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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!

Carbon-dating compliance: What happened when…

…and how responsible are you for the sins of the past (turns out, quite a bit).

Kind of a mixed bag of things this week, so please bear with me.

First up, in looking back over the last little while of survey activity, I keep looping back around to one (possibly unanswerable) question: How many of the survey findings being generated are the result of conditions that pre-existed the prior survey? I think we can all agree that there are noncompliant conditions lurking throughout our buildings (including that pesky loaded sprinkler head we talked about a couple of weeks ago), some of which (and perhaps quite a few) are the result of actions or inactions occurring a long time ago (in a galaxy almost too close to home). I’m going to guess there are few of us that have not encountered the angst of having a surveyor pop a ceiling tile or wriggle into some crawl space and find some condition that had previously escaped prying eyes (I suspect that the most common previously undetected finding relates to things attached to sprinkler piping and supports, which supports LS.02.01.35 being the most frequently cited Joint Commission standard). And, as onerous as it may be on the face of it (and every other aspect), we are on the hook for all of it (grandfathering of conditions can help in very limited ways, but there’s really very little in the way of grandfathering noncompliant conditions and practices).

For better or worse (likely more the latter than the former), in these increasingly resource-challenged times, it is almost impossible to ferret out every little imperfection. Particularly in the sense that noncompliance happens in three dimensions—square footage just doesn’t work for this process. So, the questions I ask of you, dear readers, are these:

  • Do you proactively attempt an exhaustive search of your facility from top to bottom (and all the nooks and crannies)?
  • Do you “roll the dice” and correct deficiencies as they appear and if there’s stuff out there, let the surveyors find them?

I’m keen to see how this is going to “split.” I know if we could we would take the higher road of proactivity, but not everyone is in that position.

One other item I’ve been hanging on to for probably longer than I should relates to the management of medical gas and vacuum systems. I would hardly think that this blog is the only resource for information, commentary, etc. (though I do like to think it’s an entertaining and perhaps randomly enlightening one), there is one dedicated to the management of medical gas systems, etc., that I think you’ll find useful (and since it doesn’t publish as often, it’s an easy one to add to your bloggy queue) is sponsored by Compliant Healthcare Technologies (CHT). Recently, Tim Richards at CHT penned a blog post on upcoming changes in NFPA 99 relative to medical gases, etc. As I’ve noted once or twice in the past, I really see NFPA 99 compliance as a likely source of heartburn for facilities and safety folks in the coming survey cycles, so any resource that can increase our operational understanding of what is actually required, etc. gives us a leg up on the survey front. I encourage you to check out the information.

As a final note, it appears that we are gearing up for another wild summer of weather and I wanted to take a moment to send best wishes to those in areas already in the throes of severe weather and those that may find themselves in the same. I do believe that, as an industry, we have done some extraordinary work in the practical preparations to deal with emergencies (I would feel better if appropriate preparedness would “drive” regulatory compliance a little more closely, but perhaps in time) and I trust that we all manage the coming season with minimal impact and disruption.

Immediate Jeopardy: How much do you want to wager?

With best wishes to Alex Trebek!

Over the last couple of weeks, the folks at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (we know them by the cleverly acronymic CMS) have been busy generating lots of guidance for the folks in the field, healthcare organizations and surveyors alike. One of these missives covers the revision of Appendix Q of the State Operations Manual to provide guidance to surveyors and, (by extension) folks charged with compliance at the organizational level, for identifying Immediate Jeopardy (IJ) conditions during surveys. For those of you that have not had the dubious fortune of encountering an IJ in your organization (and I dearly hope that trend continues), it is difficult to describe the impact this can have on an organization. Short of shutting the place down, I cannot think of a more—oh I don’t know, words really seem to fall short in describing the sheer awfulness of an IJ finding.

But as they say, forewarned is forearmed (more on that delightful turn of phrase here). So let’s chat a bit about how one gets to an IJ.

The pieces that comprise an Immediate Jeopardy finding go a little something like this (the entire notification can be found here):

“To cite immediate jeopardy, surveyors determine that (1) noncompliance (2) caused or created a likelihood that serious injury, harm, impairment or death to one or more recipients would occur or recur; and (3) immediate action is necessary to prevent the occurrence or recurrence of serious injury, harm, impairment or death to one or more recipients.”

I think you could probably imagine any number of scenarios that might fit that particular bill; by the way, one of the revisions to this guidance was a change to (2). In the revision, the term “likelihood” replaced “potential.” While I do think “likelihood” is a somewhat higher bar to meet than “potential,” I still see a lot of room for surveyor interpretation. Hopefully, the administration of this judgment call will be more judicious than not. Time will tell…

Fortunately, we do have the opportunity to get a “leg up” on the process by visiting the CMS surveyor training page and working through the education materials provided there (the education is open to providers, so don’t be scared off by the link). I have not yet partaken of the education (it’s on my to-do list) and I will surely provide an update in this space once I have done so.

Manage the environment, manage infection control risks

In looking back at 2018 (heck, even in looking back to the beginning of 2019—it already seems like forever ago and we’re only a week in!), I try to use the available data (recognizing that we will have additional data sometime towards the end of March/beginning of April when The Joint Commission (TJC) reveals its top 10 most frequently cited standards list) to hazard a guess on where things are heading as we embark upon the 2019 survey year.

First up, I do believe that the management of ligature risks is going to continue to be a “player.” We’re just about two years into TJC’s survey focus on this particular area of concern; and typically, the focus doesn’t shift until all accredited organizations have been surveyed, so I figure we’ve got just over a year to go. If you feel like revisiting those halcyon days before all the survey ugliness started, you could probably consider this the shot heard ’round the accreditation world or at least the opening salvo.

As to what other concerns lie in wait on the accreditation horizon, I am absolutely convinced that the physical environment focus is going to expand into every nook and cranny in which the environment and the management of infection control risks coexist. I am basing that prediction primarily on the incidence of healthcare-associated infections (HAI) and related stuff (and, as was the case with ligature risk, I suspect that having a good HAI track record is not going to keep you from being cited for breakdowns, gaps, etc.). We’ve certainly seen the “warning shots” relating to water management programs, the inspection, testing, and maintenance of infection control utility systems, management of temperature, humidity, air pressure relationships, general cleanliness, non-intact surfaces, construction projects, etc. Purely from a risk (and survey) management perspective, it makes all the sense in the world for the survey teams to cast an unblinking eye on the programmatic/environmental aspects of any—and every—healthcare organization. Past survey practice has certainly resulted in Condition-level deficiencies, particularly relative to air pressure relationships in critical areas, so the only question that I would have is whether they will be content with focusing on the volume of findings (which I suspect will continue to occur in greater numbers than in the past) or will they be looking to “push” follow-up survey visits. Time will tell, my friends, time will tell.

But it’s not necessarily just the environment as a function of patient care that will be under the spotlight; just recently there was a news story regarding the effects of mold on staff at a hospital in New York. TJC (as well as other accreditors including CMS) keeps an eye on healthcare-related news stories. And you can never be certain that it couldn’t happen in your “house” (it probably won’t—I know you folks do an awesome job, but that didn’t necessarily help a whole lot when it came to, for example, the management of ligature risks). Everything filters into how future surveys are administered, so any gap in process, etc., would have to be considered a survey vulnerability.

To (more or less) close the loop on this particular chain of thought (or chain of thoughtless…), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are offering a number of tools to help with the management of infection control risks in various healthcare settings, including ambulatory/outpatient settings. I think there is a good chance that surveys will start poking around the question of each organization’s capacity to deal with community vulnerabilities and these might just be a good way of starting to work through the analysis of those vulnerabilities and how your good planning has resulted in an appropriately robust response program.