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Walls and Bridges: Managing construction projects large and small

As you might guess, part of my approach when I’m doing onsite client work is to review the process for managing construction projects, inclusive of the risk assessment process (infection control, life safety). To my mind, there is no more risky business in the physical environment (the management of ligature risks notwithstanding) than undertaking construction or renovation projects, particularly when those projects are in spaces adjacent to occupied patient care (or indeed, any occupied) areas. And with the adoption of the 2012 Life Safety Code® (LSC) and the growing invocation of Chapter 43 Building Rehabilitation, it would seem that the tip of the regulatory spear is getting sharper by the moment.

One of the things that I encounter with some regularity is a fundamental flaw in how the risk assessment actually captures/identifies the risks to be managed as a function of what strategies are to be implemented to eliminate/mitigate the impact of those risks. For example, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen assessments of a project that is going to include construction barrier walls in a corridor for which the assessment indicates no impact on egress. Now, you can certainly indicate that, based on the implementation of X, Y, and Z, you have mitigated the impact on egress, but to indicate in the assessment that there was no impact on egress from a barrier wall that has encroached on the corridor, is inaccurate at best—and possibly could draw the ire of a literalist surveyor. As I like to tell folks when I encounter this: You don’t get credit for doing the math in your head; the assessment should indicate that there was an impact, but the impact was mitigated by the implementation of ILSM(s).

Similarly, if you remove the suspended ceiling in a project area, you have impaired the smoke detection/sprinkler protection in the area. Now it may be that the impairment is sufficiently minor in nature to not require implementation of ILSMs, based on your policy, but you still have to indicate that such is the case. You can’t say there was no impact or impairment, because the condition you have represents an impairment and so, there’s got to be some level of impact.

I think perhaps the way to look at this is much in the vain of our emergency management Hazard Vulnerability Analysis (HVA) process. There is no harm/no foul in identifying risks for which you would need to be prepared (you could make the case that there are few things as disruptive to an organization as a construction project) as long as you have a strategy for managing those risks. So, if you carry over the philosophy to construction/renovation, it makes it “easier” to frame the assessment as a proactive management of risks rather than trying to figure out how to do as little as possible (and I do see pre-construction risk assessments that seem to be aimed at a de minimis implementation strategy). But using the HVA algorithm (likelihood, impact, preparedness, response) you might find that your “packaging” is a little tidier than it was previously.

As a final note on this subject, I really think you need to get in the habit (if the habit has not already formed) of posting infection control permits, ILSM permits, etc., outside of construction/renovation areas so it is clear what the expected conditions and/or practices might be. You can’t be looking over the shoulder of the contractors every minute, so it helps to have some eyes in the field (with a reasonable knowledge base) keeping watch. There is definitely an expectation of regulatory surveyors that these will be posted in conspicuous locations (yeah, I know there’s no rule that says you have to, so chalk this up to a best practice invocation), so better to have visible postings.

Please let me close things out with best wishes for a joyous and restful (Can you combine those two? I think you can!) Thanksgiving to you and your families. 2018 whipped along at a pretty good clip and I suspect that the holidays will launch us into 2019 before too long, so take a few deep breaths and enjoy the day.

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.

Conflagrations of unknown origin: Surgical fire prevention trends

Well, it appears that there remain opportunities for providing a fire-safe experience for surgical patients, at least based on the latest missive from the FDA. The safety communication (released at the end of May 2018) indicates that reports continue to be received by FDA of preventable surgical fires. I can’t think of too many circumstances—OK, none—in which a surgical fire could legitimately be considered unpreventable, though I have no doubt that you all have tales to tell of clinicians who feel that everything was done correctly and there was still a fire. I’d be interested in hearing some of those.

At any rate, the communication indicates several component strategies for appropriately managing the risk(s) associated with surgical fires—and if you guessed that a risk assessment figures into that equation, it may be that we have covered this ground before. So:

  • A fire risk assessment at the beginning of each surgical procedure
  • Encourage communication among surgical team members
  • Safe use and administration of oxidizers
  • Safe use of any devices that may serve as an ignition source
  • Safe use of surgical suite items that may serve as a fuel source
  • Plan and practice how to manage a surgical fire

I don’t think there’s anything that is particularly revelatory—these are by no means new expectations (for us or by us). It does appear that the FDA is going to be leaning on the various accreditation organizations (TJC, DNV, HFAP, CIHQ, AAAHC, etc., though TJC is the only organization specifically mentioned—aren’t they special!), so I think we may see yet another round of ratcheting things up in regards to surgical fire drills, providing education to clinicians, etc. I don’t know how much reaching out you might do relative to actual events in your surgical procedure areas (I can’t say that I always see a ton of information beyond fire drill and education documentation), but I think you’ll want to be able to speak to this as a proactive undertaking. Somebody must be monitoring these types of things and if it’s not you, you need to figure out who it is and keep yourself informed.

As something of a preemptory thought, I ran across a podcast entitled “Nurses for Health Environments” (you can find some background and links to the podcast here). I haven’t had a chance to check it out (I listen to podcasts as I work towards my 10K steps before breakfast, but I always seem to have a backlog of stuff to listen to), but I do believe that (particularly as a very large percentage of the healthcare culture) partnering with nurses and other clinicians in managing the environment makes a great deal of sense. Stewardship of the environment has to happen at every level of every organization, so I would urge you to check it out and maybe recommend it as a listening opportunity for the clinicians in your organization. I’ve always believed that marketing is an important piece of what we do as safety professionals and any (and every) insight into what folks are thinking about, etc., is worth consideration.

The other shoe is starting to fall: Moving beyond ligature risks!

Well, it does seem like there are a couple of compliance themes asserting themselves in 2018, concerns related to emergency management (relatively simple in terms of execution and sustainability) and concerns relating to the management of behavioral health patients and the management of workplace violence (relatively complicated in terms of execution and sustainability). I think we can say with some degree of certainty that there are some commonalities relative to the latter two (beyond being complicated to work through) as well as some crossover. And while I wish that I had a ready solution for all of this, if I have learned nothing else over the last 39+ years, it is that there are no panaceas when it comes to any of this stuff. And with so many different regulatory perspectives that can come into play, is it enough to do the best you can under the circumstances? As usual, the answer to that question (at least for the moment) is “probably not.”

In last week’s Hospital Safety Insider, there was a news item regarding OSHA citations for a behavioral health facility in Florida for which inadequate provisions had been made relative to protecting staff from workplace violence. As near as I can make out from the story, the violence was being perpetrated mostly in patient encounters and revolved around “failing to institute controls to prevent patients from verbal and physical threats of assault, including punches, kicks, and bites; and from using objects as weapons.” Now, in scanning that quote (from information released by the Department of Labor), it does seem rather daunting in terms of “preventing” patients from engaging in the listed activities. This is one of those really clear division between federal jurisdictions—OSHA is driving the prevention of patients from engaging in verbal and physical threats while CMS is (more or less) driving a limited approach to what I euphemistically refer to as the “laying on of hands” in the management of patients. That said, I think it’s worth your while to take a look at the specific correction action plan elements included in the DOL release—it may have the makings of a reasonable gap analysis if you have inpatient behavioral health in your facility. It appears that the entity providing some level of management at the cited facility was also cited at another facility back in 2016 for similar issues, so it may be that some of this is recurrent in theme, but I think it probably makes sense to take a look at the details to see if your place has any of the identified vulnerabilities.

Wanting to end this week’s installment on an upbeat note, as well as providing fodder for your summer reading list, I was recently listening to the id10t podcast and happened upon an interview with astronaut Leland Melvin, who navigated a number of personal and profession barriers to become the first person to play in the NFL and go into space as an astronaut. His book, Chasing Space, is a fun and thought-provoking read and really captures the essence of what we, as safety professionals, often face in terms of barrier management. I would encourage you to check out the book as well as the interview. As a side note, I’m not sure if you folks would all be familiar with Chris Hardwick and his Nerdist empire, but I think he’s become a most winning and empathetic interviewer, and since I’ve never been afraid to embrace my inner (and outer) nerd, I will leave you with that recommendation (and please, if you folks have stuff that you’re reading and think would be worth sharing with our little safety community, please do—fiction, non-fiction—a good read is a good read!)

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…

Thank you falletin me: Some survey-related (and otherwise random) thoughts

The first order of business is a word of thanks to anyone and everyone within the sound of my “voice” – I truly appreciate you (sometimes invisible) folks out there in the audience. It continues to be a rare treat having the opportunity to converse with you on a regular basis (the rarer treat is when I get to actually meet folks in the flesh—definitely a delightful happenstance when it occurs) and I hope that I’ve managed to carry on this little slice ‘o safety without being boring, pedantic, etc. Oftentimes, compliance stuff is rather more torturous than not, but what’s the point of doing something if you can’t have a little fun amidst the abject seriousness of it all…

Next up, a couple of items that have appeared during recent surveys that signal (in some instances) a clarification of intent and/or a change in the focus of the physical environment surveys. Some of this you will find endlessly aggravating, particularly if you get cited for it; some of it has the overpowering stench of inevitability as the regulatory folks find new and inventive ways to keep the numbers of findings at record levels. In no particular order:

 

  • In the wake of the clarifying information relative to the management of ligature risks, make sure that (and this is primarily in the ED/regular inpatient settings) for the risk items you have identified as being medically or clinically necessary/essential to the appropriate care of behavioral health patients, make sure that your risk assessment specifically identifies the inherent risks of the remaining risks. For example, if you need to have a medical bed (with side rails, etc.) in the room, make sure that all the specific risk elements of that (or “the”) medical bed are clearly enumerated in the risk assessment. Saw a survey result recently for which the finding was not that the bed was in the room (the finding specifically noted that the bed was medically necessary), but that the risk assessment did not clearly identify the individual components of the bed: side rails, electrical cord, etc. The survey finding indicated that the risk management strategy employed by the organization was appropriate (in this instance, using 1:1 staffing for the at-risk patients), the only “issue” was not identifying the component risks in the risk assessment. I think/hope that this is something of an overreach and if I find out that there is some clarifying information forthcoming, I will surely share it with you.
  • Those of you with older facilities (and perhaps some “younger” facilities as well) are often faced with the proliferation of electrical panels (and sometimes medical gas zone shutoff valves) that are located in spots for which it is almost impossible to ensure that equipment, etc., is not parked directly in front of the panel, etc. Sometimes the panels, etc., are located in the corridors (it really does make one appreciate electrical closets!); some of you may even have the abject misfortune of having electrical panels in your utility rooms (my condolences); and others have panels out in the operational area of busy locations like food services/kitchen areas. I wish that I had good news to impart, but there do seem to be at least a couple of surveyors heck-bent on citing each and every instance of obstructed access to electrical panels. And don’t get me started on corridor med gas shutoffs with electrical receptacles installed directly underneath. Sometimes I wonder if we would run into these types of conditions if the folks doing the design work actually had to live in the space once it is constructed…
  • Staying on the electrical side of things, I’ve also seen an increase in recent findings relating to the use (primarily in patient care areas) of relocatable power taps/power strips/etc. I know the appropriate management of these devices has been “hittable” for a little while now and perhaps there was an unspoken “honeymoon” period for the industry to get things going in the right direction. If that is the case, it appears that the honeymoon is over, so you (particularly if “you” are in the bucket for survey in the next little while) probably should focus a bit on power arrangements in the areas where equipment use and power needs tend to be exponential. I still think the resources provided by ASHE are worth checking out if you have not already done so. It just might save you a painful survey experience.

Closing out, I leave you with this thought/opportunity; I won’t pretend to have an answer for it, but perhaps someone out there in the audience might. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen very often to me personally, but as I get to visit and meet new folks all the time, I am always fascinated by a certain type of individual: they will pledge that they will do anything to help the cause, with the unspoken understanding that that help hinges on their not having to do anything. Sort of a “ask me anything and if it involves no effort on my part, I’ll be all over it.” Again, fortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a proliferation of these folks in healthcare, and if the sounds completely foreign to you, that’s great. But if anyone has any tips for managing the eager-to-pledge non-participant, I’m all ears.

A most joyous and restful Thanksgiving to you and yours!

These are a few of my favorite things: Safety Risk Assessments!

A somewhat mixed bag of news items for you this week: a cornucopia of compelling content, if you will…

The Center for Health Design has published a pretty cool safety risk assessment tool that is available free on its website, although you do have to register (also free). The web page offers an introductory video describing the risk assessment, so you can check it out before you register.

In other news, Maine became the first state to ban flame retardants in upholstered furniture. As I travel the highways and byways of these United States, I see a fair amount of holiday decorations that have been treated with flame retardant sprays of various manufacture as folks try to provide a cheery environment for patients and not run afoul of the safety Grinches (and I use that term with all due respect and affection, having been a Grinch myself once or twice in the past). I don’t know if we’ll be able to say “as Maine goes, so goes the nation,” but this might have some interesting impact on the field-treating of combustible decorations.

As our final note this week, data from the U.S. Nurses’ Health Study II suggests that there is an increased risk of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) among nurses with frequent exposure (at least once a week) to disinfectants in certain tasks (cleaning of surfaces, etc.): https://www.ersnet.org/the-society/news/nurses-regular-use-of-disinfectants-is-associated-with-developing-copd . The study indicates some of the “culprits” as glutaraldehyde, bleach, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, and quaternary ammonium compounds. The article on the link also indicates that a recent European study of folks working as cleaners also showed an increased risk for COPD (somehow, not a surprising revelation to me). I think the bottom line on this (and perhaps our charge moving forward) is (and the article doesn’t really mention this) ensuring that folks are using appropriate PPE when they are using those types (or any type) of disinfectant products. PPE is always a tough thing to “sell” to folks, and while I think folks do understand that there are risks involved (just as there are risks associated with all sorts of behaviors—smoking springs to mind), there does seem to be a reluctance to take proper precautions every time one engages in these types of activities. I know this stuff isn’t particularly “sexy” when it comes to the topics of the day, but reinforcing basic protective measures can’t be a completely lost cause, can it?

 

 

You are so beautiful, to me…

In the interest of a little summertime reading, I wanted to diverge a bit from the usual rant-a-minute coverage (rest assured, the ranting will continue next week—too much going on in the world) and cover a couple of “lighter” topics (though one does have to do with my favoritest topic—risk assessments).

First up, we have Soliant Healthcare’s list of the 20 most beautiful hospitals in the U.S. (as a music lover, I find that I am an absolute sucker for lists—go figure!); while I have not had the opportunity to do any work at the listed facilities (and have done some work at places I think measure up pretty well from a design perspective, etc.), I can say that the buildings represented on the list are pretty easy on the eye. I don’t know if anyone out there in the Mac’s Safety Space blogosphere works at any of the listed facilities, but congratulations to you if you do or did!

The other item for this week focuses on the pediatric environment; from my experiences, a lot of community hospitals have really scaled back their pediatric care facilities, mostly because demand is not quite what it used to be. Where there might once have been dedicated pediatric units, now there are a handful of rooms used for pediatric patients when they need in-hospital care, but not much in the way of dedicated spaces.

If you happen to be in a position in which your dedicated pedi spaces are not quite as dedicated as they once were, you might find it useful to perform a little risk assessment based on a toolkit provided by the University of California, San Francisco, and endorsed by a couple of professional groups. While the focus is more towards the home environment, I think it’s helpful to simply ask the questions and be able to rule out the concerns outlined in the toolkit. Any time you have to “run” with an environment that has to function for different patients, risk factors, etc., it never hurts to be able to pull a risk assessment out of your back pocket when a surveyor starts jumping ugly because they don’t agree with what they’re seeing or how you’re managing something.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children used to provide some risk assessment guidance for healthcare professionals, but in looking at their website, it appears to me that they are confining guidance to law enforcement, media, and families. (Some of the stuff for families is interesting and worth sharing in general.) Since they’re an at-risk patient population, you never know when your efforts to provide an appropriate environment for infants, children, and teens will come under survey scrutiny—and it never hurts to periodically review your efforts to ensure that your plan is current.

Is this the survey we really want?

Moving on to the type of pain that can only be inflicted at the federal level, a couple of things that might require an increase in your intake of acid-reducing supplements…

As it appears that CMS doesn’t love that dirty water (and yes, my friends, that is a shameless local plug, but it is also a pretty awesome tune), now their attentions are turning to the management of aerosolizing and other such water systems as a function of Legionella prevention. Now, this is certainly not a new issue with which to wrestle, which likely means that the aim of this whole thing, as indicated in the above notification—“Facilities must develop and adhere to policies and procedures that inhibit microbial growth in building water systems that reduce the risk of growth and spread of Legionella and other opportunistic pathogens in water”—is something with which we are abundantly familiar. But I will admit to having been curious about the implied prevalence in healthcare facilities as that’s the type of stuff that typically is pretty newsworthy, so I did a quick web search of “Legionella outbreaks in US hospital.” I was able to piece together some information indicating that hospitals are not doing a perfect job on this front, but the numbers are really kind of small in terms of cases that can be verifiably traced back to hospitals. When you think about it, the waters could be a bit muddy as Legionella patients that are very sick are probably going to show up at your front door and there may be a delay in diagnosis as it may not be definitively evident that that’s what you’re dealing with. At any rate, sounds like a zero-tolerance stance is going to be, but the Survey & Certification letter does spell out the instructions for surveyors:

Surveyors will review policies, procedures, and reports documenting water management implementation results to verify that facilities:

 

  • Conduct 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.
  • Implement a water management program that considers the ASHRAE industry standard and the CDC toolkit, and includes control measures such as physical controls, temperature management, disinfectant level control, visual inspections, and environmental testing for pathogens.
  • Specify testing protocols and acceptable ranges for control measures, and document the results of testing and corrective actions taken when control limits are not maintained.

I have little doubt that you folks already have most, if not all, of this stuff in place, but it might not be a bad idea to go back and review what you do have to make sure that everything is in order. And if you are interested in some of the additional information (including some numbers) available, the following links should be useful:

Moving on to the world of emergency management, during the recent webinar hosted by CMS to cover the Emergency Preparedness final rule, one of the critical (at that time, more or less unanswered) questions revolved around whether we could expect some Interpretive Guidelines (basically, instructions for surveyors in how to make their assessments) for the EP Final Rule. And to what to my wondering eyes should appear, but those very same Interpretive Guidelines.  I will feely admit that the setup of the document is rather confusing as there are a lot of different types of providers for which the Final Rule applies and not all the requirements apply to all of the providers, etc., so it is a bit of a jumble, to say the least. That said, while I don’t think that I am sufficiently well-versed with the specific EM requirements of the various and sundry accreditation organizations (HFAP, DNV, CIHQ, etc.), I can say that those of you using TJC for deemed status purposes should be in pretty good shape as it does appear that one of the early iterations of the TJC EM standards was used in devising the Final Rule, so the concepts are pretty familiar.  A couple of things to keep in mind in terms of how the CMS “take” might skew a little differently are these:

 

  • You want to make sure you have a fairly detailed Continuity of Operations Plan (CoOP); this was a hot button topic back in the immediately post-9/11 days, but it’s kind of languished a bit in the hierarchy of emergency response. While the various and sundry performance elements in the TJC EM chapter pretty much add up to the CoOP, as a federal agency, it is likely that CMS will be looking for something closer to the FEMA model (information about which you can find here), so if you have a CoOP and haven’t dusted it off in a while, it would probably be useful to give it the once over before things start heating up in November…
  • As a function of the CoOP, you also want to pay close attention to the delegation of authority during an emergency, primarily, but not exclusively the plan of succession during an emergency (I found the following information useful and a little irreverent—a mix of which I am quite fond). It does no good at all for an organization to be leaderless in an emergency—a succession plan will help keep the party going.
  • Finally, another (formerly) hot button is the alternate care site (ACS), which also appears to be a focus of the final rule; the efficacy of this as a strategy has been subject to some debate over the years, but I think this one’s going to be a source of interest as they start to roll out the Interpretive Guidelines. At least at the moment, I think the key component of this whole thing is to have a really clear understanding (might be worth setting up a checklist, if you have not already) of what you need to have in place to make appropriate use if whatever space you might be choosing. I suspect that making sure that you have a solid evaluation of any possible ACS in the mix: remember, you’re going to be taking care of “their” (CMS’) patients, so you’d better make sure that you are doing so in an appropriate environment.

Welcome to a new kind of tension…

In the “old” days, The Joint Commission’s FAQ page would indicate the date on which the individual FAQs had been updated, but now that feature seems to be missing from the site (it may be that deluge of changes to the FAQs (past, present, and, presumably, future) makes that a more challenging task than previously (I will freely admit that there wasn’t a ton of activity with the FAQs until recently). That said, there does appear to be some indication when there is new material. For example, when you click on the link (or clink on the lick), a little short of halfway down the page you will see that there’s something new relative to the storage of needles and syringes (they have it listed under the “Medical Equipment” function—more on that in a moment), so I think that’s OK.

But in last week’s (dated May 31, 2017) Joint Commission e-Alert, they indicate that there is a just posted FAQ item relating to ligature risks, but the FAQ does not appear to be highlighted in the same manner as the needle and syringe storage FAQ (at least as of June 1, when I am penning this item). Now I don’t disagree that the appropriate storage (recognizing that appropriate is in the eye of the beholder) of needles and syringes is an important topic of consideration, I’m thinking that anything that TJC issues relative to the appropriate management of ligature risks (and yes, it appears that I am far from done covering this particular topic) is of pretty close to utmost importance, particularly for those of you likely to experience a TJC survey in the next little while. I would encourage you to take a few moments to take a peek at the details here.

So, parsing these updates a bit: I don’t know that I’ve ever considered needles and syringes “medical equipment,” but I suppose they are really not medications, so I guess medical equipment is the appropriate descriptor—it will be interesting to see where issues related to the storage of needles and syringes are cited. As usual (at least on the TJC front) it all revolves around the (wait for it…) risk assessment. It’s kind of interesting in that this particular FAQ deals somewhat less specifically with the topic at hand (storage of needles and syringes) and more about the general concepts of the risk assessment process, including mention of the model risk assessment that can be found in the introductory section of the Leadership chapter (Leadership, to my mind, is a very good place to highlight the risk assessment process). So no particularly new or brilliant illumination here, but perhaps an indicator of future survey focus.

As to the ligature risks, I think it is reasonable to believe that there will be very few instances in which every single possible ligature risk will be removed from the care environment, which means that everyone is going to have to come up with some sort of mitigation strategy to manage those risks that have not been removed. With the FAQ, TJC has provided some guidance relative to what would minimally be expected of that mitigation strategy; while I dare not indicate verbatim (you will have to do your own clicking on this one—sorry!), you might imagine that there would need to be: communication of current risks; process for assessing patient risk; implementation of appropriate interventions; ongoing assessments of at-risk behavior; training of staff relative to levels of risk and appropriate interventions; inclusion of reduction strategies in the QAPI program; and inclusion of equipment-related risks in patient assessments, with subsequent implementation of interventions.

I don’t see any of this as particularly unusual/foreign/daunting, though (as usual) the staff education piece is probably the most complicated aspect of the equation as that is the most variable output. I am not convinced that we are doing poorly in this realm, but I guess this one really has to be a zero-harm philosophy. No arguments from me, but perhaps some important work to do.