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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.): . 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.

We mean it, man!

I’ve been watching this whole thing unfold for a really long time and I continue to be curious as to when the subject of managing workplace violence moves over into the survey of the physical environment. I think that, as an industry, we are doing a better job of this, perhaps as much as a function of identifying the component issues and working them through collaboratively as anything, but I don’t know that the data necessarily supports my optimistic outlook on the subject. One think I can say is that our friends at the Occupational Safety & Health Administration are going to be closing out the comment period soon (April 6, to be exact) on whether or not they need to establish an OSHA standard relative to preventing violence in healthcare and social assistance—if you have something to add to the conversation, I would encourage you to do so.

I do think that there are always opportunities to more carefully/thoughtfully/comprehensively prepare the folks on the front lines as they deal with ever greater volumes of at-risk patients (a rising tide that shows little or no sign of abating any time soon). They are, after all, the ones that have to enforce the “law,” sometimes in the face of overwhelming mental decompensation on the part of patients, family members, etc. As an additional item for your workplace violence toolbox, the American Society for Healthcare Risk Management has developed a risk assessment tool (with a very full resource list at the end) to help you identify improvement opportunities in your management of workplace violence. As I think we all know by now, a cookie-cutter approach rarely results in a demonstrably effective program, but what I like about the tool is it prompts you to ask questions that don’t always have a correct or incorrect response, but rather to ask questions about what happens in your “house.”

This topic somehow brings to mind some thoughts I had recently relative to the recalcitrance of some of my fellow travelers (meaning folks I encounter while traveling and not those that might have been encountered during the era of McCarthyism…) when it comes to following the directions of the TSA folks or other “gatekeepers” who keep things moving in an orderly fashion. I have seen folks in suit and tie pitch an absolute fit because they couldn’t skip to head of the line, had three carry-on bags instead of the allowed two, or had liquids in excess of what is allowed. I understand being a little embarrassed in the moment for the bag thing or the liquid thing, but to give the person who identified the issue a hard time makes no sense to me. And I think that sometimes our frontline staff fall victim to this type of interaction and have to suffer the consequences of an unhinged (OK, that may be a little hyperbolic, but I suspect you know what I mean) patron—even if they don’t have to endure someone taking a swing at them during these moments of tension. There was a day when the customer was always right, but now far too often, the customer is nothing more than an entitled bully and we have to make sure that our folks know we have their backs.


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!

A toast(er) to all that have gone…

Earlier this week, I received a question regarding the need to do a risk assessment that would allow (or prohibit) the use of toasters in break rooms, etc., due to the open heating element. I should probably mention that this “finding” was not at the hands of The Joint Commission, but rather one of the other acronymic accreditation agencies, but these things do tend to travel across agency boundaries, so it may be a topic of conversation for your “house.” At any rate, the request was aimed more at identifying a format for documenting the risk assessment (an example of which follows), as the surveyor who cited the toasters indicated that a risk assessment supporting continued use of the toasters would be sufficient. Special survey hint: If a surveyor indicates that a risk assessment would be an acceptable strategy for whatever practice or condition might be in question, you should consider that a pretty good indication that there is no specific regulatory guidance in any direction for the subject at hand. Though I will also note that if a surveyor does not “bite” on a risk assessment, it doesn’t mean that there is a specific regulation/statute/etc. that specifies compliance, so even if there appears to be no relief from a risk assessment, a thorough review of what is actually required is always a good idea. Which probably represents a good point to discuss the risk assessment components:

  1. Issue Statement. Basically a recap of what the condition or practice that has been identified as being problematic/a vulnerability, etc.. Using this week’s topic—the use of open element appliances in break rooms, etc. (no reason to confine the discussion to toasters; might as well include toaster oven, grills, and other such appliances)
  2. Regulatory Analysis. Reviewing what is specifically indicated in the regulations: CMS Conditions of Participation; Accreditation Agency standards and performance elements; state and local laws and regulations should definitely be discussed, as well as any other Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) that might weigh in on the topic. For the open element appliance discussion, I always encourage folks to check with their property insurer (they are a very important, and frequently overlooked, AHJ); they might not tell you that you can or can’t do something (again, based on whether there is an actual regulatory requirement), but they might tell you that if you do X and have a fire, etc., they might elect not to cover damages.
  3. Literature Review. Review any manufacturer recommendations or information from specialty society or trade associations. Staying with our friends the toasters, most of the devices in use in your organization are probably manufactured “For Household Use Only”; you might be hard-pressed in the risk assessment to be able to indicate definitively that the devices are being used in accordance with that level of use (I mean I love toast as much as the next person, but I don’t toast a whole loaf every day…). As a consultative aside, my philosophy has always been to encourage (okay, mandate, but only when I was in a position to make the call) the use of commercial-grade toasters. Yes, they are more expensive, but they are also less likely to self-immolate, which (in my book) is rather a good thing. We definitely don’t need things bursting into flames in our break rooms, etc.
  4. Review of Safety, Quality and Risk Management Data. Check your records. You know you’ve had accidental activations of the fire alarm system (though I do believe that toaster events have faded to a distant second behind microwave popcorn). Is there evidence that your organization is not doing an appropriate job of managing these devices/appliances. I suppose you could take into consideration anecdotal data, but I would be very careful as that can be tricky.
  5. Operational Considerations and Analysis. Discuss how things are being managed now; how often are the appliances being cleaned, serviced, etc. Is that often enough? Is there sufficient smoke detection, suppression, etc.? Do you need to have “official” guidelines for safe toaster use (no sticky, gooey toaster strudels, etc.)? If you’re going to allow something (recognizing that a prohibition is the easiest thing to police from a surveillance perspective), you may find that folks will require a bit of sensible direction to manage the risks effectively.
  6. Organizational Position and Policy Statement/Approval and Adoption. Once you’ve figured out what you want to do, just outline the position you are adopting, make sure that what you’re doing is not in opposition to any existing policy or plan, and then run it through the appropriate committees for final approval and adoption by the organization. In most instances, there is absolutely no reason to establish a specific policy for these things; set it up as a guideline or a protocol or a standard operating procedure (SOP). There are really very few policies that are required by law or regulation. Please don’t feel the need to populate your EOC manuals with a million and one incidental policies (I think this might be a good topic of future conversation).

There are many ways to “skin” a risk assessment and the methodology indicated above may not be suitable for all audiences, but it is a very good way to document the thoughtful analysis of an issue (be it identified during a survey or during your own surveillance activities), particularly when logic does not immediately prevail. (And believe me, logic doesn’t prevail as often as it used to. It makes me sad to think about all the gyrations that have been “committed” because we’ve been forced to deal with something that is “possible” as opposed to “probable” or “actual.” And if you’re thinking that the management of cardboard is somewhere in that equation, you would indeed be correct…) It all goes back to the subtle dynamics between what you “have” to do versus what you “could” do—to a very large extent, at least in terms of the regulations, we get to make our own way in the world. But that world is full of surveyors who are perfectly willing to disagree with any decision we’ve ever made; and they tend not to allow us to do the risk assessment math in our heads (pity, that). This is a pretty straightforward way to get your work on paper. I hope you find it useful.

Brother, can you spare any change…

In the interest of time and space (it’s about time, it’s about space, it’s about two men in the strangest place…), I’m going to chunk the EM and LS risk areas that are now specifically included in the Focused Standards Assessment (FSA) process (previously, the risk areas were only in the EC chapter). Next week, I want to take one more chunk of your time to discuss now the FSA process (particularly as a function of what EPs the folks in Chicago have identified as being of critical importance/status). But for the moment, here are the add-ons for 2016:

Emergency Management


  • participation of organizational leadership, including medical staff, in emergency planning activities (you need to have a clear documentation trail)
  • your HVA; (interesting that they’ve decided to include this one—they must have found enough folks that have let the HVA process languish)
  • your documented EM inventory (I think it’s important to have a very clear definition of what this means for your organization)
  • participation of leadership, including medical staff, in development of the emergency operations plan (again, documentation trail is important)
  • the written EOP itself (not sure about this addition—on the face of it, it doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense from a practical standpoint)
  • the annual review of the HVA (my advice is to package an analysis of the HVA with the review of the EOP and inventory)
  • annual review of the objectives and scope of the EOP
  • annual review of the inventory
  • reviewing activations of the EOP to ensure you have enough activations of the right type (important to define an influx exercise, as well as, a scenario for an event without community support)
  • identification of deficiencies and opportunities during those activations—this means don’t try to “sell” a surveyor an exercise in which nothing went awry—if the exercise is correctly administered, there will always, always, always be deficiencies and/or opportunities. If you don’t come up with any improvements, the you have, for all intents and purposes, wasted your time… (Perhaps a little harsh, but I think you hear what I’m saying)

Life Safety


  • Maintenance of documentation of any inspections and approvals made by state or local fire control agencies (I think you could make a case for having this information attached to the presentation of waivers, particularly if you have specific approvals from state or local AHJs that could be represented as waivers)
  • Door locking arrangements (be on the lookout for thumb latches and deadbolts on egress doors—there is much frowning when these arrangements are encountered during survey)
  • Protection of hazardous areas (I think this extends beyond making sure that the hazardous areas you’ve identified are properly maintained into the realm of patient spaces that are converted to combustible storage. I think at this point, we’ve all see some evidence of this. Be on the lookout!)
  • Appropriate protection of your fire alarm control panel (for want of a smoke detector…)
  • Appropriate availability of K-type fire extinguishers (this includes appropriate signage—that’s been a fairly frequent flyer in surveys of late)
  • Appropriate fire separations between healthcare and ambulatory healthcare occupancies (a simple thing to keep an eye on—or is it? You tell me…)
  • Protection of hazardous areas in ambulatory healthcare occupancies (same as above)
  • Protection of fire alarm control panels in ambulatory occupancies (same as above)


I would imagine that a fair amount of thought goes into deciding what to include in the FSA (and, in the aggregate, the number of EPs they want assessed in this process has gotten decidedly chunkier—I guess sometimes more is more), so next week we’ll chat a bit about what it all means.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose: Vive Le Joint Commission!

I apologize for not having gotten to this sooner, but sometimes the wind comes out of nowhere and you find yourself heading in a rather unexpected direction (I’ve never spent so much time in Texas!).

With the advent of each new year, our three-lettered friends in Chicago unveil the changes to the accreditation standards for the upcoming cycle. Most of the changes in the EC/LS/EM world (with a couple of fairly notable exceptions—more on those in a moment) have to do with a shift in focus for the Focused Standards Assessment (FSA) process as a function of the various specific risk areas (I will freely admit that this is a wee bit convoluted, but should not necessarily come as a surprise). At any rate, as part of the accreditation process, each organization is supposed to evaluate its compliance based on specific areas of concern/risk identified by The Joint Commission. Thus for 2016, some of the risks to be evaluated have gone away (at least for the moment) and other have been added to the mix:

Please remember: These are not going away entirely, they just don’t have to be included in your organization’s FSA process!

So, we bid adieu to specific analysis of the safety, hazardous materials, medical equipment, and utility systems management plans (leaving security and fire safety in the mix) and we say bonjour to the identification of safety and security risks (as you may have noted, I’m not indicating the specific standard and EP numbers—our friends get a little protective of their content, but if you really need to check out the numbers, please see your organization’s accreditation manual).

We say goodbye to implementing our hazardous material and waste spill/exposure procedures, the monitoring of gases and vapors, and proper routine storage and prompt disposal of trash; and say hello to the hazardous materials and waste inventory, the actual written hazmat and waste spill/exposure procedures, minimization of hazmat risks, ensuring that you have proper permits, licenses, etc., for hazardous materials, and labeling of hazardous materials.

We say howdy to a focused look at fire drills, including the critiques.

We greet a focus on the testing documentation relating to duct detectors, electromechanical releasing devices, heat detectors, manual fire alarm boxes and smoke detectors, as well as the documentation relating to fire dampers.

We say auf wiedersehen to focusing on the selection, etc., of medical equipment, the written inventory of medical equipment, SMDA reporting, inspection, testing and maintenance of non-high risk medical equipment, and performance testing of all sterilizers.

We say guten tag to the written utility components inventory, written frequencies for maintenance, inspection and testing of utility system components, written procedures for utility system disruptions, and minimization of pathogenic, biological agents in aerosolizing water systems.

We say konichiwa to a focus on the provision of safe and suitable interior spaces for patients and the maintenance of ventilation, temperature and humidity in all those other pesky areas (e.g., soiled utility rooms, clean utility rooms, etc.).

We say hola to a focus on whether or not staff (including LIPs) are familiar with their roles and responsibilities relative to the environment of care (I predict that this is one is going to start showing up on the top 10 list soon unless there is a dramatic shift in survey focus).

And we say “Hey-diddly-ho, good neighbor” to the use of hazard surveillance rounds to identify environmental deficiencies, hazards, and unsafe hazards, as well as ensuring that you have a good mix of participants in your EC Committee activities, particularly the analysis of data—clinical, administrative, and support services have to be represented.

Now, there are three standards changes that went into effect on January 1, 2016: one a shift to a different spot in the standards, one a fairly clarifying clarification, and one about which I am not quite sure what to make, though I somehow fear the worst…

The requirement for the results of staff dosimetry monitoring (CT, PET, nuclear medicine) to be reviewed at least quarterly shift from Safety to Hazardous Materials. The EP number remains the same (and I can give you 17 reasons for that…), but it’s only a shift in where it would be scored (another important reason for making sure that you have a solid relationship between your EOC Committee and your Radiation Safety Committee—I’m a great believer in having compliance information in a location where surveyors are more likely to encounter it: EOC Committee minutes).

The requirement for managing the risks associated with smoking activities was clarified to indicate that the risks have to be managed regardless of the smoking types (e-cigarettes and personal vaporizers are officially in the mix); I’m presuming that this is helpful to folks who have perhaps faced some resistance in this area.

And finally (we’ll cover the EM and LS changes next time—nothing particularly scary, but a little too voluminous for this rather dauntingly wordy blog post), the requirements based around the inspection, testing and maintenance of non-high-risk utility system equipment components has gone from a “C” Element of Performance (EP) to an “A” EP (they did remove the Method of Success requirement for a deficient finding in this area—I suspect that was as much for their own sanity as anything else. Plus, it never really made a great deal of sense to figure out how to monitor something over four months’ time that frequently occurs every six or 12 months). My sense is that they are making the change to increase the “cite-ability” of managing utility systems equipment; now they only need to find one instance of noncompliance for a finding. I don’t know that I’ve seen a ton of findings in this area, but I can’t honestly say that I’ve been doing a close count of the OFI section of the reports, so it may be that they’re seeing a trend with the non-high-risk utility equipment that makes them think we’re not doing as good a job managing as we should, but that is wholly and completely conjecture on my part. I will, of course, be keeping a close eye on this one; I have a sneaking suspicion that the focus on utility systems equipment is going to continue into the immediate future and this might just become another pressure point.

As a closing thought relative to the FSA and risk area discussion, I think we can reasonably intuit that (particularly since the FSA process, represents a process for self-reporting) the expectation is for folks to be looking very carefully at the requirements contained within the above-noted areas and that your compliance plans relative to those requirements will be well in hand come survey. For some reason, this shift “smells” like an approach that’s going to be that much more focused on organizational leadership when there are gaps (and ask anyone who’s had a bumpy survey these past couple of years—leadership gets dragged into the fray on a regular basis). The fact of the matter is that they will find something deficient in your facility—if they don’t, they didn’t look hard enough. It’s about having processes in place to recognize and manage those deficiencies appropriately (and yes, I recognize that I am running the risk of repeating myself). This is big-time crazy focus on this stuff—and we need to be continuously improving how we go about doing it (whatever “it” might be).

Back next week to cover the EM/LS stuff. Arrivederci for now!

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…