select receptacles, and select power circuits) in areas designated for administration of general anesthesia (specifically, inhaled anesthetics) using medical gases or vacuum. The EES equipment system supplies power to the ventilation system. (Utility Systems Management)
  • New buildings equipped with or requiring the use of life support systems (electro-mechanical or inhalation anesthetics) have illumination of means of egress, emergency lighting equipment, exit, and directional signs supplied by the life safety branch of the electrical system described in NFPA 99. (Utility Systems – Emergency Electrical Power Source)
  • Equipment designated to be powered by emergency power supply are energized by the hospital’s design. Staging of equipment startup is permissible. (Utility Systems – Emergency Electrical Power Source)
  • For deemed status hospitals, battery lamps and flashlights are available in areas not serviced by the emergency supply source. (Utility Systems – Emergency Electrical Power Source)
  • Line isolation monitors are tested in accordance with NFPA 99-2012. (Utility Systems Inspection, Testing & Maintenance)
  • Risk level identification of medical gas, medical air, surgical vacuum, waste anesthetic gas disposal (WAGD), and air supply systems. (Inspection, testing & maintenance of medical gas system components)
  • All master, area, and local alarm systems used for medical gas and vacuum systems comply with the category 1–3 warning system requirements. (Inspection, testing & maintenance of medical gas system components)
  • Containers, cylinders, and tanks are designed, fabricated, tested, and marked in accordance with NFPA 99-2012. (Inspection, testing & maintenance of medical gas system components)
  • Locations containing only oxygen or medical air have doors labeled “Medical Gases: NO Smoking or Open Flame.” Locations containing other gases have doors labeled “Positive Pressure Gases: NO Smoking or Open Flame. Room May Have Insufficient Oxygen. Open Door and Allow Room to Ventilate Before Opening.” (Inspection, testing & maintenance of medical gas system components)
  • A precautionary sign readable from 5 feet away is on each door or gate of a cylinder storage room, where the sign, at a minimum, includes the wording “CAUTION: OXIDIZING GAS(ES) STORED WITHIN NO SMOKING.” Storage is planned so cylinders are used in order of which they are received from the supplier. Only gas cylinders and reusable shipping containers and their accessories are permitted to be stored in rooms containing central supply systems or gas cylinders. (Inspection, testing & maintenance of medical gas system components)
  • More cylinder storage stuff (I suspect you know the drill)—NFPA 99-2012 has a great deal of detailed requirements—and I have no reason to think that they won’t be kicking the tires pretty diligently. (Inspection, testing & maintenance of medical gas system components)
  • Also, transfilling of liquid oxygen is a process with very, very specific requirements; if you’re not transfilling liquid oxygen in your facility, you could count yourself fortunate, but be on the lookout for any evidence of liquid oxygen being transferred inside your “house”; NFPA 99-2012 is your guide. (Inspection, testing & maintenance of medical gas system components)
  • Staff responsible for the maintenance, inspection, testing, and use of medical equipment, utility systems and equipment, fire safety systems and equipment, and safe handling of hazardous materials and waste are competent and receive continuing education and training. (Staff Competency & Education)

I know this is a lot of stuff to consider, but I wanted to put it out in front of you folks on the off chance that your bedtime reading hasn’t strayed into the realm of the 2018 standards changes. I have every reason to think that some of this stuff will show up again in this space (and what a space!), but if someone wants to start a particular conversation before we kick off (kick at?) 2018, please feel free.

Do you know the way to TIA?

Last week we touched upon the official adoption of a handful of the Tentative Interim Agreements (TIA) issued through NFPA as a function of the ongoing evolution of the 2012 edition of the Life Safety Code® (LSC). At this point, it is really difficult to figure out what is going to be important relative to compliance survey activities and what is not, so I think a brief description of each makes (almost too much) sense. So, in no particular order (other than numerical…):

  • TIA #1 basically updates the table that provides the specifications for the Minimum Fire Protection Ratings for Opening Protectives in Fire Resistance-Rated Assemblies and Fire-Rated Glazing Markings (you can find the TIA here). I think it’s worth studying up on the specific elements—and perhaps worth sharing with the folks “managing” your life safety drawings if you’ve contracted with somebody external to the organization. I can tell you from personal experience that architects are sometimes not as familiar with the intricacies of the LSC—particularly the stuff that can cause heartburn during surveys. I think we can reasonably anticipate a little more attention being paid to the opening protectives and the like (what, you thought it couldn’t get any worse?), and I suspect that this is going to be valuable information to have in your pocket.
  • TIA #2 mostly covers cooking facilities that are open to the corridor; there are a lot of interesting elements and I think a lot of you will have every reason to be thankful that this doesn’t apply to staff break rooms and lounges, though it could potentially be a source of angst around the holidays, depending on where folks are preparing food. If you get a literalist surveyor, those pesky slow cookers, portable grills, and other buffet equipment could become a point of contention unless they are in a space off the corridor. You can find the whole chapter and verse here.
  • Finally, TIA #4 (there are other TIAs for the 2012 LSC, but these are the three specific to healthcare) appears to provide a little bit of flexibility relative to special locking arrangements based on protective safety measures for patients as a function of protection throughout the building by an approved, supervised automatic sprinkler system in accordance with 19.3.5.7. Originally, this section of the LSC referenced 19.3.5.1 which doesn’t provide much in the way of consideration for those instances (in Type I and Type II construction) where an AHJ has prohibited sprinklers. In that case, approved alternative protection measures shall be permitted to be substituted for sprinkler protection in specified areas without causing a building to be classified as non-sprinklered. You can find the details of the TIA here.

 

I suppose before I move on, I should note that you’re probably going to want to dig out your copy of the 2012 LSC when looking these over.

As a quick wrap-up, last week The Joint Commission issued Sentinel Event Alert #57 regarding the essential role of leadership in developing a safety culture (some initial info can be found here). While I would be the last person to accuse anyone of belaboring the obvious (being a virtual Rhodes Scholar in that type of endeavor myself), I cannot help but think that this might not be quite as earth-shattering an issuance as might be supposed by the folks in Chicago. At the very least, I guess this represents at least one more opportunity to drag organizational leadership into the safety fray. So, my question for you today (and I suspect I will have more to say on this subject over the next little while—especially as we start to see this issue monitored/validated during survey) is what steps has your organization taken to reduce intimidation and punitive aspects of the culture. I’m reasonably certain that everyone is working on this to one degree or another, but I am curious as to what type of stuff is being experienced in the field. Again, more to come, I’m sure…

My heart is black and my lips are cold

Crash carts on flame with rock and roll!

I figured I’d start out the newly minted 2017 with a few brief items of interest: a device warning from FDA, some thoughts regarding post-Joint Commission survey activities, and a free webinar that some of you might find of interest.

On December 27, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) communicated a warning letter to healthcare providers regarding potential safety issues with the use of battery-powered mobile medical carts. The warning is based on FDA’s awareness of reports of “explosion, fires, smoking, or overheating of equipment that required hospital evacuations associated with the batteries in these carts.” Apparently, the culprits are those carts powered by high-capacity lithium and/or lead acid batteries and it also appears that there is a distinct possibility that you might just a few of these rolling around in your facility. Fortunately, the warning (you can see the details here) also contains some recommendations for how to manage these risks as a function of the preventive maintenance (PM) process for the battery-powered mobile medical carts; as well as recommendations for what to do in the event a fire occurs (might be a good time to think about testing your organization’s fire response plan as a function of response to a Class C electrical fire). The warning letter also contains some general recommendations for managing the mobile medical carts. So, if you were wondering whether you were going to have anything interesting to put on the next EOC Committee agenda, this one might just fit the bill. As a final thought on this, I think it very likely that our comrades in the regulatory surveying world might be interested in how we are managing the risks associated with these carts—and if you’re thinking risk assessment, I couldn’t agree more!

Moving on to the post-survey activity front, TJC division, for those about to be surveyed (I salute you!), I have some thoughts/advice for preparing yourselves for a slight, but nevertheless potentially dramatic, shift in what you will need to provide in your Evidence of Standards Compliance—a plan for ongoing compliance. Now I will admit that in some instances, being able to plot a course for future compliance makes a lot of sense; for example, managing pressure relationships in procedural areas. If you get tagged for that during a survey, I think it’s more than appropriate for them to want to know how you’re going to keep an eye on things in the future. But what about the million and one little things that could come up during a survey (and with the elimination of the C elements of performance, I think we all know that it’s going to seem like a million and one findings): doors that don’t latch, barrier penetrations, dusty sprinkler heads, etc. There already exist processes to facilitate compliance; are we going to be allowed to continue to use surveillance rounds as the primary compliance tool or is the survey process going to “push” something even more invasive? It is my sincere hope that this is not going to devolve into a situation in which past sins are held in escrow against future survey results—with compounding (and likely confounding) interest. Sometimes things happen, despite the existence/design/etc. of a reasonably effective process. As I’ve said before (probably too many times), there are no perfect buildings, just as there are no perfect plans. Hopefully perfection will not become the expectation of the process…

As a final note for this week, one of the bubbling under topics that I think might gain some traction the new year is the management of water systems and the potential influence of ASHRAE 188: Legionellosis: Risk Management for Building Water Systems. I know we’ve touched on this occasionally in the past and I think I’ve shared with you the information made available by our good friend at the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (check it out, if you haven’t yet done so), but in the interest of providing you with some access to a little more expertise than I’m likely to muster on the topic, there is a free webinar on January 19 that might be worth your time. In the live online event, “Following ASHRAE 188 with Limited Time, Money, and Personnel: Pressure for Building Operators and Health Officials,” respected expert Matt Freije will briefly discuss the pressure facing building operators as well as health officials regarding compliance with ASHRAE 188 to minimize Legionella risk, suggest possible ways to reduce the pressure, and then open the conversation to the audience. The 60-minute webcast begins at 1 p.m. EST. It’s free but space is limited; you can register here.

So that’s the scoop for this week. I hope the new year is treating you well. See you next week!

A most excellent start…

Recently, the AORN Journal published an editorial penned by Kelly Putnam, the managing editor, highlighting the role nurses play in preventing surgical fires (see here for detail). The piece raises a lot of interesting points about some of the operational considerations that come into play when it comes to appropriately managing fire risks in the surgical environment. But what really caught my eye—and my imagination—was the conclusion, which goes a little something like this: “Perioperative nurses are integral to a team approach to fire safety. Nurses are responsible for performing preoperative risk assessments and informing other team members of the risks associated with each procedure, identifying potential fire hazards, helping to find system fixes that improve patient safety, and conveying the details of fire-related incidents to other stakeholders at the institution.”

Now those of you who’ve been following this space for a while will no doubt note the presence of one of my favorite (okay, pretty much #1 on the hit list) phrases: risk assessment. And not only does the risk assessment get a shout out, it’s within the framework of a team approach to managing fire safety in surgery. As I pondered this, I was thinking, wouldn’t it be cool if we could use this as a jumping off point for nursing involvement in a team approach to risk assessment that focuses on the management of the whole darn care environment? I’ve been yammering at just about every opportunity my “sense” that one of the desired end products of the current focus on the care environment by regulatory surveyors is the demolition of the “barrier” that exists (in smaller doses than formerly, to be sure, but not entirely gone) between the “clinical” and “non-clinical” functions of any healthcare organization. It is my firm belief that the organizations that will most effectively manage the survey process are those organizations that have developed a true collaboration of staff across the care continuum. In a very real sense, everyone in your organization is taking care of patients—directly or indirectly, everyone influences the “patient experience.” And at the end of the day (and yes, I recognize that the Urban Dictionary refers to that little turn of phrase as a “rubbish phrase used by many annoying people…”): CARING FOR THE PATIENT IS CARING FOR THE ENVIRONMENT!

Start printing up the t-shirts and bumper stickers…

Smoking is smoking is smoking is smoking

In the February 11, 2015 issue of Joint Commission Online, there’s an interesting piece recommending organizations review their smoking policies to ensure that the risks associated with electronic cigarettes are being properly managed. The primary risk identified in the article relates to the potential for fire events, including issues with rechargeable batteries, though it does touch on potential issues with the vapor/smoke generated by the devices (and I can tell you from a close-up encounter with the vapor cloud during a hospital visit, the smell is kind of noxious) and the importance of environmental separation (ventilation, etc.). As a final inclusion, the article reasserts (so to speak) that Joint Commission standards do not require hospitals to be smoke-free (allowing provisions for smoking in specific circumstances), so those of you who have gone that route (and may be experiencing a bit of a struggle—particularly if your community is not quite ready to embrace the smoke-free environment) may be interested in the brochure provided by The Joint Commission (you can find the brochure here). It certainly can’t hurt to check it out; and adopting it as a reference in your policy might be enough to dodge a finding during survey. I mean, come on, it’s all about best practices, n’est-ce pas?

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…

And who drills the drillers?

Another email question asked whether there were any specific Joint Commission education requirements for the folks who conduct quarterly fire drills. The short answer to that question is no, TJC does not require any specific education for the folks conducting the fire drills. But you know that I rarely rest upon the short answer, so I would certainly think that from a practical standpoint, it might not be a bad idea to have a little education package gathered together for that purpose. Ultimately, there is a responsibility to ensure that folks are competent in whatever they’re doing and you would certainly want to make sure that any folks assessing the competencies of others (which is nominally what you’re doing when you conduct fire drills) are themselves competent in that process. Again, not a bad idea to have something, but it’s not specifically required. I would suggest including some accounting of the process in your Fire Safety Management annual evaluation. Is anybody else working on this type of thing? I suppose there are lots of points in which staff interactions are evaluated for compliance—how do you make sure the folks doing the oversight have got the goods? I, for one, would be interested to hear any stories about this.

Documentary evidence: More you need to know…

Another perpetually sticky wicket in the survey process (and we’ve discussed this, oh, once or twice before) is the timeliness of documentation from maintenance and testing vendors and the expectations of how that process has to be managed. During an ASHE-sponsored webinar last fall, George Mills posited the scenario in which there is a delay (delay times can vary, but you probably have a pretty good idea of how long you have to wait for reports to come back from your vendors) in receiving a report for fire alarm testing in which a handful of devices failed during routine testing. If you don’t receive the failure information immediately upon its identification by the vendor, what you are saying, in effect, is that it’s okay for me not to “know” (there’s that word again) how reliable my fire alarm system is for a month while I’m waiting for the report. If any of you think that it is indeed “okay” not to know might want to think about another line of work. From an empirical standpoint, a failed fire alarm device puts the building occupants (patients, staff—you know, those folks) at a greater risk, which is never, never, never a good idea. And what if you don’t get the report for six weeks, the failed devices haven’t been replaced, and now you’re looking at the possibility for having to manage the deficiency with a PFI, ILSM assessment—the whole magillah. Truthfully, you have better things to do with your time.

Mr. Mills’ suggestion (and I think it’s a good one, having made the suggestion at least once or twice in the past) is to ensure (either contractually or otherwise) that any deficiencies identified are in your possession before they “complete” their work. You can set it up so they let you know at the end of each testing day (that would be my preference) or at the end of the engagement. But you have got to have that information in your possession as soon as it can be made available to you. The occupants of your building depend on each and every element of your systems—fire alarm, fire extinguishment, medical gas and vacuum, emergency power—you know that list by heart and it’s your responsibility that they are managed appropriately.

PFI – Pretty Freaking Important – you’d better believe it!

I’m reasonably certain that we’ve dealt with this before, but there’s been a wee bit of a bump in survey findings relative to the practical assessment of PFI’s as a function of Interim Life Safety Measures.

It’s really quite simple, when you come right down to it. The Joint Commission standards require us to assess for Interim Life Safety Measures, based on the criteria in our policy, any Life Safety Code® (LSC) deficiencies that cannot be immediately corrected (BTW – it’s a good idea to define immediately in your policy – the standard holds no specific definition, so it’s a bit of self-determination – but don’t go crazy trying to define immediately as something much more than the end of the shift/end of the day). Okay, that’s a pretty solid LSC deficiency that we can’t fix right away.

So, the next question in this little chain is this – what is the defining characteristic of a PFI? Why, it’s a Life Safety Code deficiency that is going to take some time to resolve (something very much less than immediately)! So, as a simple quid pro quo arrangement (or equation, if you like), we have:

PFI = ILSM Assessment

Where you have the first, you must also have the second, otherwise you could find yourself staring down the barrel of a Situational Decision and potential Joint Commission re-survey. Is there anyone in the studio and broadcast audience that has any desire to endure that fate?

I didn’t think so – so, make sure you have ILSM assessments for each of your PFI’s and you will avoid this particular world of hurt. You should go check right now…