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If you don’t signal, how will I know where you want to go? Emergency management and its discontents (Just What You Needed)!

Kind of a mixed bag this week, though it all fits under the heading of emergency management, so here goes nothing…

A few weeks ago, USA Today did a story on the preparedness levels of the United States based on an analysis of state-by-state metrics. The story was based on a study, the National Health Security Preparedness Index, prepared by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and covers a lot of ground relative to trends in preparedness, including governmental spending on preparedness and some other stuff. The reason I “noticed” this was the indication that my home state was “best prepared” for disasters, etc., but the overarching message was that, even in the face of some setbacks in individual regions, the nation continues to improve emergency preparedness. Of course, it being USA Today, there are color slides indicating where each state ranks among the fabulous 50, so if you thought there was no scorekeeping on this front…

OK, maybe not keeping score, but a certain accreditation agency is keeping an eye on all things relating to preparedness. In this blog post, Jim Kendig (field director for the Life Safety Code® surveyors at The Joint Commission, and a very knowledgeable fellow when it comes to this stuff) provides a really good overview of the Preparedness Index and describes it in terms of how the various pieces can (and do) fit together and provide the foundation for an effective emergency management program. I see no reason why we can’t expect something more of a deep dive in the coming survey cycle and I think you’ll find the information Jim shares to be really helpful.

As a final thought for this week, it is always the case that what constitutes a mass casualty incident varies from organization to organization, but if you want to catch a glimpse of how this gets framed within the context of one of the largest metropolitan areas on the planet, the Greater New York Hospital Association developed a Mass Casualty Incident Response Toolkit that you might find worth checking out. There’s a ton of information, tools/forms, and links to more tools/forms, etc., to review in this space, but I encourage you to give the materials a look-see. It does appear that the nature of what we can expect to show up at our collective front doors is shifting and anything that facilitates better positioning to deal with an emergency is worth our time and energies.

Ground Control to Major Compliance: EOC, baby!

As September brings around the unwinding of summah, it also brings around The Joint Commission’s annual state of compliance sessions in locations across the country, better known as Executive Briefings. And, one of the cornerstone communications resulting from the Briefings is the current state of compliance as a function of which standards have proved to be most problematic from an individual findings standpoint.

Yet again (with one exception, more on that in a moment), EOC/Life Safety standards stand astride the Top 10 list like some mythical colossus (the Colossus of Chicago?), spreading fear in the hearts of all that behold its countenance (OK, maybe not so much fear as a nasty case of reflux…).

You can find the Top 5 most frequently cited standards across the various accreditation programs; you’ll have to check out the September issue of Perspectives for the bigger compliance picture, which I would encourage you to do.

At any rate, what this tells us is that (for the most part) the singular compliance items that are most likely to occur (for example, we’ve already discussed the loaded sprinkler head hiding somewhere in your facility—way back in April) are still the ones they are most likely to find. According to the data, of the 688 hospitals surveyed in the first six months of 2019, 91% of the hospitals surveyed (626 hospitals) were cited for issues with sprinkler/extinguishment equipment—and that, my friends, is a lot of sprinkler loading. I won’t bore you with the details (I think everyone recognizes where the likely imperfections “live” in any organization), but (at least to me) it still looks like the survey process works best as a means of generating findings, no matter how inconsequential they might be in relation to the general safety of any organization. I have no doubt that somewhere in the mix of the Top 10 list, there are safety issues of significance (that goes back to the “no perfect buildings” concept), particularly in older facilities in which mechanical systems, etc. are reaching the end of their service life—I always admired Disney for establishing a replacement schedule that resulted in implementation before they had to. It’s like buying a new car and having the old one still on the road: Are you going to replace the engine, knowing that the floor is going to rust through (and yes, I know that some of you would, but I mean in general)? But if the car dies on the way to the dealer to pick up the new one, you’re not going to do anything but tow it to the junkyard. But we can’t do that with hospitals and it’s usually such a battle to get funding/approval for funding/etc. that you can get “stuck” piecing something together in order to keep caring for your patients. It sure as heck is not an ideal situation, but it can (and does) happen. Maintaining the care environment is a thankless, unforgiving, and relentless pursuit—therein is a lot of satisfaction, but also lots of antacid…

One interesting shift (and I think we’ve been wondering when it would happen) is the appearance of a second infection control (IC) standard, which deals with implementation of an organization’s IC plan. I personally have always counted the IC findings relating to the storage, disinfection, etc. of equipment as being an EOC standard in all but name, but I think we may (finally) be seeing the shift to how appropriately organizations are managing infection risks. According to Perspectives, 64% of the hospitals surveyed in the first six months of 2019 were cited for issues relating to implementation, but not sure how the details are skewing. Certainly, to at least some degree, implementation is “walking the talk,” so it may relate to the effectiveness of rounding, etc. Or, it may relate to practice observed at point-of-care/point-of-service. I think we can agree that nosocomial infections are something to avoid and perhaps this is where that focus begins—but it all happens (or doesn’t) in the environment, so don’t think for an instant that findings in the environment/Life Safety will go gentle into that good night. I think we’re here for the long haul…

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

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

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

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

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

Have a safe and festive Labor Day!

Update: Defunct Links to/in the FAQ-niverse!

Greetings, fellow travelers!

With special thanks to Claire Rebouche for bringing this to my attention, it appears that the links to the new ligature risk FAQs that appeared in this week’s blog post no longer direct you to the content of the latest information (I swear to you that the links were working Monday), but rather direct you to the FAQ homepage. Now, that wouldn’t be such an awful thing if the latest FAQ (for the record, TJC describes it thusly: “Ligature Risks – Assessing and Mitigating Risk For Suicide and Self-Harm”) were readily discernible, but alas (at least for the moment), this particular FAQ is among the missing.

Rest assured, top people are working on trying to find out what’s going on, and hopefully this is but a temporary circumstance (I figure if we can’t find the information, the surveyors might be having a tough time as well—helps to level the playing field). One other thing to note is that where previously the ligature-related FAQs could be found in the EC section of the FAQ homepage, they’ve all been moved to the NPSG section (and, interestingly enough, increased the number of FAQs dealing with ligatures to just over 20), so you may want to keep an eye on any changes in that section (from a practical standpoint, I understand the shift, but I don’t know that they couldn’t have shown up in both sections as a transition, though perhaps they did—I don’t spend a lot of time monitoring the NPSG section of the FAQ page).

At any rate, what I suspect may be happening is that, in their efforts to “clean up” the FAQ page, it would seem that some of the internal links are no longer working, so I’m hoping that we’re just working through a funky transition period and everything will be up and running soon.

That said, there are a couple of other new items relative to the management of this at-risk patient population that I want to share (while they are still available): this one and this other one, which deal with how the process for managing at-risk patients can result in catastrophic gaps in care. I think they’re pretty straightforward in terms of information, but with everything else going on this week, I would encourage you to check ’em out sooner rather than later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One size fits all…or one size fits none

In a world in which the economies of scale don’t always economize, I keep running into situations and/or conditions that result from trying to make something do too much. The classic example (other than those one-size-fits-all bunny suits in ORs across this great land of ours—I always end up looking like late-model Elvis, Vegas edition) is the temperature log that is used for food refrigerators, medication refrigerators, etc. As a general rule of thumb, unless the temperature range for each of the refrigerators being monitored is the same (and never mind trying to mix Fahrenheit and Celsius), then you are just asking for trouble. “Pushing” staff to have to discern between competing “out of range” temperature values requires an almost infinite amount of attention, and while there is, in certain instances, some overlap (food is usually 33-40 degrees F and medication 36-46 degrees F, so 36-40 works for both), it just makes so much more sense to limit confusion to the extent possible. And, to my mind, that means individualized temperature logs. One quick note regarding temperature logs for freezers, if your log doesn’t have a temperature “safe” range clearly indicated, I’ve been seeing a lot of mix-ups regarding those pesky negative numbers. For instance, if you establish a target of -15 degrees or colder, -10 degrees would be considered an -out-of-range value, but in talking with the folks doing the monitoring, they “think” of “10” being less that “15,” kind of missing the whole negative number dynamic. I won’t say that this is happening everywhere, but I have run into it in a couple of instances, so that’s something to keep an eye on.

Turning to the Oddities page, I was cruising through The Joint Commission’s FAQ page (admittedly, looking for blog fodder) and came across something of a puzzle; in the text of the FAQ dealing with the “old” requirement of the building assessment as a function of the Statement of Conditions (the old Part 3, which is no longer available) and has not been since 2007. But if you look at the text of LS.01.01.01, the second performance element indicates that a building assessment is required (at time frames to be determined by each organization) to determine compliance with the Life Safety chapter of the Joint Commission manual. I guess the thing that struck me about this happenstance is that the FAQ would have a good opportunity to indicate that the building assessment has evolved (or mutated—your pick) into its present day purpose  as an exercise in assessing your building for compliance with the LS chapter. Maybe they just haven’t gotten around to updating this FAQ (it is a ways down the FAQ page), and I suppose it is no more than a curiosity.

Making stock, taking stock: Emergency inventory madness!

In trolling The Joint Commission’s FAQ page for interesting tidbits to share, I came across the entry regarding the thought process around the establishment of an emergency inventory. Some interesting takes on certain aspects of the emergency inventory concept—it doesn’t “have” to be centralized, in recognition of “just in time” purchasing and the importance of being able to use stock with a shelf-life (it would not be good to have your EM supplies expire because they were earmarked solely for emergency response).

The FAQ goes on to recommend tracking assets and inventory for a year to ascertain what your organization’s capabilities and needs might be. But I’m trying to figure out how that “recommendation” (recognizing that the FAQs can be invoked at the level of standards-based requirement) dovetails with the “requirement” for an annual “review” (I remain stymied by the use of “review” as opposed to evaluation; it may just be me, but a review doesn’t have the same action level as an evaluation but perhaps they are to be considered synonymous) of the inventory of resources and assets needed during an emergency. My thought would be that you would be looking at how resources and assets are managed on an ongoing basis and that information used to ensure that the organization has what it needs and has the ability to procure additional resources and assets should it experience a prolonged emergency.

I think the key thing to keep in mind (as when one is addressing each of the TJC-anointed critical functions) is to ensure that for each exercise or actual implementation, there is a process in place for evaluating performance in each of those areas. Someone should be looking at:

  • Communications
  • Staff roles and responsibilities
  • Safety/security
  • Utilities
  • Patient care activities
  • The management of resources and assets

And those someones (whoever they may be) need to be particularly forthcoming because (as we have learned over the years) it is not so much about what went right as it is about what opportunities can be identified to make the next time better. Too many times I’ve encountered folks that are reluctant to “air out the dirty laundry.” Identifying potential vulnerabilities is never a bad thing (true, it can make for some difficult discussions), it is the only thing.

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

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

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

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

Secret Club for Members Only: Some FAQing for your reading pleasure

This week finds us (once again) visiting with our friends from Chicago as they stand astride the accreditation world like some ancient colossus. (I am hopeful that my purple prose will subside at this point, but sometimes the fingers take me in odd directions.)

First up, we have some additional guidance relative to how one might go about managing compressed gas cylinders, particularly those pesky oxygen cylinders that can cause so much grief during survey. So now we have a Joint Commission performance element that establishes the expectation that each organization will have a policy regarding the storage of oxygen and other compressed gas cylinders, said policy is to include the amount of gas at which segregation of full and empty cylinders would take place. You may recall that the initial “take” required full cylinders to be segregated from empty and partially full cylinders, but that “interpretation” of NFPA 99 has shifted a bit to allow for the storage of partially full cylinders in the company of full cylinders.

And now, we have a new FAQ that provides some guidance relative to how one might go about determining the amounts representative of full/partial/empty, depending on whether the cylinder(s) you are using have an integral pressure gauge. The FAQ also introduces the concept of “depleted volume content,” which ( as near as I can tell), is the amount of gas left in the cylinder that requires storage with the empty (as opposed to the full) cylinders. There is also a (maybe) handy table that walks you through the various segregatory considerations—I’ll let you parse those in your spare time.

My takeaway is that you need to make sure that if your current policy (if you don’t have one, it is a standards-based requirement, so best get on it) doesn’t pretty closely mirror how things shake out in this FAQ, you should consider modification of current policy/practice or be prepared to discuss how what you’re doing to be in compliance with the NFPA 99-2012 requirements. The other “thing” I noticed is the discussion of the labeling of empty cylinders as a function of the segregation process—if you have the empties in a separate rack that is labeled as such, then you should be fine. But if you have a single rack with full and empty cylinders cohabitating, then the empty cylinders have to be labeled; unfortunately, this does not appear to allow for the marking of the rack itself (I’ve seen red tape and red paint to identify the empty “slots”), so if that’s your practice you might get some pushback from a literalist surveyor looking for the empty cylinders to be labeled.

Next up, we have some information relative to the management of behavioral health patients, in this case, discussions of the various methodologies for determining the risks of each patient to be managed. I do believe that the regulatory focus on environmental considerations will start to diminish somewhat as we kick into the “next” survey cycle,  but I believe that the focus on the management of at-risk patient populations will continue as a function of: now that we have a “safer” environment, how are we making sure that the patients are being appropriately cared for, which is driven by the assessment process. Assessment stuff can be found here.

As an additional piece of the puzzle (I guess time will tell whether it is more piece than puzzle or the reverse…), TJC has established an information portal to assist organizations in compliance with the July 1, 2019 changes to the National Patient Safety Goal on Suicide Prevention, including links to the issues of Perspectives in which the initial (and ongoing) guidance, etc. can be found. As a one-stop-shop, it looks like a pretty useful thing to have in your back pocket. As I’ve noted any number of times (and I think once or twice in this forum), a lot of the TJC surveyor knowledge comes to them the same way it comes to you, so I think it a positively splendid idea to take a gander at the links contained herein.