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Any world that I’m welcome to…

Sometimes a confluence of happenings makes me really question the legitimacy of coincidence. For example, it can’t possibly be coincidence that our friends in Chicago use the backdrop of September to tell us how poorly we are faring relative to compliance in the management of the physical environment. Yet, like clockwork, September brings the “drop” of the most frequently cited standards (MFCS) during the first half of the year. (I did look back a few years to validate my pre-autumnal angst—they waited until October to publish the MFCSs in 2012.) And, for a really, really, really long time, the physical environment continues to maintain its hegemony in the hierarchy of findings.

In years past, we’ve analyzed and dissected the living heck out of the individual standards, looking at the EPs likely to be driving the numbers, etc. Anybody wishing to revisit any of those halcyon days, you can find the (not quite complete) collection here:

Anyhoooo… I really don’t see a lot of changes in what’s being found, though I will tell you that there has been a precipitous increase in the number of organizations that are “feeling the lash.” Last year’s most frequently cited standard, which deals with various and sundry conditions in the care environment (you might know it as EC.02.06.01, or perhaps not), was found in about 62% of organizations surveyed. This year, the percentage has increased to 68% of organizations surveyed, but that number was only good enough for 5th place—the most frequently cited standard (the one that deals with all that fire alarm and suppression system documentation*) was identified in a whopping 86% of the hospitals surveyed!

I think it’s important, at this point, to keep in mind that this is the first year of a “one and done” approach to surveying, with the decommissioning of “C” or rate-based performance elements. I don’t know that I have encountered too many places with absolutely perfect documentation across all the various inspection, testing, and maintenance activities relating to fire alarm and suppression system documentation. I also don’t know that I’ve been to too many places where the odd fire extinguisher in an offsite building didn’t get missed at some point over the course of a year, particularly if the landlord is responsible for the monthly inspections. Face it, unless you have the capacity to do all this stuff yourself (and I’m pretty sure I haven’t run into anyone who has unlimited resources), the folks charged with making this happen often don’t have an appreciation for what a missed fire extinguisher, missed smoke detector, etc., means to our sanity and our peace of mind.

As I’ve been saying right along, with the exceptions being management of the surgical environment and the management of behavioral health patients, what they are finding is not anything close to what I would consider big-ticket items. I refrain from calling the findings minutiae—while in many ways that is what they are, the impact on folks’ organizations is anything but minute. If the devil is indeed in the details, then someone wicked must have passed their CORI check for a survey job…

Relative to last week’s rant regarding policies; first a shout-out of thanks to Roger Hood, who tried to post on the website (and was unable to ) regarding the CMS surveyor Emergency Preparedness survey tool as a potential source for the TJC policy requirement. (It’s an Excel spreadsheet, which you can find here, in the downloads menu near the bottom of the page: Surveyor Tool – EP Tags.) While I “see” that a lot of the sections invoke “policies and procedures,” I still believe that you can set things up with the Emergency Plan (Operations / Response / Preparedness—maybe one day everyone will use the same middle for this) as your primary organizational “policy” and then manage everything else as procedures. I suppose to one degree or another, it’s something of an exercise in semantics, but I do know that managing policies can be a royal pain in the tuchus, so limiting the documents you have to manage as a “policies” seems to make more sense to me. But that may just be me being me…

*Update (9/7/17): Quick clarification (I could play the head cold card, but I should have picked up on this); the most frequently cited standard deals with fire suppression system stuff—gray fibrous material (GFM) on sprinkler heads, 18-inch storage, missing escutcheons, etc. While I suppose there is some documentation aspect to this, my characterization was a few bricks shy of a full load. Mea maxima culpa!

How long can this go on?

Recently I received a question regarding the use of the risk assessment process to determine whether an environmental condition was being appropriately managed. During survey, these folks were cited for not actively monitoring temperature and humidity in a sterile storage supply room adjacent to the OB surgical procedure room (this is one location that I’ve seen cropping up in recent surveys—please remember to keep an eye on sterile storage locations). The physical layout of the space, including the HVAC equipment, basically provides the “same” environment for the procedure room (where they had been monitoring humidity and temperature), so the question became whether the risk assessment process could be used to indicate that if the temp and  humidity in the procedure room had been fine, then the sterile storage room would be fine as well.

Now if we’d been having this discussion prior to the survey finding, we might have had a little bit of leverage, but I still think it would be a tough sell, both during survey or as part of the clarification process, because up to this point, there was no performance data to support that determination (which doesn’t mean it isn’t the case, just means there’s no supporting data—a very important and useful thing to have). My advice, especially since they’d taken the hit during survey, was to collect data for 12 months (this particular facility is located in an area that has four seasons—if you’re looking at a similar situation, but you only have, say, two seasons, you might be able to get away with fewer than 12 months of data) and then make the determination that monitoring only need be occurring in one location in this space. As an additional protective measure, I also suggested they might consider submitting data to the folks at the Joint Commission Standards Interpretation Group and query whether the consistency of data supports the monitoring conditions in the entire suite and not having to monitor in each space. Surveyors are more frequently arriving with past survey results, so it’s important to make sure you are appropriate and consistently managing past findings—you don’t want to be in a position in which previously noted conditions have not been corrected.

Dry your eyes – but don’t dry those wipes!

A quick note of interest from the survey world –

A recent survey resulted in a hospital being cited under the Infection Control standards (IC.02.02.01 on low-level disinfection, to be exact). In two instances, someone had the temerity to forget to close the cover on a container of disinfectant wipes. Can you believe such risky behavior still exists in our 24/7 world of infection prevention? It’s true, my friend, it is true!

The finding went on to say that, as the appropriate disinfection of a surface depends on wet contact with the surface being disinfected, leaving the cover open would partially dry out the next wipe, impairing the ability of the wipe to properly disinfect the surface. Now, I suspect that the person to use that next wipe might somehow intuit that the moisture content in the wipe was not quite where it needed to be and maybe, just maybe, go to the lengths of (wait for it) – pulling out an additional wipe (or two, or three). Now my experience has been that sometimes those wipes are not what I would call particularly well-endowed in the moisture department. And  the use instructions for these products usually indicate that you should use as many wipes as it takes to ensure that the surface to be disinfected stays wet long enough for disinfection to occur.

I’ve always been a pretty big fan of the slowly-becoming-less common sense, so I’m not quite sure how we’ll be dealing with this one – thoughts, anyone?

Breaker, breaker…

Recently I received a question from a colleague regarding a survey finding an RFI under EC.02.05.01, performance element numero 7, which requires hospitals to map the distribution of its utility systems. The nature of the finding was that there was an electrical panel in which the panel schedule did not accurately reflect the status of the breakers contained therein.

My guess is that there was a breaker labeled as a “spare” that was in the “on” position, which is a pretty common finding if one should choose to look for such a condition. At any rate, the finding went on to outline that staff were unaware of the last time the mapping of the electrical distribution was verified. The question thus became: How often do we need to be verifying panel schedules, since the standard doesn’t specify and there is no supporting FAQ, etc., to provide guidance.

Now, first, I don’t know that this would be the most appropriate place to cite this condition; my preference would be for EP #8, which requires the labeling of utility systems controls to facilitate partial or complete emergency shutdowns, but I digress. Strictly speaking, any time any work is done in an electrical panel, the panel schedule should be verified for accuracy, which means that any breaker that is in the “on” position should be identified as such on the panel schedule. This is not specifically a Joint Commission requirement, but I think that we can agree that the concept, once one settles the matter as a function of logic and appropriate risk management behavior, “lives” in NFPA 70 the National Electrical Code®.

As I noted above, unfortunately, this is a very easy survey finding if the surveyor looks at enough panels; it is virtually impossible to not have at least one breaker in the “on” position that is identified on the panel schedule as a spare or not identified at all. That said, if you get cited for this, you are probably going to have to wrestle with this at some point and your facilities folks are going to have to come up with a process for managing this risk, as it’s really not safe to have inaccurately labeled electrical panels.

As to a desired frequency, without having any sense of how many panels are involved, which would be a key indicator for how often the folks would be able to reasonably assure compliance (a concept not very far away from the building maintenance program [BMP] concept), it’s tough to predict what would be sufficient. That said, the key compliance element remains who has access to the electrical panels. From my experience, the problem with the labeling of the breakers comes about when someone pops a breaker and tries to reset it without reaching out to the facilities folks. Someone just goes flipping things back and forth until the outlet is working again (floor buffing machine operators are frequent offenders in this regard).

From a practical standpoint, I think the thing to do in the immediate (if it’s not already occurred) is to condcut a survey of all the panels to establish a baseline and go from there, paying particular attention to the breakers that are not properly labeled in the initial survey. Those are the breakers I’d try to secure a little better, just to make sure that they are not accessible by folks who shouldn’t be monkeying around with them. Another unfortunate aspect of this problem is that both EP 7 and EP 8 are “A” performance elements, so it’s a one-strike-and-you’re-out scenario. Certainly worth a look-see, perhaps during hazard surveillance rounds.

So many panels, so little time…

A cup of coffee, a sandwich, and…the boss!

If you’ve not yet procured a copy of the November 2011 issue of The Joint Commission Perspectives, I would encourage you to do so. There is a very interesting article that focuses on a strategy for establishing more effective communication between the folks charged with managing the physical environment (that would be you) and hospital leadership.  Now I think this is a pretty cool idea, but I couldn’t say with any degree of certainty how widespread a success it might be as there are a number of variables involved (and that’s not counting personalities). That said, it’s certainly a strategy worth pursuing, if it doesn’t pursue you first.

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And now for something completely…the same

Time for a quick roundup of some recent survey trends:


  • We’ve talked about the overarching issues with weekly testing of plumbed eyewash stations any number of times over the years and I am always happy to respond to direct questions. The key element here is that if your organization is not conducting an at least weekly testing regimen for your plumbed eyewash stations and has not documented a risk assessment indicating that a lesser frequency is appropriate, it will likely be cited. My consultative advice: If you’re not testing at least weekly, please do so, or do the risk assessment homework.
  • With the extra life safety surveyor time during survey, the likelihood of encounters with frontline staff is on the rise. And apparently, it is not enough for folks to know what they are doing, but there is also an expectation that they will understand why they do what they do, primarily in the context of supporting patient care (which we all do—everything that happens in a hospital can trace back to the patient). I guess it won’t be enough for folks to be able to respond appropriately when asked how they would respond to a fire. They also need to understand how their response fits into the grand scheme of things. I really believe that folks understand why their jobs are important; we just need to prepare them for the question. Probably more on this as it develops.
  • 96 bottles of beer on the wall, 96 bottles of beer—but will that be enough beer to last 96 hours (I guess it depends on how thirsty you are)? So the question becomes this: If a surveyor asks to see your 96-hour capability assessment, what would you do, and perhaps most importantly, can you account for it in your Emergency Operations Plan? My general thought in this regard is that the 96-hour benchmark would be something that one would re-visit periodically, just as you would your hazard vulnerability assessment, in response to changing conditions, both internal and external.
  • As a final thought for this installment, please make sure that you (that would be the royal “you) are conducting annual fire drills in all those lovely little off-site locations listed as business occupancies on your Statement of Conditions. And make very sure that staff is aware that you are conducting those fire drills. There’s been a wee bit of an upsurge in fire drill findings based on the on-site staff not being able to “remember” any fire drills, in some instances, for several years. The requirement is annual and I don’t think any of us wishes to get tagged for something as incidental as this one.

Reasons (not) to be cheerful, part 3

Or perhaps it should be “hit me with your Joint Commission stick”?

What follows is a compendium of recent survey findings, some from The Joint Commission (TJC), some from me. So in no particular order:

  • Rooftop isolation exhaust fans and other “biohazard” areas should be appropriately labeled to identify the hazard. I’d expand this a little to include soiled utility rooms (particularly in outpatient settings) in which medical waste is collected and stored.
  • If you have key utility components (e.g., emergency generators and the like) outside your building, make sure that they are appropriately secured from unauthorized entry. And once you’ve determined what “appropriately secured” means for your organization, document the risk assessment, so if a surveyor just happens to disagree with how you are managing things, you have the basis for a clarification of the finding. Same goes for your solid waste compactors—make sure nobody can monkey with them (all due respect to monkeys).
  • Make sure everyone in the kitchen can locate and explain the operation of the fire suppression system. This is kind of a follow up from an earlier blog post outlining the monthly inspection of the kitchen fire suppression system. TJC recognizes that we, the primary stakeholders in the management of the care environment, have our act together. More and more, the focus has gone to the point of care/point of service staff. Safety lives in the trenches. We need to keep those folks in the loop.
  • Make sure your main supply shutoff valves, including your main oxygen valve, are appropriately labeled. And if you should choose to decide that, for reasons of security, that is not an appropriate strategy, make sure you document the risk assessment that led you to that determination.
  • Make sure you know where you need to have eyewash stations and where you don’t and why. Not every potential exposure requires an eyewash station—OSHA is very specific in that regard—potential exposure to corrosive materials is the determining factor. If you want to adopt a slightly stricter standard, the American National Standards Institute expands things to include corrosive and caustic materials. Beyond that, including blood and other potentially infectious material, you don’t “have to” have eyewash stations for exposure response. As a related aside, try to convince the folks in environmental services (and by extension, infection control) to promote the use of cleaning products that are not corrosive or caustic—that will help you identify an appropriate response capability.
  • Don’t forget those pesky compressed gas cylinders—other than penetrations and doors not latching, I think the most frequently cited specific condition is the unsecured cylinder. And please promise me you won’t say that you have to do additional education. Folks know they’re not supposed to leave the cylinders hither and thither. Find out the root cause of why they can’t do the right thing. And if you find out anything useful in that regard, please let the rest of us know.

Th-th-th-that’s all folks. For now…

One more from the mailbag

Q: Regarding patient/nonpatient care areas, what about performing site visits to off-site doctor offices run by the medical center? Once yearly or twice yearly?

A: That’s one that could go either way; strictly speaking, the two per year requirement is in the standards specific to hospitals and various assorted healthcare occupancies, but you could make the case that it’s best practice to extend that to physician office practices. What you could do is, if you decide to adopt the once a year, go at it as a function of a risk assessment and leave the option of increasing the frequency if conditions dictate, then wrap the whole thing up as part of the annual evaluation of the program scope. The other thing you could do (and this might be a good compromise) is to create a 10 to 15 item checklist (it can be less, I wouldn’t do more) that someone in the office can do and then do an “official” site visit to make the two per year. Generally speaking, physician office practices don’t endure a lot of variability, so the safety conditions, etc., while not exactly static, are of a much more manageable pace that the acute care setting, so it is entirely appropriate to administer the program accordingly.

What is a nonpatient care area?

Catching up on some recent e-mail questions, there was one regarding hazard surveillance activities and the oversight of off-site buildings (not identified under the hospital’s license) where there are no patient services provided. So the question became whether these locations had to be included in the hazard surveillance program and whether they would be subject to a Joint Commission visit during survey.

So, taking a look at the Joint Commission “role,” while it is most unlikely that the survey team would visit an off-site location with no patient services (not quite 0%, but something very close to that), a pain-in-the-butt surveyor might check the hazard surveillance round documentation vs. the list of hospital departments. Now the standard/elements in question, EC.04.01.01, EPs 12 and 13, only refers to patient and nonpatient care areas, so I think the thing to do is to be very specific in identifying locations in the scope of your management plans (I mean, what exactly is a nonpatient care area? A nonpatient area—got that; a patient care area—got that. But this hybrid is a little vague). Ultimately, the whole process sets up based on what you’ve identified as the appropriate inclusions, etc., so you can certainly make the determination of what would rule in to the program, or indeed rule out of the program.

That said, I have a concern in the event that OSHA were to rear its ever so lovely head. It would be of critical importance to demonstrate some sort of oversight; one strategy that comes to mind would be to develop a self-inspection process for those areas and fold that into the formal surveillance process. As a safety professional, I’m having a hard time saying that these “other” locations can be culled out of the main process (in my experience, it is never a good thing for people to think that they are somehow being ignored or not appropriately tended). I think the thing to do is to set up a less-invasive process that will allow some sort of feedback loop if environmental issues crop up in these other locations. Better you find out about issues than to have somebody drop a dime to the big “O.”

NFPA approves new versions of Life Safety Code®, NFPA 99

Boston’s buzzing today as hockey fans celebrate the Bruins winning their first Stanley Cup in 39 years, but that’s not the only action that took place here this week. Earlier in the week, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) held its 2011 Conference and Expo in Boston, which was followed by the NFPA Technical Meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Of particular interest to healthcare facilities folks, at the Technical Meeting the association approved new versions of NFPA 101, Life Safety Code® (LSC), and NFPA 99, Standard for Health Care Facilities. The 2012 editions of each standard are expected to be published officially in the next few months.

Once the 2012 editions are published, CMS and The Joint Commission are expected to follow suit and adopt the 2012 editions. Currently, both require hospitals to comply with the 2000 edition of the LSC. The most recent edition of the LSC was published in 2009.

It could take up to 18 months before CMS adopts a newer edition of the LSC. Once that happens, The Joint Commission, Det Norske Veritas, and the Healthcare Facilities Accreditation Program will also adopt it, and then accredited hospitals must comply with the new requirements.

Visit the NFPA’s Conference blog for more information on the votes and see the upcoming issue of Healthcare Life Safety Compliance for details and analysis of these actions and what they’ll mean for your facility.