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Last Call for 2018: National Patient Safety Goal on suicide prevention

While I will freely admit that this based on nothing but my memory (and the seeming constant stream of reasons to reiterate), I believe that the management of behavioral health patients as a function of ligature risks, suicide prevention, etc., was the most frequently occurring topic in this space. That said, I feel (reasonably, but not totally) certain that this is the last time we’ll have to bring this up in 2018. But we’ve got a whole 52 weeks of 2019 to look forward to, so I suspect we’ll continue to return to this from time to time (to time, to time, to time—cue eerie sound effects and echo).

If you’ve had a chance to check out the December 2018 edition of Perspectives, you may have noticed that The Joint Commission is updating some of the particulars of National Patient Safety Goal (NPSG) #15, which will be effective July 1, 2019, though something tells me that strategies for compliance are likely to be bandied about during surveys before that. From a strategic perspective, I suspect that most folks are already taking things in the required direction(s), so hopefully the recent times of intense scrutiny (and resulting survey pain for organizations) will begin to shift to other subjects.

At any rate, for the purposes of today’s discussion, there is (and always will be) a component relating to the management of physical environment, both in (and on) psychiatric/behavioral health hospitals and psychiatric/behavioral health units in general hospitals (my mother-in-law loves General Hospital, but I never hear her talking about risk assessments…). So, the official “environmental risk assessment” must occur in/on behavioral health facilities/units, with a following program for minimizing the risks to ensure the environment is appropriately ligature-resistant. No big changes to that as an overarching theme.

But where I had hoped for a little more clarity is for those pesky areas in the general patient population in which we do/might manage patients at risk to harm themselves. We still don’t have to make those areas ligature resistant, with the recommendation aimed at mitigating the risk for patients at high risk (the rest of the NPSG covers a lot of ground relative to the clinical management of patients, including identification of the self-harm risks). But there is a note that recommends (the use of “should” in the note is the key here, though I know of more than a handful of surveyors that can turn that “should” into a “must” in the blink of an eye) assessment of clinical areas to identify stuff that could be used for self-harm (and there’s a whole heck of a lot of stuff that could be used for self-harm) and should be routinely removed when possible from the area around a patient who has been identified as high risk. Further, there is an expectation that that information would be used to train staff who monitor these high-risk patients, for example (and this is their example, but it’s a good ‘un), developing a checklist to help staff remember which equipment, etc., should be removed when possible.

It would seem we have a little time to get this completed, but I would encourage folks to start their risk identification process soon if you have not already done so. I personally think the best way to start this is to make a list of everything in the area being assessed and identify the stuff that can be removed (if it is not clinically necessary to care for the patient), the stuff that can’t be removed (that forms the basis of the education of staff—they need to be mindful of the stuff that can’t be removed after we’ve removed all that there is to be removed) and work from there. As I have maintained right along, in general, we do a good (not perfect) job with managing these patients and I don’t think the actual numbers support the degree to which this tail has been wagging the regulatory dog (everything is a risk, don’t you know). Hopefully, this is a sign that the regulatory eyeball will be moving on to other things.

The coexistence of safety leadership and empathy

Two items this week; one survey-related musing and a suggestion for your holiday season reading list.

Monthly GFCI testing: How are you making that happen? While I believe this came up during a mock survey (albeit by an “official” accreditation organization that starts with the letter “C,” ends with a “Q” and greets you if you look in the mirror…), these things sometimes feed on themselves, so to speak. And, since this is one for which I suspect folks might have some challenges, I figured I’d open this Pandora’s Box just in time for the holiday season.

In this particular mock survey, the facilities folks were asked to produce documentation of the monthly testing of the ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) receptacles, which is required as a function of the manufacturer’s instructions for use. In this particular instance, the response was generally minimal, with some questioning back as to the validity of the question. Of course, a quick web search for the GFCI receptacles in question (manufactured by Hubbell) revealed that, why yes indeedy, the monthly testing is right there in the details (I think this may be a good take on who lives in the details, but I digress). In this particular instance, the hospital wasn’t doing it, hadn’t done a risk assessment—either as a singularity or as a function of including the receptacles in an Alternative Equipment Management (AEM) program. So, I put the question to the studio audience: How many of you folks out there are doing the monthly testing of the GFCI (or are you not)? Have you gone the AEM route for this one? Seems like it would be a good candidate with which to get your feet “wet” relative to the risk assessment process. Somehow, I think this might be the dawn of the latest “gotcha” finding, so maybe a little fair warning is in order.

Moving on to the bookshelf (I still read books—I don’t mind using a tablet for some stuff, but for real “reading,” I still like the tactile sensation of a book), I’m in the middle (well, a little past middle, say ¾) of a book entitled “Forged in Crisis—The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times” by Nancy Koehn. The book contains five stories of historical figures (Ernest Shackleton, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, one less well-known to me—Dietrich Bonhoeffer—and Rachel Carson). So far, and probably because his story was the least familiar to me, the Dietrich Bonhoeffer portion of the book was most interesting. He was a minister in Germany during the period leading up to, and through, World War II. I won’t spoil any of the details but one key element of Herr Bonhoeffer’s leadership that’s identified (among others) is empathy, with the point being “the more volatile the larger environment, the more crucial it is for…others with significant authority to appreciate the experiences of those with less power and fewer options.” For a number of reasons (some personal, some professional) that struck me as a very useful quality to possess when one is trying to manage a large and complex environment, particularly consideration of that less power/fewer options dynamic. At any rate, I’m all in favor of lionizing positive role models, so if you have some reading time over the holidays, you might find this a most compelling read.

I got those travelin’ code compliance blues…

One occupational hazard (or probably more correctly an occupational preoccupation) I find is a constant awareness of code violations wherever I go. It seems that there are an awful lot of airports, concert venues, and the like that are engaged in upgrading facilities, and often, there are plenty of opportunities to look up into the areas above the ceiling envelope. Now I absolutely understand why healthcare gets a lot of scrutiny relative to concerns of life (and general) safety—far too many folks incapable of self-preservation to put them at risk. But as I wander around looking at stuff, I’m thinking we’re dealing with a whole mess of folks (euphemistically called passengers) in almost a collective daze, mesmerized by their cell phones, etc., who would be difficult to manage in the event of an emergency (I also have no doubt that the folks in charge in these various venues have already considered this and have plans in place).

At any rate, just this morning, I was privy to a number of open junction boxes, cabling attached to sprinkler piping, the odd penetration (don’t have the life safety drawings to hand, so I can’t say), in areas just outside of the main construction zone(s)—and no, I didn’t see a posted infection control risk assessment, but it does make one wonder whether it might not be such a bad thing. Presumably things are well-isolated from an HVAC standpoint, though certainly less so from a noise standpoint, but the whole thing does periodically give one (or at least gives me) pause. It is generally acknowledged that healthcare is a heavily regulated industry, and while I think we could certainly engage in extensive debate about the prioritization of risk when it comes to some of the minor imperfections that have become so much a part of the typical survey report, I don’t know that I would alter the accreditation process (which is kind of self-serving as helping folks manage the process is how I make a living).

In the end, this probably a little ado about nothing, but sometimes one is charged with channeling one’s inner curmudgeon…

One item as we close out this week, Health Facilities Management is soliciting input on the operational challenges relating to various monthly inspection and testing items (exit signs, elevator recall) as a function of (more or less) “if you already have a reduced resource pool with which to work, how are you going to manage these.” Check out an article discussing this in general, which includes links to the surveys for each area of consideration. ASHE has been a very effective advocate over time when it comes to compliance activities, so I think it would be good to make your voice heard.

There’s no such thing as someone else’s code: Infection control and the environment (again…)

Periodically, I field questions from folks that require a little bit (well, perhaps sometimes more than a little) of conjecture. Recently, I received a question regarding the requirements in ASHRAE 170-2008 regarding appropriate pressure relationships in emergency department and radiology waiting rooms (ASHRAE 170-2008 says those areas would be under negative pressure, with the caveat that the requirement applies only to “waiting rooms programmed to hold patients awaiting chest x-rays for diagnosis of respiratory disease”).

Right now, that particular question is kind of the elephant in the room from a regulatory perspective; there is every indication that The Joint Commission/CMS are working their way through ASHRAE 170-2008 and have yet to make landfall on this particular requirement—as far as I know—feel free to disabuse me of that notion. The intent of the requirement (as I interpret it) is to have some fundamental protections in place to ensure that an isolated respiratory contagion does not have the capacity of becoming a legitimate outbreak because of inadequate ventilation. Now, you could certainly use the annual infection control program risk assessment to identify whether your waiting rooms are “programmed to hold patients awaiting chest x-rays for diagnosis of respiratory disease” based on the respiratory disease data from the local community (and you might be able to obtain data from a larger geographic area, which one might consider a “buffer zone”).

Best case scenario results in you being able to take this completely off the table from a risk standpoint, next best would be that you introduce protocols for respiratory patients that remove them from the general waiting rooms (depending on the potential numbers, you may not have the space for it), worst case being that you have to modify the current environment to provide appropriate levels of protection. The notation for this requirement does provide some relief for folks with a recirculating air system in these areas, which allows for HEPA filters to be used instead of exhausting the air from these spaces to the outdoors, providing the return air passes through the HEPA filters before it introduced into any other spaces.

Knowing what I do about some of the ventilation challenges folks have, I suspect that it may make more sense to pursue the HEPA filtration setup than it would be to try to bring each of the spaces under negative pressure, but (going out on a limb here) that might be a question best answered by a group of knowledgeable folks (including an individual of the mechanical engineering persuasion) as a function of the (wait for it…) risk assessment process.

Ultimately, it comes down to what the Authority Having Jurisdiction chooses to enforce; that said, it might be worth having someone work through your state channels or by putting the question to the Standards Interpretation Group at Joint Commission (I suspect that their response would not be not particularly instructive beyond the usual “do a risk assessment” strategy, but there is a new person running the Engineering group at TJC, so perhaps something a little more helpful might be forthcoming). At any rate, as noted above, I’ve not heard of this being cited, but I also know that if there’s an outbreak tied to inadequate ventilation somewhere, this could become a hot topic pretty quickly (probably not as hot as ligature risks at the moment, but you never know…).

But I never wave bye-bye: Closing out 2017 with some LSC goodies…

As noted last week, this week’s foray looks into the changes to the Life Safety chapter that will be onboarding at the turn of the new year (the details can be found here). I think (for the most part), there is nothing particularly earth-shattering in the new requirements: really just a mix of updating the NFPA standards edition numbers, some increased granularity relative to fire alarm systems, and a couple of opportunities for some quick risk assessments/evaluations to ensure that what you had is not going to get you into survey difficulty. Also (and I guess only time will tell us how important this is going to be), it is important to continue to monitor the practical applications of Chapter 43, especially when one is in the throes of changing utilization to the point of a shift in occupancy classifications. My not-insubstantial gut tells me that this has great potential for consternation in the field, including the ongoing impact of inconsistent (bordering on draconian) interpretations. Certainly some of the granularity indicated below will lessen some of the over-interpretation woes (definitive reads on square footage should help), but those hard lines drawn in the sand can also represent some challenges as you are planning and executing renovation, etc., projects. In my experience, there aren’t too many projects that remain the same (in terms of scope) through the design and build phases, so you may find yourself paying more attention to expanding project footprints.

And so:

LS.02.01.10

  • Building undergoing change of use or occupancy must be in compliance with 101-2012:43.7 (certain exceptions, as always, apply); likewise, any additions must comply with the requirements for new.
  • Any of you with non-sprinklered smoke compartments undergoing major rehabilitation are putting sprinklers in (I hope); major rehabilitation involves more than 50% of the area of the smoke compartment or 4500 square feet—whichever comes first.
  • Multiple occupancies in a building must observe the most stringent occupancy requirements—so keep those occupancy separations well-defined and tight; also, outpatient surgical departments must be classified as ambulatory healthcare regardless of the number of patients served. Those of you at organizations considering going to provider-based models need to keep those surgical procedure locations under close watch.

 

LS.02.01.20

  • Make sure your horizontal sliding doors that are not automatic closing are limited to a single leaf and have a latch or other mechanism to prevent the door from rebounding; also, there are some specific requirements for horizontal doors serving an occupant load of 10 or fewer, including operability from either side without special knowledge or effort and a couple other things. 101-2012: 18/19.2.2.2.10.2 will help you with the details.
  • Make sure that every corridor provides access to at least two approved exits; no passing through any intervening rooms or spaces other than corridors or lobbies.
  • Have you included a look at door widths in your ongoing rated door program? Existing exit access doors have to be at least 32 inches in clear width, though you can hold on to your 28-inch doors if you’re not evacuating by bed, gurney, or wheelchair. New exit access doors have to be at least 41½ inches in clear width (psych hospitals have to be at least 32 inches wide). Doors not subject to patient use, exit stairway enclosures or serving newborn nurseries can hold the line at 32 inches. Door pairs with an inactive leaf must have the inactive leaf secured with automatic flush bolts. There are a few other pieces of this, so make sure you transfer/transmit the particulars to the folks inspecting the doors.
  • Existing exit access doors and exit doors are of the swinging type and are at least 32 inches in clear width. Exceptions are provided for existing 34-inch doors and for existing 28-inch doors where the fire plan does not require evacuation by bed, gurney, or wheelchair.
  • Travel distances to exits are measured in accordance with NFPA 101-2012: 7.6.

 

LS.02.01.30

  • Laboratories using quantities of flammable, combustible, or hazardous materials that are considered a severe hazard are in accordance with NFPA 101-2012: 8.7 and NFPA 99 requirements. I’m thinking most of you are probably not in position of severe hazardousness, but if you’re thinking what I’m thinking, a little risk assessment should solidify any of the particulars.

 

LS.02.01.34

  • Make sure your fire alarm system is up to snuff relative to the applicable requirements of NFPA 70 National Electric Code and NFPA 72 National Fire Alarm Code—probably worth a conversation and some verification by your fire alarm inspection, testing, and maintenance folks. This includes a more than passing familiarity with placement and types of devices, ensuring an alternative power supply for alarm systems, etc. Make sure that manual and automatic initiation of the fire alarm system is in accordance with the noted requirements, including pull stations. Also, make sure your alarm zones are not larger than 22,500 square feet (for some reason, I think that this might provide some angst for folks…) and spaces open to corridors are provided with appropriate smoke detection.

 

LS.02.01.50

  • Make sure that any spots containing equipment using gas or gas piping are up to snuff with NFPA 54 National Fuel Gas Code and electrical complies with NFPA 70. You can maintain existing installations that are not fully compliant as long as there are no life-threatening hazards.
  • Make sure those pesky heating devices are in appropriate compliance—with both code and your organizational policy.
  • Equipment using gas or gas piping complies with NFPA 54-2012, National Fuel Gas Code; electrical wiring and equipment complies with NFPA 70-2012, National Electric Code. Existing installations can continue in service provided there are no life-threatening hazards.
  • If you have fireplaces in your facility, there are specific considerations, including carbon monoxide detection; 101-2012: 9.2.2 will give you the lowdown.
  • 101-2012 9.4 will get you the straight dope on escalators, dumbwaiters, and moving walks—and don’t forget to consult ASME/ANSI A17.1 for new and ASME/ANSI A17.3 for existing equipment.

 

LS.02.01.70

  • If you’re hanging draperies, curtains (including cubicle and shower curtains), and loosely hanging fabric in non-sprinklered compartments, then 101-2012: 10.3.1 is the compliance source. Of course, if you have sprinklers, there are exceptions…
  • No sprinkler protection? Upholstered furniture purchased on or after July 5, 2016 must meet Class 1 or char length and heat release criteria—101-2012: 10.3.2.1 and 10.3.3; mattresses purchased on or after 7/6/2016 must meet 101-2012 10.3.2.2 and 10.3.4
  • If you have a new engineered smoke control system, it must be tested in accordance with NFPA 92-2012, Standard for Smoke Control Systems. If you have an existing engineered smoke control system, it must be tested in accordance with established engineering principles.

 

Since I don’t want you to be completely comatose for your New Year’s celebrations, I will cover the ambulatory occupancy changes sometime in January (please feel free to prod me if you’d rather I do it sooner than later). And on that note, I wish each and every one of you safe celebrations and a most prosperously compliant New Year!

I wanna know: Have you ever seen the rain?

In our intermittently continuing series on the (final!) adoption of the 2012 Life Safety Code®, we turn to the one area about which I have still the most concerns—the magic land of NFPA 99. My primary concern is that while NFPA 99 contains lots and lots of references to risk assessments and the processes therein, I’m still not entirely convinced that the CMS oversight of the regulatory compliance process is going to embrace risk assessments to the extent that would allow us to plot our own compliance courses. I guess I will have to warily keep my fingers crossed and keep an eye on what actually occurs during CMS surveys of the physical environment. So, on to this week’s discussion…

When considering the various and sundry requirements relating to the installation and ongoing inspection, testing and maintenance of electrical system components, one of the key elements is the management of risk associated with electrical shock in wet procedure locations. NFPA 99 defines a wet procedure location as “(t)he area in a patient care room where a procedure is performed that is normally subject to wet conditions while patients are present, including standing fluids on the floor or drenching of the work area, either of which condition is intimate to the patient or staff.”

Typically, based on that description, the number of areas that would “rule in” for consideration as wet procedure locations is pretty limited (and depending on the nature, etc., of the procedures being performed maybe even less limited than that). But in the modern age, the starting point for this discussion (and this is specifically provided for under section 6.3.2.2.8.4 of the 2012 edition of NFPA 99) is that operating rooms are to be considered wet procedure locations—unless a risk assessment conducted by the healthcare governing body (yow!) determines otherwise (all my yammering over the years about risk assessments is finally paying off—woo hoo!). By the way, there is a specific definition of “governing body”: the person or persons who have overall legal responsibility for the operations of a healthcare facility. This means you’re going to have to get your boss (and your boss’ boss and maybe your boss’ boss’ boss) to play in the sandbox on this particular bit of assessmentry.

Fortunately, our good friends at ASHE have developed a lovely risk assessment tool (this is a beta version) to assist in this regard and they will share the tool with you in exchange for just a few morsels of information (and, I guess, a pledge to provide them with some useful feedback as you try out the tool—they do ask nicely, so I hope you would honor their request if you check this out—and I really think you should). Since I’m pretty certain that we can attribute a fair amount of expertise to any work product emanating from ASHE (even free stuff!), I think we can reasonably work with this tool in the knowledge that we would be able to present it to a surveyor and be able to discuss how we made the necessary determinations relative to wet procedure locations. And speaking of surveys and surveyors, I also don’t think it would be unreasonable to think that this might very well be an imminent topic of conversation once November 5 rolls around and we begin our new compliance journey in earnest. Remember, there is what I will call an institutional tendency to focus on what has changed in the regulations as opposed to what remains the same. And I think that NFPA 99 is going to provide a lot of fodder for the survey process over the next little while. I mean think about it, we’re still getting “dinged” for requirements that are almost two decades old—I think it will be a little while before we get our arms (and staff) around the ins and outs of the new stuff. Batten down the hatches: Looks like some rough weather heading our way!

At any rate, here’s the link to the wet procedure location assessment tool.

Hope everyone has a safe and festively spooky (or spookily festive) All Hallows Eve!

Come together, right now over…more heavy breathing

Talk about your regulatory supergroups: it’s almost like the second coming of Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young and all manner of goodness or maybe the Fantastic Four (or in this case, the Spectacular Six)! Back on September 21, the modern healthcare environment equivalent of the Justice League (AAMI, ASHE, AORN, ASHRAE, APIC, and FGI) published a Joint Interim Guidance (JIG) on HVAC in the Operating Room and Sterile Processing Department. The intent of this JIG (sometimes acronyms can be fun) is to address what the Spectacular Six deem “the biggest challenge for owners and designers of health care facilities,” which is “to understand the purpose and scope of the various requirements” of the “conflicting and sometimes unclear” standards and guidelines for the management of heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) so “patient and staff safety and comfort can be managed.” You can check out the JIG document here.

Without spoiling too much of your interest in discovering all the particulars, the JIG speaks to the dichotomy inherent between the minimum design requirements and criteria that are used to construct an HVAC system (the FGI/ASHRAE/ASHE side of the equation) and the guidelines that “are intended to guide the daily operation of the HVAC system and clinical practice once the health care facility is occupied (this is where AAMI/AORN/APIC come in). As any number of you have experienced in real (and sometimes really painful) time, this dichotomy is very much at the heart of the regulatory survey process at the moment (somehow in my heart of hearts I knew that we could be continuing this conversation). But mayhap there is a light at the end of the tunnel (that is not an oncoming train!): the Spectacular Six have begun working towards a harmonization of the HVAC guidance in the various standards. They’ve been working on this since late April and the JIG is, for all intents and purposes, their first work product. I think it’s an excellent start and I hope that their work is allowed to continue with minimal interference from outsider influences (who that could be, I have no idea…).

An important part of the JIG is their advice to healthcare organizations (it’s on p. 2 of the document—I’ll let you reflect on it in your spare time) and those of you who’ve been following this space for a while will guess that my fave-o-rite topic is going to feature quite prominently in this movement: our old friend, the risk assessment! (Admit it, you knew it was going to go that route!) The goal of the assessment is to make a determination of HVAC operating parameters for critical areas that meet patient, personnel, and product storage needs, with an eye towards the identification of appropriate corrective measures to mitigate risk, etc. I think we’ve been honking this horn a bit as we’ve traversed this landscape, but I think the critical opportunity/challenge is going to be based on the Spectacular Six’s intent to communicate/advocate directly with the regulatory folks in this regard. I haven’t yet seen anything official from CMS in this regard, but based on its adoption of the tenets of the Joint Quality Advisory from January of this year (again, a number of web locales for info, including this one), I think we can reasonably anticipate some level of guidance to the surveyor corps in the not-too-distant future.

So perhaps we can work through this in relatively straightforward fashion; at the end of the day, our charge is to ensure that we are providing the safest possible environment for patients, staff, and visitors. But in meeting that charge, we also need to make sure that we are not writing checks that our building systems can’t cash. We should be able to identify appropriate, safe performance parameters that appropriately address all the risk factors and identify a response plan that we can effectively implement when we have conditions that increase the risk to unacceptable levels. If you ask me, that sounds like business as usual…

Many too many…high numbers

In looking through the ol’ e-mail bag, I received a request for info relative to what the “magic number” was to be able to “count” an influx exercise in compliance with the Emergency Management standards. In looking at this question, I thought to myself that I don’t know that we’ve tackled this one yet here in the blogosphere and since my experience has generally been that questions like this rarely occur to just one set of folks, I figured there’s no time like the present. And so…

In looking at the performance element in question, all it says is that at least one of the two emergency response exercises includes an influx of simulated patients…and that’s all it says (you can go check!) Which means, in the parlance of the survey world, it is up to each organization to define what level of incoming patient volume is sufficient to be characterized as requiring implementation of the emergency response plan. In short, there is no “magic number” to guide us, so it becomes something akin to a risk assessment in that we need to determine what number and acuity (in some ways, acuity is the more important metric when discussing such matters) of incoming patients pushes our “normal” response capabilities past the point where response would still be considered normal. For smaller hospitals, the influx number is likely to be smaller; one really sick or injured patient might be enough to tip the scales where larger organizations might be able to manage volumes in the tens (I’m thinking hundreds is a bridge too far for the purposes of this conversation) without breaking a sweat.

To be honest, my experience has been that a lot of hospitals (perhaps even most hospitals) “do” influx on a regular basis. Volume is rarely a static reality—it ebbs and flows like the tide, though not nearly as predictably. And since it is for all intents and purposes impossible to predict what types (illness/injury/level of acuity) of patients your organization might have to manage, you have to employ some level of response flexibility.

Getting back to the magic number, it’s going to be pretty much up to each organization to determine what constitutes an influx. To complete the thought relative to managing influx on a regular basis, I’m not entirely certain why the standards-based requirement hasn’t morphed (Evolved? Mutated?) into a requirement for an evacuation exercise. We do influx all the time; evacuation, not so much. So what’s your magic number?

What’s the frequency, Kenneth?

In our continuing coverage of stories from the survey beat, I have an interesting one to share with you regarding my most favorite of subjects: risk assessments. During a recent FSA survey (what’s that, you ask? Why, that’s the nifty replacement for the “old” PPR process—yet another kicky acronym, in this case standing for Focus Standards Assessment), a hospital was informed by the surveyor that it was required to conduct an annual risk assessment regarding emergency eyewash stations. Now I will admit that I got this information secondhand, so you may invoke the traditional grain of salt. But it does raise an interesting question in regards to the risk assessment process: Is it a one-and-done or is there an obligation to revisit things from time to time?

Now, purely from a contrarian standpoint, I would argue against a “scheduled” risk assessment on some specific recurring basis, unless, of course, there is a concern that the management of the risk (in question) as an operational consideration is not as easily assured as might otherwise serve the purpose of safety. If we take the eyewash equipment as an example, as it deals primarily with response to a chemical exposure, I would consider this topic as being a function of the Hazardous Communications standard, which is, by definition, a performance standard. So as long as we are appropriately managing the involved risks, we should be okay. And I know that we are monitoring the management of those risks as a function of safety rounds and the review of occupational injury reports, etc. If you look at a lot of the requirements relating to monitoring, a theme emerges—that we need to adjust to changes in the process if we are to properly manage the risks. If someone introduces a new chemical product into the workplace, then yes, we need to assess how that change is going to impact occupational safety. But again, if we are monitoring the EC program effectively, this is a process that “lives” in the program and really doesn’t benefit from a specific recurrence schedule. We do the risk assessment to identify strategies to manage risks and then we monitor to ensure that the risks are appropriately managed. And if they aren’t being appropriately managed…then it’s time to get out the risk assessment again.

Time has come today (or perhaps time won’t let me…)

Last week, we started the discussion regarding findings relative to the inspection, testing, and maintenance of medical gas systems, which reminds me that I kind of skirted exactly how those findings were manifesting themselves.

The most common variant is for organizations that have established a less-frequent-than-annual schedule for the med gas system components, particularly the outlets (as they are usually the most numerous of the system components). Folks are doing half or a third or a quarter of their outlets on an annual basis, and they have not specifically identified the time frame in the Utility Systems Management Plan (USMP; feel free to give your USMP a quick check to see if you’ve defined the time frame(s) for the med gas system components and that your practice accurately reflects what is in the management plan, which is the other most common way this standard generates findings). Make sure you identify the time frame for the testing, etc., and make sure that what the management plan says accurately reflects the process (I know there’s a certain inescapable logic to this, but I’ve seen folks get tagged for this, so please just take a moment to make sure…).

How do we determine those time frames? Well, once again we can ping back through to EC.02.05.01, this time stopping at EP 4, which requires the identification (in writing—but of course) of inspection, testing, and maintenance intervals “based on criteria such as manufacturers’ recommendations, risk levels, or hospital experience.” I think that pretty much captures the gamut of possible criteria, but I’ll throw the question out to the studio audience: Anyone using anything other than those criteria? If so, please share. This would be required for all the utility systems on the inventory, so the next question becomes: What’s on your inventory and how did you populate that inventory?

Jumping back a wee bit further to EC.02.05.01, EP 2, it appears that we would choose between an inventory that contains all operating components of utility systems or we would establish the inventory based on “risks for infection, occupant needs, and systems critical to patient care (including all life-support systems).” Now, I’m not at all certain what you folks might doing individually (I suspect it will have at least something to do with the complexity of your systems and the component elements), but I’m going to guess we have a mix of both strategies of inventory creation. So the task then becomes one of fitting the medical gas system, in total or in pieces, into that decision, then considering the criteria noted under EP 4 to wrap things up in the form of a lovely little risk assessment. Then update the USMP to reflect whatever it is you’ve determined and you should be good to go.

A word of caution/advice: Once you’ve done the risk assessment, picked the maintenance strategy, determined the frequency, and updated the USMP, please remember that is always a wise move to periodically evaluate the decision you made relative to, well, basically anything in your USMP/inventory thing. And a fine spot to do that (if you prefer to call it an opportunity, you’ll get no grief from me) is the annual evaluation process. It comes down to a simple question: Have the maintenance strategies, frequencies, and activities provided reliable performance in support of patient care activities? And while the answer is also pretty simple (yes or no, maybe with a periodic instance of “don’t know” thrown in for good measure), it might be useful to develop a measurement that will tell you when the process is not working well. Could be something like “unscheduled disruptions resulting from preventable conditions” (which might indicate you need to increase your frequencies) or delays in care and/or treatment as the result of unscheduled disruptions (I am a very big fan of EC measurements that tie performance in the care environment back to the bedside—powerful stuff), things like that.

We always want to try and base our risk decisions on data, but sometimes you have to pick a course based on that rapidly vanishing commodity—common sense. When that occurs, I’d want to have some means of “telling” whether the decision was a good one, fold that into (or through) the annual evaluation process, and then move on to the next challenge (and there will surely be another challenge…any minute now). Hope you found this discussion helpful. I will again solicit any feedback that might be percolating out there—I love to know what you all are doing with this stuff, and so does the rest of the class.