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Devilish details and the whirling dervishes of compliance

In the absence of any new content on The Joint Commission’s Physical Environment Portal (the PEP ain’t none too peppy of late), I guess we’re going to have to return to our old standby for the latest and greatest coming out of Chicago: Perspectives! The August Perspectives has a fair amount of content pertinent to our little circle, so it probably makes too much sense to cover those key items and announcements.

The front page headline (as it should be) relates the ongoing tale of the dearly departing PFI process (which, I suppose, kind of makes this something of an obituary). Effective August 1, 2016, open PFI items will no longer be reviewed by the survey team nor will they be included in the Final Report generated by the survey. All Life Safety chapter deficiencies will become Requirements for Improvement (RFI) with a 60-day submittal window for your Evidence of Standards Compliance (and remember, one of the other TJC practices that departed this year was the “C” performance elements, so all of those pesky Opportunities for Improvement (OFI) at the end of your past survey reports will now become RFIs). Also, only equivalency requests related to survey events will be reviewed. More on that part of the big picture in a moment.

Also in the August Perspectives comes the official print announcement that the requirements of the 2012 Life Safety Code® will not be surveyed until November 1, 2016 (which should make for a very interesting few months in survey land for those of you moving towards the “closing” of your survey window), giving everyone on the regulatory compliance team a chance to complete the online education program, and give CMS time to update the survey forms and K-Tags. Apparently, the self-directed education program takes about 20 hours to complete (you can see the entire CMS memorandum here). The education program includes a pre- and post-test, and requires a passing score of 85%. I’m kind of curious about the format (I’m thinking perhaps the classic multiple choice format) and even more curious about whether they would ever make such a thing available to safety and facilities professionals. Presumably this means that whoever comes to your door on Tuesday, November 1 to survey your building will have passed the test. Would it be rude to ask them how they fared?

Next we turn to the “Clarifications and Expectations” column which, for all intents and purposes, is something of a recap of the PFI stuff, with the additional indication that TJC will no longer offer extensions and the automatic six-month grace period is no longer available. Ostensibly, this means that those of you with open PFIs had probably better start cleaning things up. I’m still waiting to see something (anything?) on the subject of the inaccessible fire and smoke dampers; I think I’ve mentioned previously of instances in which CMS has forced the issue of correcting the dampers, but I can’t help but think that that could be a very big pain in the posterior for some folks. I’d like to think that if these were simple to fix, they would already have been corrected (we wouldn’t take advantage of the process, would we?) so this could create a fairly burdensome situation for folks.

For those archivists among you, there is some interesting background on the 60-day time limit. Section §488.28(d) of the Code of Federal Regulations states: “Ordinarily a provider or supplier is expected to take the steps needed to achieve compliance within 60 days of being notified of the deficiencies, but the State survey agency may recommend that additional time be granted by the Secretary in individual situations, if in its judgment, it is not reasonable to expect compliance within 60 days, for example, a facility must obtain the approval of its governing body, or engage in competitive bidding.” Now that does provide a little sense of what will “fly” if one is forced to ask for a time-limited waiver (TLW—another acronym for the alphabet soup of compliance), but it’s tough to say whether any flexibility extends beyond those elements (who would ever have thought that competitive bidding might be helpful!).

Anyway, one thing relating to the SOC/PFI maelstrom (at least tangentially—and not mentioned in the August Perspectives) is the question of whether or not the presentation of the categorical waivers at the beginning of the survey process is still required. Certainly, the effective adoption date of the 2012 LSC (July 5, 2016) might potentially be the tipping point for informing the survey team of any categorical waivers your organization might have adopted, but I think the most appropriate cutoff date (if you will) for this practice would be on November 1, 2016 when CMS (and its minions) are charged with surveying to the requirements of the 2012 LSC. My overarching thought in this regard is that presenting the waivers to the survey team at the start of the survey certainly doesn’t hurt you and since the 2000 edition of the LSC is still the primary survey reference, it seems most appropriate to continue highlighting the waivers for the time being.

Back to Perspectives: One final EC-related item, for those of you with memory care units, there is specific coverage of the expectations under EC.02.06.01 relative to patient stimulation (or overstimulation), outdoor spaces for patients and residents with dementia, and other environmental elements. While these requirements apply to the Memory Care Certification chapter of the Nursing Care Center manual, again, if you happen to have a memory care unit within your span of control, you might find these expectations/performance elements useful in managing the environment. Even when not required, sometimes there are elements worth considering. After all, improving the patient experience as a function of the physical environment is one of our most important charges.

This week in hell: What about the damn dampers?

We are certainly in the (very) early stages of the departure of The Joint Commission’s Plans for Improvement (PFI) process from our midst (Is it possible for a process to have abandonment issues? I suspect we’re going to be feeling something like it for quite some time to come.) and there continues to be much to chew on. This week, I’m going to break it down into a couple of chunks that will hopefully allow us to more easily digest this big mouthful of unpleasantness, but first, a rant (ooooh, big surprise):


  • I honestly don’t have a dog in this particular fight beyond my position as an observer of accreditation and regulatory compliance activities in healthcare, but I continue to “bump” up against the practice of TJC revealing substantive (and substantial) changes in forums that are not completely accessible to everyone with a dog in the fight. I don’t know about you, but my boss is generally inclined for me to be busy doing productive work, so I don’t oft (okay, never) get to the annual ASHE conference (and yes, I recognize the educational value, etc., of such gatherings, but, as you all probably know pretty well, that can be a very tough sell). Consequently, I (and perhaps a whole bunch of “yous” out there in the audience) was not present when the discontinuation of the PFI process was announced. I don’t know if there was a Q&A that followed the announcement, so I have no idea if questions were asked and answered, asked and deferred, asked and not answered, etc. I suspect if we all had known what was coming down the pike this year, between adoption of the 2012 Life Safety Code® (LSC) and PFI getting kicked to the curb, we might all have made a little bit of an extra effort to get to ASHE (well, perhaps you would have—I was having way too much fun tripping around Texas). At any rate, at the very least, I would love to see a transcript of the presentation as well as any Q’s and A’s that might have occurred. As an alternative thought, I also believe that something this monumentally important is deserving of a free webinar from TJC that includes a live Q&A (or if not a live Q&A, answers to pre-submitted questions would be okay)—this has the potential to be enormously painful for facilities and safety folks over the next little while (the optimist in me says “little while,” my fear is fairly long while) and, as customers, I think those same facilities and safety folks deserve a little time with the powers that be.
  • So what do we do with the damn dampers? As near as I can tell (with absolutely no empirical data beyond the number of questions I’ve received on the topic), there are a fair number of folks who have taken advantage of the PFI process for managing inaccessible dampers. When the PFI process goes away, does this mean all those dampers have to be brought in to compliance within the 60-day window? I am truly hoping that something specific to this issue is forthcoming before folks start tying up all the mechanical contractors in the US. Perhaps there’s a categorical waiver in the future for this piece of business—I think that would be a nice surprise. One thing I can tell you is that I know of at least one hospital that CMS required to clean up the damper issues identified on the PFI, so I have no reason to think that leniency will be the order of the day.
  • For those of you that reflect the PFI process in either your management plans or your ILSM plans/policies, you should probably pull those out and update the process as a function of no PFI process (I’m still not quite over the initial shock of that). Certainly for many, many years, a fundamental part of the standards-based requirements relative to ILSM was the management of LSC deficiencies that could not be immediately corrected (or corrected immediately, depending on your perspective), which brings us squarely into the realm of the PFI process. At any rate, make sure you make a quick of any policies/processes (hey, maybe even in your work order system) to make sure that you expunge all evidence of the PFI process.
  • As to the discontinuation of the Basic Building Information component of the Statement of Conditions, one of the things that’s “driven” by the information contained therein is the number of survey days, based on the square footage of healthcare occupancies in your facility. I don’t believe that the square footage question is asked during the organizational application process (might be worth checking with the individual in your organization charged with filing the application to verify what may or may not be in the mix), which makes me wonder how they will make the determination if folks don’t update the eBBI information. I suppose they have a basic starting point now, so it probably won’t change that much, but I also think of the SOC as a great means of communicating certain information to the surveyors—existing waivers/equivalencies (which makes me wonder: are we looking at a day when all the existing waivers/equivalencies granted by TJC go away or at least have to be resubmitted to CMS?), locations and square footage of suites, level of sprinkler coverage, and other unique aspects of the building can all be memorialized in the comment section of the SOC. But if the surveyors aren’t going to look at the SOC any more, do we print out the information and provide it to them directly or does this become one more potential sticking point during a survey? I guess a lot of the same information can be included on the life safety drawings, but I know a lot of folks don’t have the wherewithal to manage the drawings themselves so they use an architect or fire protection engineer for updates, etc.


All that said, I guess we’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed that some level of sanity is restored to the process, but given the state of the world, I don’t think I’m going to be holding my breath while I wait.