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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.

 

Keep calm and stock up on emergency supplies

Hospitals are generally prepared for emergencies, but don’t be afraid to kick those tires one last time.

I don’t know that this last spate is officially the most congested high-intensity weather pattern we’ve ever encountered, but it has got to be right up there in the uppermost tier. As we continue to keep our thoughts on those who have been managing the effects of Harvey, Irma, and Jose, I suppose it’s only a matter of time before the critiques start arriving.

I do believe that hospitals in general are appropriately prepared to respond to emergencies (and I know for certain a number of hospitals that appropriately prepared). As I pen this, I am sitting at the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, waiting to see if Irma is going to let me get to some client work this week or force me to be Boston-bound.

My philosophy about these things is that there is very little, if any, control that can be exercised as events unfold; the only true aspect of control is to be able to position yourself to make good decisions for the duration of whatever event you might be facing. From what I can gather, this was very much in effect as hospitals in the southeastern U.S. and into the Caribbean responded to recent weather events.

Not every physical plant fared as well as some, but one of the quirky things about catastrophes is they tend to be, well, catastrophic—if it had been business as usual, we probably wouldn’t be talking about it at the moment. At any rate, kudos to those folks who did what they had to do to keep things together, and our best to those for whom every preparation in the world could not have been enough.

In other news

I was going through some stuff I’ve had in the queue for a while that really didn’t fit thematically in the conversation of the week but that I think would be useful to bring to your collective attention. So, in brief (some of you will probably question my definition of brevity, but I can live with that), here they are:

  • For the foreseeable future, there will be a fair amount of scrutiny of the physical environment in your outpatient locations, and a key component of managing those environments is making sure that the folks who are keeping the place clean are on top of their game. It is not uncommon for organizations to have to use independent contract cleaning services for their outpatient locations, but clean is clean is clean—and we know some of the surveyors are not shy about getting out their white gloves and rooting around for GFM (gray fibrous material, a.k.a. dust). Patient environments need to be properly maintained–and you know who’ll suffer the consequences if that’s not happening.
  • Back in April, our friends in Chicago, The Joint Commission, published Quick Safety 32: Crash-cart preparedness; while not everything on their list is specific to the physical environment, there is a lot of fair info relative to process. There are certainly safety and security (not to mention life safety) implications if resuscitation supplies and equipment are not properly maintained—and this applies to your outpatient settings as well. Keep an eye on crash carts wherever they may be.
  • Finally, (and going way, way back to January 2017), The Joint Commission’s Quick Safety 30 covered the all-too-current topic of protecting patients during utility system outages. I think we can all agree that this summer has brought a few too many opportunities to test our mettle in this regard (and, again, great job everyone!), but, as we all know, utility systems can crap out at any time, with minimal warning. So, the watch words (or watch concepts, as it were) are “contingency” and “plans”—redundancies, staff ability to respond to disruptions, etc. are some of the keys to success. Quick Safety 30 also provides a couple of links to some contingency planning resources. The truism underneath all this stuff is that one can never be too prepared, so don’t be afraid to kick those tires one last time.

 

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!

I said you’ll pay for this mischief…

In this world, or the next! Stand by for news…

In this most momentous of years / survey cycles, it appears that there may be at least one more shift in the firmament, that being a transition for a most notable AHJ. The grapevine has been singing this week. (You can reference either the Marvin Gaye or Gladys Knight version; at the moment, I’m leaning toward an invocation of Marvin as it pushes a follow of “What’s Going On”—Brother, Brother, indeed!) There seems to be a changing of the guard afoot in Mordor (or Oak Park, Illinois—take your pick) as it appears that the estimable Director of Engineering for The Joint Commission, George Mills, is transitioning out of the crucible that provides so much in the way of heartburn in the industry.

Word is that one of the engineers in the Standards Interpretation Group (SIG), John Maurer, will be taking the director’s position on an interim basis. Not by any means a comparison (my personal dealings with the departing incumbent have always been reasonable and assistive), but my past interactions with Mr. Maurer have always been thoughtful, helpful and equitable, including indication of how one might plot a course toward satisfactory compliance. In that regard, I don’t anticipate that this will engender a significant change in how business will be conducted, including the practical administration of the Life Safety portion of the accreditation survey process. While details have not yet been officially confirmed, I have no reason to think that the information in general is incorrect, so all I can say is best of luck to everyone as they (and we) embark on their new journeys and pray for a resurgence of benevolence across the board.

To round things out for this week, I would bring your attention to last week’s Joint Commission Quick Safety Issue (QSI #35 in an ongoing series—collect ‘em like baseball cards!) and the topic du jour: minimizing noise and distractions in OR and procedural units.

Now, you’ll get no argument from me that there are certain environments and situations for which noise minimization is desirable, and perhaps, essential. And, empirically, I can’t disagree with any of the characterizations indicated in QSI #35—there are quite a number of footnotes, none of which I have had the time to track down, but, again, I have no reason to think that the scholarship of the article is anything less than spot on. I guess the thought/question/concern I have relates to the practical application of this as an improvement activity (keeping in full mind that sometimes surgeons like to operate to music that ain’t exactly in the realm of quiet—think AC/DC’s “Back in Black” and you’ll be on the right track).

QSI #35 has a whole list of “safety actions to consider,” and the indication is that these are actions that “should” be considered. (But how often have you seen a “should” become very musty during survey…) I wonder if you’ll have the leeway to make the determination of whether you are appropriately managing noise in the procedural environment. I suppose it’s good that this hasn’t shown up in Perspectives

And then came the last days of May…

There’s been a ton of activity the past few weeks on both the Joint Commission and CMS sides of the equation (and if you are starting to feel like the ref in a heavyweight prize fight who keeps getting in the line of fire, yup, that’d be you!) with lots of information coming fast and furious. Some of it helpful (well, as helpful as things are likely to be), some perhaps less so than would be desirable (we can have all the expectations we want as to how we’d ask for things to be “shared,” but I’m not thinking that the “sharers” are contemplating the end users with much of this stuff). This week we’ll joust on TJC stuff (the June issue of Perspectives and an article published towards the end of May) and turn our attentions (just in time for the solstice—yippee!) to the CMS stuff (emergency preparedness and legionella, a match made in DC) next week.

Turning first to Perspectives, this month’s Clarifications & Expectations column deals with means of egress—still one of the more frequently cited standards, though it’s not hogging all the limelight like back in the early days of compliance. There are some anticipated changes to reflect the intricacies of the 2012 Life Safety Code® (LSC), including some renumbering of performance elements, but, for the most part, the basic tenets are still in place. People have to have a reliable means of exiting the (really, any) building in an emergency and part of that reliability revolves around managing the environment. So, we have the time-honored concept of cluttah (that’s the New English version), which has gained some flexibility over time to include crash carts, wheeled equipment, including chemotherapy carts and isolation carts that are being used for current patients, transport equipment, including wheelchairs and stretchers/gurneys (whichever is the term you know and love), and patient lift equipment. There is also an exception for fixed (securely attached to the wall or floor) furnishings in corridors as long as here is full smoke detector coverage or the furniture is in direct supervision of staff.

Also, we’ll be seeing some additional granularity when it comes to exiting in general: each floor of a building having two remote exits; every corridor providing access to at least two approved exits without passing through any intervening rooms or spaces other than corridors or lobbies, etc. Nothing particularly earth-shattering on that count. We’ll also be dealing with some additional guidance relative to suites, particularly separations of the suites from other areas and subdividing the areas within the suite—jolly good fun!

Finally, Clarifications & Expectations covers the pesky subject of illumination, particularly as a function of reliability and visibility, so head on over to the June Perspectives for some proper illuminative ruminations.

A couple of weeks back (May 24, to be exact), TJC unveiled some clarifications. I think they’re of moderate interest as a group, with one being particularly useful, one being somewhat curious and the other two falling somewhere in the middle:

ED occupancy classifications: This has been out in the world for a bit and, presumably, any angst relating to how one might classify one’s ED has dissipated, unless, of course, one had the temerity to classify the ED as a business occupancy—the residual pain from that will probably linger for a bit. Also (and I freely confess that I’m not at all sure about this one), is there a benefit of maintaining a suite designation when the ED is an ambulatory healthcare occupancy? As suites do not feature in the Ambulatory Occupancy chapters of the LSC, is it even possible to do so? Hmmmm…

Annual inspection of fire and smoke doors: No surprise here, with the possible exception of not requiring corridor doors and office doors (no combustibles) to be included. Not sure how that will fly with the CMSers…

Rated fire doors in lesser or non-rated barriers: I know this occurs with a fair degree of frequency, but the amount of attention this is receiving makes me wonder if there is a “gotcha” lurking somewhere in the language of the, particularly the general concept of “existing fire protection features obvious to the public.” I’m not really sure how far that can go and, given the general level of obliviousness (obliviosity?) of the general public, this one just makes me shake my head…

Fire drill times: I think this one has some value because the “spread” of fire drill times has resulted in a fair number of findings, though the clarification language doesn’t necessarily get you all the way there (I think I would have provided an example just to be on the safe side). What the clarification says is that a fire drill conducted no closer than one hour apart would be acceptable…there should not be a pattern of drills being conducted one hour apart. Where this crops up during survey is, for example, say all your third shift drills in 2016 were conducted in the range of 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. (Q1 – 0520; Q2 – 0559; Q3 – 0530; Q4 – 0540), that would be a finding, based on the need for the drills to be conducted under varying circumstances. Now, I think that anyone who’s worked in healthcare and been responsible for scheduling fire drills would tell you (at least I certainly would) that nobody remembers from quarter to quarter what time the last fire drill was conducted (and if they think about it at all, they’re quite sure that you “just” did a fire drill, like last week and don’t you understand how disruptive this is, etc.) If you can’t tell, third shift fire drills were never my favorite thing to do, though it beats being responsible for snow removal…

So that’s the Joint Commission side of the equation (if you can truly call it an equation). Next time: CMS!

Welcome to a new kind of tension…

In the “old” days, The Joint Commission’s FAQ page would indicate the date on which the individual FAQs had been updated, but now that feature seems to be missing from the site (it may be that deluge of changes to the FAQs (past, present, and, presumably, future) makes that a more challenging task than previously (I will freely admit that there wasn’t a ton of activity with the FAQs until recently). That said, there does appear to be some indication when there is new material. For example, when you click on the link (or clink on the lick), a little short of halfway down the page you will see that there’s something new relative to the storage of needles and syringes (they have it listed under the “Medical Equipment” function—more on that in a moment), so I think that’s OK.

But in last week’s (dated May 31, 2017) Joint Commission e-Alert, they indicate that there is a just posted FAQ item relating to ligature risks, but the FAQ does not appear to be highlighted in the same manner as the needle and syringe storage FAQ (at least as of June 1, when I am penning this item). Now I don’t disagree that the appropriate storage (recognizing that appropriate is in the eye of the beholder) of needles and syringes is an important topic of consideration, I’m thinking that anything that TJC issues relative to the appropriate management of ligature risks (and yes, it appears that I am far from done covering this particular topic) is of pretty close to utmost importance, particularly for those of you likely to experience a TJC survey in the next little while. I would encourage you to take a few moments to take a peek at the details here.

So, parsing these updates a bit: I don’t know that I’ve ever considered needles and syringes “medical equipment,” but I suppose they are really not medications, so I guess medical equipment is the appropriate descriptor—it will be interesting to see where issues related to the storage of needles and syringes are cited. As usual (at least on the TJC front) it all revolves around the (wait for it…) risk assessment. It’s kind of interesting in that this particular FAQ deals somewhat less specifically with the topic at hand (storage of needles and syringes) and more about the general concepts of the risk assessment process, including mention of the model risk assessment that can be found in the introductory section of the Leadership chapter (Leadership, to my mind, is a very good place to highlight the risk assessment process). So no particularly new or brilliant illumination here, but perhaps an indicator of future survey focus.

As to the ligature risks, I think it is reasonable to believe that there will be very few instances in which every single possible ligature risk will be removed from the care environment, which means that everyone is going to have to come up with some sort of mitigation strategy to manage those risks that have not been removed. With the FAQ, TJC has provided some guidance relative to what would minimally be expected of that mitigation strategy; while I dare not indicate verbatim (you will have to do your own clicking on this one—sorry!), you might imagine that there would need to be: communication of current risks; process for assessing patient risk; implementation of appropriate interventions; ongoing assessments of at-risk behavior; training of staff relative to levels of risk and appropriate interventions; inclusion of reduction strategies in the QAPI program; and inclusion of equipment-related risks in patient assessments, with subsequent implementation of interventions.

I don’t see any of this as particularly unusual/foreign/daunting, though (as usual) the staff education piece is probably the most complicated aspect of the equation as that is the most variable output. I am not convinced that we are doing poorly in this realm, but I guess this one really has to be a zero-harm philosophy. No arguments from me, but perhaps some important work to do.

Come on, I Lean: Do you Lean?

As you are no doubt aware by now, there’s been a wee bit of a shift in this forum away from all things Joint Commission, as the CMSers seem more inclined to assert themselves in the accreditation market place. I personally have had a lot of work this year in follow-up activities relating to CMS visits and one of the structural/organizational vulnerabilities/opportunities that seem to be cropping with some regularity are those relating to the integration of the physical environment program into organizational Quality Assessment/Performance Improvement (hereafter referred to as QAPI, pronounced “Kwoppee”—I think you’re going to find that you’ll be hearing that term a lot in the coming years/decades) activities. This very much goes back to a topic we discussed back in January (it’s funny, when I started looking for the link to this story, I could have sworn that we had covered this within the last month) relative to making sure that organizational leadership is abundantly familiar with any issues that are (more or less) “stuck” in your safety committee. There is no “sin” in admitting that there are or may be improvement opportunities for which traction in making those improvements is a little slippery—you have to have a means of escalating things to point where reasonable traction is possible. So, from a regulatory standpoint, this all falls under §482.21 Condition of Participation: Quality Assessment and Performance Improvement, which includes the rejoinder: “The hospital must develop, implement, and maintain an effective, ongoing, hospital-wide, data-driven quality assessment and performance improvement program. The hospital’s governing body must ensure that the program reflects the complexity of the hospital’s organization and services; involves all hospital departments and services (including those services furnished under contract or arrangement); and focuses on indicators related to improved health outcomes and the prevention and reduction of medical errors.”

Now, I can tell you that this is a very big deal, particularly when it comes to the reporting up of data, occurrence reporting, etc.—even from the likes of our little world of physical environment safety and related topics. And sometimes you have to be willing to throw some light on those process areas that are not performing as you would want them to; improvement doesn’t typically happen in a vacuum and that absence of vacuum tends to require a fair amount of conversation/collaboration (with some resultant caterwauling) in order to make things happen/get things done.

One QAPI topic you will probably be hearing about (if you have not already) is Lean methodology, which pretty much embraces the general concept of reducing “waste” while still delivering positive service outcomes by focusing on what the customer wants (you can find some useful highlights here; the books are worth a look—perhaps your local library can hook you up). One organization that appears to be endorsing the Lean methodology is that kooky bunch in Chicago and while the article focuses on behavioral health, I think there is enough practical information to be worth a look. And, since we know from past experience that TJC tends to adopt a more pervasive stance when it comes to these types of things, I think it would be very useful (at the very least for those of you using TJC for accreditation) to be conversant in Lean. It’s probably going to rock your boat at some point—life preservers mandatory!

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?

That’s the FAQ, Jack!

It may be that I am covering one topic of conversation more than necessary (it’s getting to the point where this might eclipse the discussion of eyewash stations—yow!), but I cannot help but be very concerned about the amount of play that the management of the environment in which we place behavioral health patients is receiving in the annals of The Joint Commission. April 24 saw an electronic update announcing the “birth” of a new standards FAQ regarding ligature risks that appears to be aimed at dovetailing with Sentinel Event Alert #56 and includes mention of a “Suicide Risk Booster” (who comes up with these names?!?). As we have discussed before, FAQs, Sentinel Event Alerts, and stuff that finds its way into Perspectives all take on the weight of standards when applied in the field, so clearly organizations need to have all their ducks in a row. (And this is starting to look like a whole mess o’ ducks to be “rowed”, which brings new meaning to that Willie Nelson classic “On The Rowed Again,” but I digress—and who wouldn’t?) The question I keep coming back to is whether there’s been an uptick in actual events in which patients have come to harm as the result of poorly or inappropriately managed ligature risks. Or is this the result of surveyors in the field citing organizations for having ligature risks and not being able to produce a risk assessment of the existing conditions and the identification (and communication to staff—key point, that one) of mitigation strategies to manage the identified risks?

Part of the challenge with this particular issue (and this is true of a great many things in the physical environment) is that it is virtually impossible to provide an environment that is entirely, absolutely (please insert your favorite qualifier here) impossible to provide a completely risk-free environment—at least on this planet (perhaps there are safer planets in the Federation, but I couldn’t say for sure), so there’s always going to be something with which patients intent on hurting themselves might use to that end. Now I know that not every healthcare setting is set up to deal with behavioral health patients (and somehow, I do think that for any hospital that has not come face-to-face with the management of BH patients in areas not designed for that purpose, it is just a matter of time) and I also know that the BH patient volumes can be very mercurial. Even if you have one “safe” room, there are no guarantees that, at any given moment, that will be enough to handle however many patients you have in the queue—and you really can’t leave these folks out in the waiting room. Again, I’m not convinced that the issue here is that there is data to support that folks are not managing things appropriately, but rather more along the lines of not being able to consistently communicate the process for assessing and identifying risks, educating staff to be able to speak to the mitigation strategies being used to manage the identified risks, etc. I would (as I have been for a while now) encourage you to really take this topic and do a deep dive into the particulars of your organization. I firmly believe that this is not going to be one of those “one and done” instances of risk assessment and that you will be well-served by periodically revisiting the initial assessment (if it has been completed) to ensure that the conditions upon which you based your initial assessment have not changed (and that includes the volume and acuity of the patients). There is every indication that TJC is going to be hammering on this for some time to come (remembering that EC.02.06.01 was the most frequently cited standard in 2016; the ligature risk findings tend to show up there when cited) and, much as issues with the surgical environment and interim life safety measures, process gaps can get you in a heap of trouble. A little extra work on this (and those others) can only increase your chances for a successful survey (or at least a not spectacularly ugly survey).

As a closing note, after a dinner discussion with my wife (who happens to be a nurse), I’ve been contemplating how the role of the safety professional has changed over the last 10-15 years, including my surprise when I encounter evidence of “old school” approaches to safety. To my mind (such as it is), where safety compliance was once the result of (more or less) coercion, sustained compliance can truly only come as the result of collaboration with the folks who have to manage the environment on a day to day basis—pretty much everyone at point of care/point of service. It is not enough for a safety professional to periodically stroll through an area and point out deficiencies, there has to be a conversation and there has to be problem-solving. I think the old coercive style was based on something approaching a lack of faith in the folks out in the environment to be able (or willing) to “do the right thing.” But in this era of “just” culture and empowerment, etc., safety has to happen all the time and that, my friends, can only come with an atmosphere of collaboration. If people hide stuff or behave more appropriately when they hear you are coming, then it makes the surveillance process less useful. And if you don’t work with folks to figure out how to resolve the issues that you “keep finding,” the likelihood of it fixing itself on its own is pretty remote. I freely admit that problem-solving is my favorite part of my safety consulting work (meeting folks is also a fave); there is nothing better than talking through a problem and achieving some sort of consensus on how to proceed. It’s not always easy, but it is worth every moment you put into it!

Or the light that never warms

Continuing in our somewhat CMS-centric trajectory, I did want to touch upon one last topic (for the moment) as it portends some angst in the field. A couple of weeks ago (April 14, 2017, to be exact), the friendly folks at CMS issued notice of a proposed regulation change focusing on how Accrediting Organizations (AO) communicate survey results to the general public (you can find the details of the notice here).

At present, the various AOs do not make survey results and subsequent corrective action plans available to the general public, but apparently the intent is for that to change. So, using the Joint Commission data from 2016 as test data, it seems that a lot of folks are going to be highlighted in a manner that is not going to paint the prettiest picture. As we covered last week, hospitals and other healthcare organizations are not CMS’ customers, so their interest is pretty much solely in making sure that their customers are able to obtain information that may be helpful in making healthcare decisions. Returning to the Joint Commission data from last year, pretty much at least 50% of the hospitals surveyed will be “portrayed” as having issues in the environment (I’m standing by my prediction that those numbers are going to increase before they decrease—a prediction about which I will be more than happy to be incorrect). Now, the stated goal of this whole magillah is to improve the quality and safety of services provided to patients (can’t argue with that as a general concept), but I’m not entirely certain how memorializing a missed fire extinguisher check at an outpatient clinic or a missed weekly eyewash station check is going to help patients figure out where they want to obtain healthcare. So, I guess the question becomes one of how the folks we hire to assist with accreditation services (the folks for whom we are the customers) are going to share this information in the name of transparency? (Though I suppose if you were really diligent, it might be a little easier to discern trends in survey findings if you’re of a mind to dig through all the survey results.) It will be interesting to see how this plays out; I can’t imagine that they’d be able to publish survey results particularly quickly (I would think they would have to wait until the corrective action plan/evidence of standards compliance process worked itself through).

As with so many things related to the survey process, I understand what they are trying to do (begging the question: Is transparency always helpful?), but I’m not quite catching how this is going to help the process. I absolutely believe that the CMS and the AOs (could be a band name!) have a duty and an obligation to step in when patients are being placed at risk, as the result of care, environment, abuse, whatever. But does that extend to the “potential” of a process gap that “could” result in something bad happening—even in the presence of evidence that the risk is being appropriately managed? There always have been, and always will be, imperfections in any organization—and interpretations of what those imperfections may or may not represent. Does this process make us better or more fearful?