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Feeling pretty psyched: Some good news to share!

In full recognition that the longer the COVID-19 condition persists, the crazier it gets to folks on the front lines, so my intent is to (try—we’ll see how this works out—you know me) limit editorializing and provide you with brief episodes of useful content.

This week, it gladdens my heart to let you know that the good folks at the American Society for Health Care Engineering (ASHE) published a template (and guidance information) to facilitate facilities and safety professionals’ requests for an 1135 Waiver relating to the potential for compliance gaps relative to inspection, testing, and maintenance of fire safety and other equipment. You can find the template and table at the ASHE website. It’s a fairly straightforward process and the template (and corresponding table) really simplifies the thought process; I would encourage each and every one of you to check out these materials and get your waiver requests in the queue. To my way of thinking, this will make things a whole lot easier as we deal with survey activities in the aftermath of COVID-19 and, in the short term, allow you to focus on the important things: Supporting patient care at your organization.

Stay safe and stay in touch as you can—you guys rock!

Identifying issues and finding solutions…

…versus identifying issues and pointing fingers.

I think we can all agree that (at least for the moment) our friends in the regulatory survey services world have misplaced the location of their customers and, as a result, have become significantly more punitive in administering the survey process. Of course, the accreditation survey team always tells organizations that, despite the umpty-ump number of findings, they are a quality organization and really, this was a good survey. I have yet to hear of any instances in which the survey team “supported” anything other than a positive vibe, but it seems that, in growing numbers, that vibe is not really translating past the point of the exit conference.

Now, I know that it is not the role of the accreditation organizations to do anything more than identify deficiencies (I have hopes that a more consultative approach will re-emerge before too long, but I am not holding my breath), but what I keep bumping into are instances in which the folks (internal and external to an organization) charged with preparing organizations for survey are almost as punitive in their administration of the survey prep process. The purpose of environmental rounding/touring, etc., is to help folks become as prepared as possible and to identify strategies for sustaining compliance. It is not about the “gotcha,” with follow-up paperwork. My personal philosophy (as a safety professional in general, but certainly as a consultant) is that my obligation to the process is to help get things going in the right direction, even to the point of cleaning up a spill or picking something up off the floor while touring. Certainly, I can (and do) identify lots of things that need attention, because there are always lots of things to find that need attention (this goes back to my “no perfect buildings” philosophy; probably too much philosophy for so early in the year, but so be it). But I go into this having suffered at the hands of consultants (and others) who are not as interested in helping work through an issue to achieve some sort of sustainable solution.

As an example, I recently heard about an instance in which the environment of care rounding team had identified a resolution to a pesky issue (in this case, ensuring that specimen containers were appropriately labeled) but did not share that resolution with the entire organization. So last time, a “sticky” label was affixed to the container, but the label didn’t stick so well; this “failure mode” was communicated to the folks in infection control, but there was no immediate follow-up. So, next rounding activity, a specimen container to which a “sticky” label had been affixed was, in the local parlance (not really), nekkid in terms of labeling. Well, after the labeling issue had been cited, it was “revealed” that, after some consideration (may have been careful consideration, but less careful in the communication), it was determined that the containers would be stenciled in more permanent fashion. Interesting thing, the “finding” still required response, etc. even though the “finding” was the result in a communications misfire.

At any rate, as I think I’ve noted here before, there’s no regulatory statute that requires us to shoot ourselves in the foot, or, indeed, to engage in friendly fire. To my way of thinking, internally punitive surveying is not helpful and since we know the “real thing” isn’t particularly helpful (to healthcare organizations, at any rate), doesn’t it make more sense to work together towards sustainable compliance?

Quick closing question: While I was having some lab work done today, I noticed that the emergency eyewash station in the sink area was covered with a clear plastic bag. Has anyone out there in blogland encountered this or are practicing it? I’m thinking that this adds a step to activation of the eyewash station, but perhaps there’s a risk assessment that supports it. Just asking for a friend…

What we all want: If everything is priority one, then everything is priority none

As our friends from Chicago appear to be embarking in earnest on their charge to be as unpredictable as possible (I know of one instance in which a triennial survey “landed” about 10 months early—if that doesn’t merit a “yow,” I’m not sure what does…), the general concept of constant readiness would seem to be in flux (I think we all “knew” that the true survey window was considerably more limited than what it could be).

To that point, lately I’ve been working with folks who are well and truly within a survey window (lots of folks poking around in healthcare organizations these days…) and I’ve been noticing a tendency for folks requesting things to use “tomorrow” (or something similarly unrealistic) when identifying a requested completion date. And then raising a fuss when things are not repaired/replaced/refurbished almost instantly, which puts the folks who actually have to get the work done in a rather precarious position, depending on how quickly/dramatically the fussiness gets escalated. I think we can agree that expectations like instantaneous gratification do not lend themselves to thoughtful assessment of risk, or even (truth be told) basic triaging of tasks. I know that in crisis mode things can become a little unhinged, but the way the survey process is starting to turn, if we don’t find a way to really hardwire that classic finder/fixer dynamic as a way of like, the potential for chaos as a way of life is fairly strong.

So, the question I have for you out there in the studio audience is this: Does anybody have any unique methodologies they’d be inclined to share? I will freely admit to being at something of a disadvantage in that it has been a very, very long time (other than some interim gigs) since I’ve had day-to-day operational responsibilities in a hospital so there are probably technology solutions, etc., that could be leveraged in pursuit of focused order. But I also know that there is still a fair amount of what I like to call the “corridor work order request,” which, in my younger years, was probably not that big a deal, but now, as I approach my dotage, I find that I am not able to instantly recall quite as much “stuff” (I’m still pretty good, but the seams are much more apparent now).

I’m sure you are all following (with perhaps varying degrees of trepidation) the events unfolding in China relative to the Wuhan coronavirus; if you’re not making a regular stop at the CDC website for updates, etc., I would highly suggest it be a touch point at least every day or so. It’s starting to manifest itself a  bit stateside and I suppose, given the omnipresence of travel these days, it’s only a matter of time before it starts showing up in less-populated regions of the country. You can find as much information as is available here. Hopefully, this one subsides quickly, but preparedness, it seems, is everything these days.

In a world of magnets and miracles: Shifting the sands of compliance

At the risk of engaging in non-sequiturial (which autocorrect keeps insisting should be non-equatorial) content, I want to touch on a couple of short items that came across my desk over the last couple of days. I don’t know that they specifically relate to each other, but I can imagine a sufficiently powerful pattern recognition program that could link the two (think really, really big picture).

First up, we have some conversation relative to CMS’ efforts to increase the validity of the process by which CMS oversees (or validates) the work of the various accreditation organizations (AO) as they engage in the deemed status survey process. Until recently, the CMS validation process involved a survey visit close on the heels of the AOs (typically within 60 days or so) to see how closely the completed survey met the expectations of CMS vis-à-vis the Conditions of Participation. Historically, there have always been gaps between what was found by the AOs and what was found by CMS, with a lot of pushback on the part of the AOs relative to the timing of things—healthcare organizations are, if nothing else, fluidity personified. So, in response to the timing pushback, CMS has started co-surveying with TJC in real time; so, instead of dealing with your usual complement of TJC surveyors, you also get to host—at the same time—a group of CMSers. Ostensibly, the purpose of the CMS team is to observe the survey efficacy of the Joint Commission team,  but I think you can see where what has never been a “pleasant” experience could really go sideways. I personally have not heard any tales of folks having experienced this type of event, but I feel certain that someone I know will be able to share some stories of daring do and horror-filled antics. Any takers? It would seem (based on a blog post from TJC) that some organizations have expressed gratitude for not having to go through two separate survey events, and there’s a general sense that the CMS/AO survey findings are of a piece, so I guess that’s a good thing. But somehow…

At any rate, at the moment, if your organization is going to have this extra special survey experience, there will be prior notification, but there appear to be plans afoot to end up at a point in which these extra special surveys will be completely unannounced. It also appears that moving in that direction will require some modification to the language in the Conditions of Participation that authorize the validation surveys. According to the blog, the current process is in place through federal FY 2020 (October 1, 2019 through September 30, 2020), so I guess we’ll have to wait and see how things go.

To take this in a completely different direction (well, maybe not completely…) I came across an article providing some advice on conducting one-on-one meetings with staff. As a consultant, it’s been rather a while since I’ve had to administer one-on-one staff meetings, so this may be old hat to you folks with current operational oversight of line staff, but it did prompt me to think about past practices and I can see where this might be helpful in a lot of different ways. I am a firm believer in trying to make every encounter more useful and I think this might be a strategy worthy of your consideration. So, if you need something to read as we start the wind-down of summer (it’s the last week of August—how did that happen?!?), I think this would be worth your time (and please let me know if you think otherwise—any and all feedback is most appreciated!).

Have a safe and festive Labor Day!

Maybe there’s a hole in there somewhere: Keeping your critical equipment running!

An interesting line of questioning is emerging in some recent survey activity (mostly during state visits, but the accreditation organizations are moving in this direction, particularly those with a focus on ISO processes) relates to the management of “high mortality” utility systems components, particularly emergency power supply system parts. If you look at this as a function of high reliability, ensuring that you have close to immediate access to a means of repairing those things that are most likely to break (and I suspect that everyone out there in the reading audience know which of your utility systems are most likely to give you fits—from experience, elevators always seem to figure in on that count).

I think in most instances it would require some level of working with your service providers to identify the things that are most likely to go wrong and then to set up a process for ensuring ready access to parts and service. Let’s face it, there are few more angst-filled moments than when you have to tell your boss that a critical piece of equipment is going to be down because parts need to be ordered, etc. And I don’t know of too many service vendors that are maintaining a broad-range of replacement parts, etc. on their shelves (I’m sure there are some and that’s great for you if they “live” in your neighborhood); inventory can be an expensive undertaking. But maybe there’s a way to build that into your next service contract—something to think about—your incumbent is probably going to have the most specific failure data relative to your equipment, but I would think there are sufficient commonalities of systems and equipment to allow for competitive proposals if you choose to go that route.

Some other contractual considerations (and this is more on the compliance front than anything, but still)—a “hard” touch whenever folks are onsite servicing equipment—at the very least, they can let you know if they see anything that might prove troublesome, so you don’t have to hunt for it when the paperwork arrives (hopefully sooner rather than later—that’s another contractual consideration—turnaround time for service reports/records). I don’t know that we’ll ever have enough granularity of data from the regulatory folks, but I am absolutely convinced (based on what I’ve seen) that the reason that findings in and around fire safety (and other) systems documentation relates to stuff being buried in vendor reports: the “classic” smoke detector that didn’t get tested or the heat detector in an elevator shaft that someone terms “inaccessible.” We (as a collective) are on the hook for ensuring that 100% of your devices and equipment are inspected, tested, and maintained in accordance with code and regulation. Our vendors really don’t have any “skin” in the game.

I’m sure this is all rather self-evident to you folks, but where I’m sitting at the moment, there’s not a lot of “new” stuff floating around and it was a miserable rainy day, so this is what the connection of head and fingers conjured up.

People get ready: There’s a (survey) train a-coming!

When it comes right down to it, I think it is nigh on impossible to have access to too many resources or, indeed, to have access to too many perspectives on the various and sundry processes that make up our little EOC world (OK, maybe not so little), so I’m always on the lookout for stuff that I think might be worth sharing with you folks. (It’s one way I’ve managed to not run out of things to say over the past 600+ weeks since I started this journey.)

Our good friends over at ASHE’s Health Facilities Management magazine recently published an article describing some of the ways facilities and safety professionals can effectively manage the accreditation process, primarily as a function of survey preparedness/readiness. I don’t know that there was anything of great surprise contained therein (with the important note that surveying hospitals is pretty much my life’s work, at least at the moment), but I think the authors did a nice job of providing an overview of the survey process with some key information points that may give you a “leg up” on your next survey.

The one thing we “know” is that we really don’t know when they’re coming next, so the general concept of continuous survey readiness is one that really needs to be taken to heart. But one of the key components of which you need to be mindful is that CMS is definitely ratcheting up on the “looking over the shoulder” aspect of the validation survey process. Where previously, CMS would conduct a validation of survey of the various accreditation organizations within 60 days of the accreditation survey activity, now CMS resources are observing the accreditation organization process as it happens. At the moment, any organization encountering the “enhanced” (my characterization) survey process are notified ahead of time, so you can do a little planning (not sure how much notice is given—if anyone out there can shed some light, based on experience, I’d love to hear from you). But there will come a time when it will be a (more or less) complete surprise!

At any rate, if you want to read about the opening salvo in this little endeavor, you can find it here, and the latest news on this front can be found here, which includes a link to the proposed rule change that deals with changes of ownership, etc. of accreditation organizations. Not very exciting stuff…yet! But I think the pendulum is going to continue swinging in the direction of more oversight (and probably, intervention) for the next little while…

In the realm of possibility: More listening, less posturing!

An interesting anomaly that I encounter periodically is the time-honored “first opinion,” particularly when it exists outside of a second opinion. All too often I hear clients tell me that  “X told us we have to do something a particular way,” often with a wake of disruption because whatever strategy, etc., that was identified didn’t take into full consideration elements of organizational culture, resources, practice, etc. But what I don’t understand is when I look at Environment of Care committee minutes, etc., I don’t see any discussion about whether the recommendation(s) were useful, germane, etc., to appropriately manage whatever the condition might be. I think it is very important to use any survey activity (regulatory, consultative) as an opportunity to identify best practices and ensure that policy and practice are in alignment. That way, you’ll have some experience in being able to sort out what is truly required from a regulatory perspective and what is solely in the land of surveyor interpretation.

In all the years I’ve been involved in healthcare safety, the one defining truth I’ve found is that compliance is rarely a black and white endeavor. And while I absolutely understand that managing anything as a “black and white” is a whole lot easier to police, from an operational standpoint, absolutes (either positive or negative) are not always easily, or practically, implemented.

The other dynamic is (and this is very much the case with response to regulatory surveys) that often we “over-promise,” particularly in terms of frequency of monitoring. Don’t set yourself up for failure, for example, by indicating in a corrective action plan that there will be weekly inspections of electrical panels for inappropriately configured circuit breakers. Unless you know that folks are mucking around in the panels on a frequent basis, is there really a compelling reason to embrace an inspection frequency that is not a regulatory requirement? I would tend to think: Not so much.

As we have established beyond any reasonable doubt, there will always (always, always, always) be imperfections in the environment, but don’t go crazy trying to chase all these things yourself (or have your staff do the chasing). As I’ve said any number of times (before any number of audiences), all this stuff “lives” at the point of care/point of service and if you can’t get the folks that “live” in those areas to help feed the gaping maw of work order system, you are managing a process that is not as efficient as it might otherwise be. With the ongoing impact of the “do more with less” mantra, it’s not so much about working smarter (though there is certainly an element of that), but about working collaboratively. Everyone is caregiver—everyone is a steward of the environment—and by judicious application of only what is actually required by code and/or regulation, you can start to break down the barriers between mutually assured noncompliance and an environment that appropriately supports care. Compliance is the byproduct of consistently doing the right thing.

Déjà vu all over again: A new ligature resistant FAQ!

Using the Hospital FAQ page as the baseline, I reckon we’ve got about a dozen FAQs dealing with ligature resistance with this latest offering. For some reason, the “visual” I get from all of this FAQing is the difference between looking at something from a distance (for example, a celestial body) and seeing that same thing up close and personal. What started out as a sphere of incomprehensibility has become (slowly, ever so slowly, over time) a much more nuanced endeavor—an endeavor that continues to represent survey vulnerabilities for accredited organizations.

One of the interesting things to me is how the narrative has evolved over the last couple of years relative to how hospitals are to deal with all the intricacies of managing ligature risks as a survey vulnerability (which is different than managing the risks to patients, but more on that in a moment). This FAQ reveals some specifics as to what you are required to include in the mitigation strategy for those risks that are not yet removed/resolved/corrected/adjudicated, etc. Now, I don’t know that this is truly ground-breaking stuff, but I think this is cray-cray important because this is what the surveyors are going to be looking for, both in terms of structure, but also as a function of an ongoing process. I’m not going to quote verbatim from the FAQ. I know youse guys are excellent readers and such, so a quick summary:

  • Leaders and staff have to know what risks are currently in the mix and somebody has to be responsible for telling them (and documenting that they were told…)
  • Identification of patients at risk for suicide/self-harm, with appropriate risk-based interventions
  • A process for ongoing assessments and reassessments of organization-defined at-risk behavior
  • Staff education re: management of patient risk and implementation of appropriate interventions
  • Ensuring this whole program/process is integrated into the organization’s quality assurance/performance improvement (QAPI) program (sounds like it might be a good time to include this as a standing agenda item at your QAPI committee meetings)
  • Making sure that any equipment that poses a risk, but is necessary for safe treatment of behavioral health patients (the example given is medical beds with siderails on a geriatric unit), is considered, as a risk, in the patients’ overall suicide/self-harm risk assessments, with appropriate interventions to minimize the identified risks

As I reflect over the seemingly endless amount of survey angst that this topic has wrought over the past couple of years, I keep coming back to the reality that while we can always do better (would we have done as much as quickly without enduring survey bludgeoning?), there is minimal data to support that, while not perfect, hospitals were not doing a good job in managing these at-risk patients. Purely from a risk management perspective, this would be a subject of great interest and concern to any healthcare organization as the burden of managing these patients has shifted over time. I suppose it ultimately gets filed under the “abdication of responsibility” that comes with the disenfranchising of difficult patient demographics and the subsequent “arrival” of those patients in the acute care settings, but it seems to me that (and yes, I recognize that this is part of doing business in healthcare) a little more collaboration during this process (as opposed to pointing fingers and assigning “blame”) might have yielded a better end-product. Hopefully, at some point, we will be given credit for the good work that has been done (and quantified), but I don’t think we are quite there yet.

Don’t Call It A Comeback: The Statement of Conditions breathes again!

Not a whole lot going on in the July 2019 issue of Perspectives, but it appears that a little more consideration will need to be paid to the Statement of Conditions (SOC) and Basic Building Information (BBI) sections of The Joint Commission’s web portal for hospitals and other healthcare organizations. The article in Perspectives indicates that we can expect some changes to the questions asked in the BBI section, though the only specific indication thus far is that the questions relating to square footage of your buildings will be aimed at obtaining greater specificity of information, ostensibly to aid in the planning of survey visits. The impression I always had when it came to the square footage ranges was that they tended to “look” at the upper end of the range information, sometimes “encouraging” additional survey days when they might not necessarily have been warranted. My consultative recommendation to folks was to use the comment section to indicate the precise (or would “exact” be the more appropriate descriptor?) square footage so there would be minimal potential for extra survey days. Should be interesting to see how this all shakes out over the next few months as more “reveals” make themselves known.

In other news, the next edition (2022—can you imagine!?!) of the FGI Guidelines for the Design of Healthcare Facilities is in the development pipeline and the good folks at FGI are looking for comments/suggestions to aid in that development, but the window for doing so is quickly closing. You can check out the skinny here, but please know that the comment, etc., period ends on June 30. So if you have some burning thoughts/suggestions for how we will be managing our future facilities (including renovation activities), now is the time for all good safety professionals to come to the aid of their craft (or something like that…).

To close out this week’s chatter, I would encourage you to (yet again!) check out Tim Richards’ blog regarding medical gas certifications and qualifications. As you’ve no doubt noticed, the ongoing codification of everything has really “leaned” into staff competencies and qualifications, sometimes to the point of really muddying the waters as to what really is required. When it comes to medical gas stuff, I don’t know that you’ll be surprised, but it might be useful information to share with your boss (or your boss’s boss). Check it out here.

Wishing each of you a most festive and safe Independence Day!

He held his head in his hands: Outpatient/Offsite Vulnerabilities

Being something of a quiet week on the compliance front (as we embrace the “dog days” of summer—and spring’s got 10 or so days to go), I wanted to use a recent Joint Commission announcement relative to Environment of Care standards relating to fluoroscopy as they apply to outpatient/office-based surgery practices (which seems rather more logical than not, particularly when one reflects on the Conditions of Participation requirements relating to the management of imaging equipment). You can find the particulars here, but I don’t think that there’s anything that’s going to come as a surprise. To my mind, why would the expectations be any different based on where the equipment “lives”? Just as there must be continuity of care, there must also be continuity of compliance.

Now one could certainly disagree as to how much of a sea change this represents relative to the survey process, but (and I’m going out on a limb here, but it’s a very, very stout one) I think the next significant survey “beachhead” (mixing all sort of metaphors today) is going to be all those pesky little physician practices and clinics and such that dot the landscape and are covered by the “umbrella” of hospital operations (you know, offsite locations that have become “departments of the hospital”). If we accept the premise that the primary goal of the survey process is to generate as many findings as possible (and I accept that premise—the evidence doesn’t really point to much else), then the likelihood of the regulatory folks looking for areas with greater levels of vulnerability seems, again, rather more logical than not.

At any rate, my best advice to those of you with these types of sites is to really kick the tires when you’re rounding. As you are no doubt aware, there can be a lot of resistance when compliance comes to the hinterlands (think about how much angst fire drills can generate!), but the stakes for non-compliance have never been greater and, for the record, one can never be too safe…or too compliant!