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Wagging the dog: Can Accreditation Organizations influence each other?

In last week’s issue of HCPro’s Accreditation Insider, there was an item regarding the decision of the folks at the Healthcare Facilities Accreditation Program (HFAP) to update their Infection Control standards for acute care hospitals, with the intent of alignment with CMS expectations (you can find the article here) We’ve certainly covered the concerns relative to Legionella and the management of risks associated with aerosolizing water systems and this may only be a move to catch up on ground already covered by other accreditation organizations (our friends in Chicago already require the minimization of pathogenic biological agents in cooling towers, domestic hot- and cold-water systems, and other aerosolizing water systems), but I’m thinking it might also be something of a “tell” as to where survey focus might be drifting as we embark upon the second half of 2018. Certainly, waterborne pathogens are of critical importance to manage as a function of patient vulnerability (ideally, we want folks to get better during their hospital stays), so it makes perfect sense for this to be on the radar to some degree. At this point, the memorandum from CMS outlining their concerns has been with us for about a year, with an immediate effective date, so hopefully you are well-entrenched in managing those water systems. If this one is still on your to-do list, I think it’s probably advisable to making it a priority to get it to your “to-done” list. But you should definitely check out the latest “clarification” from CMS. While the memo indicates that this does not impose any new expectations or requirements, it does make it a little clearer as to what surveyors are supposed to be checking.

As I think Mr. Gershwin once opined about summer and the easiness of living, it would be nice to be able to set a spell and take one’s shoes off, but vigilance is always the order of the day.

On a somewhat lighter note, I just finished reading Our Towns – A 100,000 Mile Journey Into The Heart of America, which outlines the efforts of a number of (mostly smallish) municipalities across the United States in positioning themselves for a positive future (positive positioning—I kind of like that). The focus is mostly on the socioeconomics of different parts of the country, with a focus on how diversity can be employed in bettering a community (that’s probably a little ham-handed as a descriptor, but you can find an excerpt here if you like). As my work allows me to travel to a lot of places, while I haven’t been to a lot of the same destinations as the Fallows, I do recognize a lot of the stories and a lot of the challenges facing folks lately (and I think you might, too). I would describe the tone of the book as hopeful, so if you’re looking for something to read at beach/pond/summer cottage, etc., you might consider giving Our Towns a shot.

 

Inadvertent inundations: Oh, what fun! 2017 most frequently stubbed toes during survey!

As luck would have it, the latest (April 2018) edition of Perspectives landed on the door step the other day (it’s really tough to pull off the home delivery option now that it is an all-electronic publication) and included therein is not a ton of EC/LS/EM content unless you count (which, of course, we do) the listings of the most frequently cited standards during the 2017 survey season. And, to the continued surprise of absolutely no one that is paying attention, conditions and practices related to the physical environment occupy all 10 of the top spots (I remain firm in my “counting” IC.02.02.01 as a physical environment standard—it’s the intersection of IC and the environment and always will be IMHO).

While there are certainly no surprises as to how this list sorts itself out (though I am a little curious/concerned about the rise of fire alarm and suppression system inspection, testing & maintenance documentation rising to the top spot—makes me wonder what little code-geeky infraction brought on by the adoption of the updated Life Safety Code® and other applicable NFPA standards has been the culprit—maybe some of it is related to annual door inspection activities cited before CMS extended the initial compliance due date), it clearly signals that the surveying of the physical environment is going to be a significant focus for the survey process until such time as it starts to decline in “fruit-bearing.” I do wish that there was a way to figure out for sure which of the findings are coming via the LS survey or during those pesky patient tracer activities (documentation is almost certainly the LS surveyor and I’d wager that a lot of the safe, functional environment findings are coming from tracers), but I guess that’s a data set just beyond our grasp. For those of you interested in how things “fell,” let’s do the numbers (cue: Stormy Weather):

  • #1 with an 86% finding rate – documentation of fire alarm and suppression systems
  • #2 with a 73% finding rate – managing utility systems risks
  • #3 with a 72% finding rate – maintenance of smoke and other lesser barrier elements
  • #4 with a 72% finding rate – risk of infections associated with equipment and supplies
  • #5 with a 70% finding rate – safe, functional environment
  • #6 with a 66% finding rate – maintenance of fire and other greater barrier elements
  • #7 with a 63% finding rate – hazardous materials risk stuff
  • #8 with a 62% finding rate – integrity of egress
  • #9 with a 62% finding rate – inspection, testing & maintenance of utility systems equipment
  • #10 with a 59% finding rate – inspection, testing & maintenance of medical gas & vacuum systems equipment

Again, I can’t imagine that you folks are at all surprised by this, so I guess my question for you all would be this: Does this make you think about changing your organization’s preparation activities or are you comfortable with giving up a few “small” findings and avoiding anything that would get you into big trouble? I don’t know that I’ve heard of any recent surveys in which there were zero findings in the environment (if so, congratulations! And perhaps most importantly: What’s your secret?), so it does look like this is going to be the list for the next little while.

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

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

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

 

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

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

A most joyous and restful Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Survey Preparation—When do you start kicking the tires?

In the “old” days, the survey preparation cycle was a fairly well-defined undertaking—you knew (pretty much) when they were coming and about six months before their estimated arrival, prep activities began in earnest. Now, you might say, that it’s pretty freaking obvious that that particular strategy is not so great for ensuring results in the current climate (even though, at least at the moment, surveys are happening on that same 36-month recurrence—there have been a few wild card survey arrivals, but not like we’ve been led to expect), but I still find a lot of folks (particularly when it comes to bringing in an extra pair of eyes to look things over) are waiting until the “survey year” to really give the place a thorough review. Now, I am two minds on that topic—while I understand that the closer you can get to survey, the (purportedly) more accurate a picture you have of what things will look like during the actual survey, I also know (from experience) that if you find vulnerabilities (particularly when it comes to documentation), you really need to have something of a track record of compliance (12 months of pristine is a good place to be, though surveyors can certainly walk you back as far as they want—a greater risk for facilities that are smaller in terms of square footage) if you are going to “survive” with minimal findings—recognizing that it is really, really tough to pull off no physical environment findings.

In other news this week, emergency management stuff continues to take center stage as Jose takes aim at the Northeast (it’s beginning to appear that any place that could experience a hurricane is going to endure just that). On the Joint Commission website (www.jointcommission.org) there’s an announcement that TJC is temporarily suspending survey activities in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, as well as the Houston area for organizations that have been severely affected by recent weather events. The posting does indicate that if there are questions, organizations should reach out to their Joint Commission Account Executives, which I suspect will involve ascertaining a working definition of “severely affected.” I’m sure that TJC-accredited organizations went through the appropriate notification sequence if they had to curtail or otherwise modify their services, in accordance with the requirement to notify TJC within 30 days of any substantive changes in operations (I think we’re still within the 30-day window from the onset of Harvey, but if your organization has altered services, etc., and not yet made the call to TJC, I would put that on the to-do list for this week). I guess it would be good not to have to go through a survey during the recovery phase, but I don’t know that it wouldn’t be worth seeing how well you could do in the midst of everything else.

Let’s see what else do we have? Ah yes—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have updated the hurricane preparedness page on their website; definitely a cornucopia of information for health care providers, response and recovery workers, as well as affected communities in general. Nothing jumps out at me as being super special, but I think all of the available information is worthy of review. I won’t say that I’ve pored over every bit of information, but with all that’s happened (and all that might yet be on the horizon), it’s nice to have some learned source material. Speaking of which, the Association for Linen Management has also published some disaster recovery guidelines; for those of you with operational responsibilities for linen, there’s some good stuff here (and not just the warm feeling I get whenever I think about my halcyon days managing the linen department) and definitely worth checking out.

 

Ticking away the moments

As we continue our (hopefully not futile) attempts to peel back the layers of the current Joint Commission survey process, I think it is of great importance to pay close attention to all the various blogs and missives emanating from the mothership in Chicago. While the information shared in this is not “enforceable” as a standard, it does seem that a lot of the general concepts manage to find their way into the practical administration of accreditation surveys. And since we know with a fair degree of certainty that the physical environment is still going to be somewhere in their default survey setting, I wanted to bring to your attention a recent (April 25) blog posting from Ann Scott Blouin, TJC’s Executive VP of Customer Relations, that focuses on the management of workplace violence.

The blog suggests focusing on a couple of key elements (none of which I would have any disagreement):

 

  • Personal risk factors
  • De-escalation education for all staff
  • Development of a workplace violence prevention plan
  • Enforcing zero tolerance for violence/bullying

I know from my own experience that de-escalation education for all staff is not nearly as widespread as I think it should be. Elements of de-escalation technique should be included in basic customer service education for pretty much anybody in a service job, regardless of the industry. I see way too many ticked-off people floating around—I’m entirely certain why folks seem to be so primed to vent/fume/fuss, etc. (I have some theories, only some of them based on the influence of certain elements of popular culture), but there has very clearly been a reduction in patience levels in far too many encounters.

At any rate, as another brick in the accreditation wall, I think you would be well-served to check out Ms. Blouin’s blog posting; ostensibly, it is aimed at organizational leadership, but hey: Are we not leaders?

I understand all destructive urges

It seems so perfect…

A couple of somewhat disparate, but important, items for your consideration this week. I’m still somewhat fixated on how the survey process is going to manifest itself (regardless of which accrediting organization is doing the checking—including the feds). There are one or two clues to be had at the moment and I am most hopeful that the reason there is so little information coming out of the survey trenches is because there have been minimal change of a drastic nature/impact.

So, on to the discussion. As noted above, while the topics of conversation are indeed somewhat disparate, they do share a common theme—perhaps the most common theme of recent years (not to mention the most common theme of this space): the hegemony of the risk assessment. The topics: management of the behavioral health physical environment, and the risk assessment of systems and equipment indicated by NFPA 99-2012 Health Care Facilities Code. Fortunately, there are resources available to assist you in these endeavors—more on those in a moment.

For the management of the behavioral health physical environment, it does appear that our good friends in Chicago are making the most use of their bully pulpit in this regard. Health Facilities Management had an interesting article outlining the focus that would be well worth your time to check out if you have not already done so. I can tell you with absolute certainty that you need to have all your ducks in a row relative to this issue: risks identified, mitigation strategies implemented, staff educated, maybe some data analysis. As near as I can tell, not having had an “event” in this regard is probably not going to be enough to dissuade a surveyor if they think that they’ve found a risk you either missed or they feel is not being properly managed. If I have said this once, I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve said it (if I had a dollar for every time…): It is, for all intents and purposes, impossible to provide a completely risk-free environment, so there will always be risks to be managed. It is the nature of the places in which we care for patients that there is a never-ending supply of risky things for which we need to have appropriate management strategies. And I guess one risk we need to add to the mix are those pesky surveyors that somehow have gotten it in to their heads that there is such a thing as a risk-free environment. Appropriate care is a proactive/interactive undertaking. We don’t wait for things to happen; we manage things as we go, which is (really) all we can do.

As to the risk assessment of systems and equipment, as we near the first anniversary of the adoption of the 2012 edition of the Life Safety Code® (LSC) (inclusive of the 2012 edition of NFPA 99), the question is starting to be raised during CMS surveys relative to the risk assessment process (and work product) indicated in Chapter 4 Fundamentals (4.2 is the reference point) and speaks of “a defined risk assessment procedure.” I would imagine that there’s going to be some self-determination going on as to how often one would have to revisit the assessment, but it does appear that folks would be well-served by completing the initial go-through before we get too much closer to July. But good news if you’ve been dawdling or otherwise unsure of how best to proceed: our friends at the American Society for Healthcare Engineering have developed a tool to assist in managing the risk assessment process and you can find it here. I think you will find that the initial run-through (as is frequently the case with new stuff) may take a little bit of time to get through. (In your heart of hearts, you know how complex your building is, so think of this as an opportunity to help educate your organization as to how all those moving parts work together to result in a cohesive whole.)

 

These things have a habit of spreading very quickly in the survey world, so I would encourage you to keep at it if you’ve already started or get going if you haven’t. Even if you don’t have an immediately pending survey, a lot of this stuff is going to be traceable back to your previous survey and with that first anniversary of the LSC adoption rapidly approaching, better to have this done than not.

Doo doo doo, lookin’ out my back (fire) door…

Something old and something new(ish): old rant, new requirement.

As we move ever onwards toward the close of our first year “under” the 2012 Life Safety Code® (talk about a brave new world), there was one item of deadline that I wanted to touch upon before it got too, too much further into the year. And that, my friends, is the requirement for an annual inspection of fire and smoke door assemblies—for those of you keeping track, this activity falls under the EOC chapter under the standard with all those other pesky life safety-related inspection, testing, and maintenance activities (don’t forget to make sure that your WRITTEN documentation of the door assembly inspection includes the appropriate NFPA standards reference—in this case, you have quite a few to track: NFPA 101-2012 for the general requirements; NFPA 80-2010 for the fire door assemblies; and, NFPA 105-2010 for the smoke door assemblies). Also, please, please, please make sure that the individual(s) conducting these activities can “demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the operating components of the door being tested” (if this sounds like it might be a competency that might need to be included in a position description and performance evaluation, I think you just might be barking up the correct tree). The testing is supposed to begin with a pre-test visual inspection, with the testing to include both sides of the opening. Also, if you are thinking that this is yet another task that will be well-served by having an inventory, by location, of the door assemblies, you would indeed be correct (to the best of my knowledge). As a caveat for this one, please also keep in mind that this would include shaft access doors, linen and trash chute—while not exactly endless, the list can be pretty extensive. At the moment, from all I can gather, fire-rated access panels are optional for inclusion, though I don’t know that I wouldn’t be inclined to have a risk assessment in one’s back pocket outlining the decision to include or not to include (that is the question!?!) the access panels in the program.

I’m thinking you will probably want to capture this as a recurring activity in your work order system, as well as developing a documentation form. Make sure the following items are covered in the inspection/testing activity:

 

  • No open holes or breaks in the surfaces of either the door or the frame
  • Door clearances are in compliance (no more than ¾ inch for fire doors; no more than 1 inch for corridor doors; no more than ¾ inch for smoke barrier doors in new buildings)
  • No unapproved protective plates greater than 16 inches from the bottom of the door
  • Making sure the latching hardware works properly
  • If the door has a coordinator, making sure that the inactive door leaf closes before the active leaf
  • Making sure meeting edge protection, gasketing, and edge seals (if they are required—depends on the door) are inspected to make sure they are in place and intact

 

I think the other piece of the equation here is that you need to keep in mind that “annual” is a minimum frequency for this activity; ultimately, the purpose of this whole exercise is to develop performance data that will allow you to determine the inspection frequency that makes the most sense for compliance and overall life safety. Some doors (and I suspect that you could rattle off a pretty good list of them without even thinking about it too much) are going to need a little more attention because they “catch” more than their fair share of abuse (crash, bang boom!). Now that this isn’t an optional activity (ah, those days of the BMP…), you might as well make the most of it.

 

Putting on my rant-cap, I’d like to steal just a few moments to lament the continuing decline of decency (it used to be common; now, not so much) when it comes to interactions with strangers (and who knows, maybe it’s extending into familial and friendial interactions as well—I sure hope not!) I firmly believe that any and every kindness should be acknowledged, even if it’s something that they were supposed to do! My favorite example is stopping for pedestrians (and if you’ve been behind me, yes that was me stopping to let someone complete the walk); yes, I know that in many, if not most, places, the law requires you to stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk, but I think the law should also require acknowledgement from the pedestrians. Positive reinforcement can’t possibly hurt in these types of encounters. Allowing merging traffic to move forward (signaling is a desirable approach to this, but you should also signal the person who let you in). I’m not sure if we’re just out of practice or what, but I’d ask you to just try a little more to say “hi” or “thanks” or give somebody a wave when they aren’t jerks (and just so we’re straight, a wave includes more than just the middle digit). Maybe I’m going a little Pollyanna here, but the world is just not nice enough lately. Hopefully we can make an incremental improvement…

I’ve got a feeling…

Just a quick drop of the microphone to let you know that our friends in Chicago are presenting a webinar on the SAFER methodology that The Joint Commission will use during hospital surveys starting in January. As we’ve discussed previously, with the removal of standard types (As and Cs and whatever else you can conjure up) and the introduction of the “Survey Analysis for Evaluating Risk (SAFER) matrix to prioritize resources and focus corrective action plans in areas that are in most need of compliance activities and interventions,” it appears that once again we are heading into some white water rapids (certainly Class 4, with intermittent burst of Class 5/6—better wear your life vest). That said, I appears that the webinar (scheduled for November 15) is for a limited audience number, but I do think that it might be useful to listen in to hear what pearls may (or may not) be uttered. You can register here and it also appears that the session will be recorded and made available on the TJC website (as near as I can tell, the webinar is free, so check your local listings).

Ciao for now. Back next week with more fun than you can shake a stick at…

Is you is or is you ain’t a required policy?

Yet another mixed bag this week, mostly from the mailbag, but perhaps some other bags will enter into the conversation. We shall see, we shall see.

First up, we have the announcement of a new Joint Commission portal that deals with resources for preventing workplace violence. The portal includes some real-world examples, some of the information coming from hospitals with whom I have done work in the past (both coasts are covered). There is also invocation of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (lots of links this week). I know that everyone out there in the listening audience is working very diligently towards minimizing workplace violence risks and perhaps there’s some information of value to be had. If you should happen to uncover something particularly compelling as you wander over to the Workplace Violence Portal, please share it with the group. Bullying behavior is a real culture disruptor and the more we can share ideas that help to manage all the various disruptors, we’ll definitely be in a better place.

And speaking of a better place, I did want to bring to your attention some findings that have been cropping up during Joint Commission surveys of late. The findings relate to being able to demonstrate that you have documented a risk assessment of the areas in which you manage behavioral health patients; particularly those areas of your ED that are perhaps not as absolutely safe as they might otherwise be, in order to have sufficient flexibility to use those rooms for “other” patients. Unless you have a pretty significant volume of behavioral health patients, it’s probably going to be tough to designate and “safe” rooms to be used for behavioral health patients only, so in all likelihood you’re going to have to deal with some level of risk. I suppose it would be appropriate at this juncture to point out that it is nigh on impossible to provide an absolutely risk-free environment; the reality of the situation is that for the management of individuals intent on hurting themselves, the “safety” of the environment on its own is not enough. Just as with any risk, we work to reduce the risk to the extent possible and work to manage what risks remain. That said, if you have not documented an assessment of the physical environment in the areas in which you manage behavioral health patients, it is probably a worthwhile activity to have in your back pocket. I think an excellent starting point would be to check out the most recent edition of the Design Guide for the Built Environment of Behavioral Health Facilities, which is available from the Facilities Guidelines Institute. There’s a ton of information about products, strategies, etc. for managing this at-risk patient population. And please keep in mind that, as you go through the process, you may very well uncover some risks for which you feel that some level of intervention is indicated (this is not a static patient population—they change, you may need to change your environment to keep pace), in which case it is very important to let the clinical folks know that you’ve identified an opportunity and then brainstorm with them to determine how to manage the identified risk(s) until such time as corrective measures can be taken. Staff being able to speak to the proactive management of identified risks is a very powerful strategy for keeping everybody safe. So please keep that in mind, particularly if you haven’t formally looked at this in a bit.

As a closing thought for the week, I know there are a number of folks (could be lots) who purchased those customizable EOC manuals back in the day and ever since have been managing like a billion policies, which, quite frankly, tends to be an enormous pain in the posterior. I’m not entirely certain where all these policies came from, but I can tell you that the list of policies that you are required to have is actually fairly limited:

  • Hazard Communications Plan (OSHA)
  • Bloodborne Pathogens Exposure Control Plan (OSHA)
  • Respiratory Protection Program (OSHA)
  • Emergency Operations Plan (CMS & Accreditation Organizations)
  • Interim Life Safety Measures Policy (CMS & Accreditation Organizations)
  • Radiation Protection Program (State)
  • Safety Management Plan (Accreditation Organizations)
  • Security Management Plan (Accreditation Organizations)
  • Hazardous Materials & Waste Management Plan (Accreditation Organizations)
  • Fire Safety Management Plan (Accreditation Organizations)
  • Medical Equipment Management Plan (Accreditation Organizations)
  • Utility Systems Management Plan (Accreditation Organizations)
  • Security Incident Procedure (Accreditation Organizations)
  • Smoking Policy (Accreditation Organizations)
  • Utility Disruption Response Procedure (Accreditation Organizations)

Now I will freely admit that I kind of stretched things a little bit (you could, for example, make the case that CMS does not specifically require an ILSM policy; you could also make the case that it is past time for the management plans to go the way of <insert defunct thing here> at the very least leaving it up to the individual organizations to determine how useful the management plans might be in real life…). At any rate, there is no requirement to have any policies, etc., beyond the list here (unless, of course, I have left one out). So, no policy for changing a light bulb (regardless of whether it wants to change) or policy for writing policies. You’ll want to have guidelines and procedures, but please don’t fall into the policy “trap”: Keep it simple, smarty!

A toast(er) to all that have gone…

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

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

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