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When you get to the end, you get to start all over again…

I know you folks have (more or less) been under a constant bombardment of facts, figures, strategies, etc., relating to COVID-19 and, as every day brings us a little closer to a return to some sort of normalcy (It will be interesting to look back on how things changed as the result of the current emergency), I wanted to chat this week about one of those “other” things that is likely to be on the to-do list when we get to the recovery phase of this emergency. Not that long ago (OK, two weeks ago), we covered the potential for an intensification of scrutiny in the outpatient setting. And, as it should turn out, one of those areas of potential is the management of behavioral health patients in that setting. Last month (March 2020) our friends in Chicago posted an FAQ aimed at “hospital and hospital clinic settings” that talks about expectations relative to risk assessments in non-psychiatric units/areas in general hospitals. Of particular interest to me is the invocation of competency as a function of conducting the risk assessment “in areas where staff do not have the training to do this independently” and referencing “on-site psychiatric professional” as a potential resource. To me, that likely means that (and this may be the case of any risk assessment upon which you’ve modified practice, the environment, etc.) there will be questions about the risk assessment process, including “How do you know that the folks involved with the assessment were competent?” or something akin to that. I don’t know that everyone who has to (at least periodically) manage behavioral health patients is going to be able to access “on-site psychiatric professional” assistance, in which case it’s probably a good idea to clearly establish the credentials of the team or individual crafting the assessment. You can see what elements you’ll want to include here.

To aid in ensuring an appropriate environment for behavioral health patients, you might find the information assembled by the Center For Health Design to be useful. There is (almost literally) a ton of resources, from interviews, webinars, and podcasts to discussions of design elements, etc. As we have seen over the past few years, the management of the behavioral health environment is very much a moving target and the more information we have at our disposal, the more (dare I say) competence we can obtain. Every one of us is a caregiver to one degree or another and this is another useful resource that will help provide the most healing environment possible.

Please stay safe and (reasonably) sane ’til next time!

What a short, strange trip it’s been…

I think we can safely say that 2020 has manifested itself in a lot of (vaguely unpleasant) ways, but this one has the potential for really shifting the compliance landscape for the next little while.

You probably have already heard this through various sources, but our friends in Chicago are suspending all regular Joint Commission survey activity, effective this past Monday, March 16 until further notice, with no anticipated restart date. I suppose those of you for whom a survey visit was imminent, this gives you a little bit of breathing room (and given the tenor of the times, even a little bit feels pretty darn good), but it also requires you to sustain your compliance and oversight efforts just that much longer (I have always maintained that accreditation surveys look best in the rear view mirror), which could prove challenging.

That said, I have absolute confidence in you folks to keep your organizations sharp and on point (sorry for the mixed metaphor there). We can only prepare one day at a time, and so, can only sustain progress one day at a time. I think we can predict that infection control and prevention will experience focus like never before (but hey, we knew this was coming), so make sure all your infection control-related risk assessments are up-to-date and minty fresh (actually, reviewing all your risk assessments is probably a good way to spend this “grace” period).

There’s a lot going on, but if the past two months+ are any indicator, 2020 has more surprises in store (hopefully not…), you don’t want a bad survey to be one of them.

Identifying issues and finding solutions…

…versus identifying issues and pointing fingers.

I think we can all agree that (at least for the moment) our friends in the regulatory survey services world have misplaced the location of their customers and, as a result, have become significantly more punitive in administering the survey process. Of course, the accreditation survey team always tells organizations that, despite the umpty-ump number of findings, they are a quality organization and really, this was a good survey. I have yet to hear of any instances in which the survey team “supported” anything other than a positive vibe, but it seems that, in growing numbers, that vibe is not really translating past the point of the exit conference.

Now, I know that it is not the role of the accreditation organizations to do anything more than identify deficiencies (I have hopes that a more consultative approach will re-emerge before too long, but I am not holding my breath), but what I keep bumping into are instances in which the folks (internal and external to an organization) charged with preparing organizations for survey are almost as punitive in their administration of the survey prep process. The purpose of environmental rounding/touring, etc., is to help folks become as prepared as possible and to identify strategies for sustaining compliance. It is not about the “gotcha,” with follow-up paperwork. My personal philosophy (as a safety professional in general, but certainly as a consultant) is that my obligation to the process is to help get things going in the right direction, even to the point of cleaning up a spill or picking something up off the floor while touring. Certainly, I can (and do) identify lots of things that need attention, because there are always lots of things to find that need attention (this goes back to my “no perfect buildings” philosophy; probably too much philosophy for so early in the year, but so be it). But I go into this having suffered at the hands of consultants (and others) who are not as interested in helping work through an issue to achieve some sort of sustainable solution.

As an example, I recently heard about an instance in which the environment of care rounding team had identified a resolution to a pesky issue (in this case, ensuring that specimen containers were appropriately labeled) but did not share that resolution with the entire organization. So last time, a “sticky” label was affixed to the container, but the label didn’t stick so well; this “failure mode” was communicated to the folks in infection control, but there was no immediate follow-up. So, next rounding activity, a specimen container to which a “sticky” label had been affixed was, in the local parlance (not really), nekkid in terms of labeling. Well, after the labeling issue had been cited, it was “revealed” that, after some consideration (may have been careful consideration, but less careful in the communication), it was determined that the containers would be stenciled in more permanent fashion. Interesting thing, the “finding” still required response, etc. even though the “finding” was the result in a communications misfire.

At any rate, as I think I’ve noted here before, there’s no regulatory statute that requires us to shoot ourselves in the foot, or, indeed, to engage in friendly fire. To my way of thinking, internally punitive surveying is not helpful and since we know the “real thing” isn’t particularly helpful (to healthcare organizations, at any rate), doesn’t it make more sense to work together towards sustainable compliance?

Quick closing question: While I was having some lab work done today, I noticed that the emergency eyewash station in the sink area was covered with a clear plastic bag. Has anyone out there in blogland encountered this or are practicing it? I’m thinking that this adds a step to activation of the eyewash station, but perhaps there’s a risk assessment that supports it. Just asking for a friend…

On your marks, get set, sweat!

But hopefully not a Billy Idol kind of sweat…

Our friends in Chicago are once again tweaking the survey process, with the result being less time for surveyors to wait for organizations to muster their troops at the outset and pretty much no time at all before they are out and about doing tracers. Basically, what used to be the surveyor planning session in the morning of the first survey day is now being flipped and combined with the special issue resolution session at the end of the day. For organizations to adapt their process to the changes, folks should be prepared to do the following:

  • Prompt alert of/to the leadership team of any on-site survey to facilitate their availability for a prompt opening conference (I can’t think of too many folks who are not already doing this)
  • Prepare all required documentation and deliver those documents to the survey team immediately after the team is escorted to their “base” (the list of required documents is available in the Survey Activity Guide, although it begs the question as to whether this includes the life safety documentation…)
  • Gather the scribes together so they are ready to hit the pavement as soon as the (ever-so-brief) opening conference is completed

Somehow I think this may all tie across with the folks from CMS accompanying the Joint Commission folks as part of the validation process—anyone who has dealt with a state and/or CMS survey will tell you, there’s not a lot of time (or indeed, inclination) for pleasantries. The job of being prickly requires a lot of inflexibility, which does seem to be the hallmark of the current survey process.

These changes to the survey process are effective March 2020.

I sit at my table and wage war on myself—and earn an OSHA citation!

While I have a sneaking suspicion that this Top 10 list doesn’t change a whole lot from year to year (other than position in the hierarchy), I thought it would be of interest to trot out which occupational safety considerations are manifesting themselves across industries. I can certainly see where any of these might crop up in healthcare.

And so, to the list:

10: Personal Protective and Lifesaving Equipment – Eye and Face Protection

9: Machine Guarding

8: Fall Protection – Training Requirements

7: Powered Industrial Trucks

6: Ladders

5: Respiratory Protection

4: Lockout/Tagout

3: Scaffolding

2: Hazard Communication

1: Fall Protection

Again, no big surprises, but I guess it does point out some areas for future consideration, mostly as a function of initial and ongoing safety education. These are the types of things, especially when dealing with contractors, that can result in a very uncomfortable situation if something goes sideways on your campus—even if it’s not your staff. Once the Big O gets through the door, it’s tough to contain their interest in all things safety.

Closing out this week, one of the questions that seems to be coming up with greater frequency during Joint Commission surveys relates to how your organization determines that the individual(s) tasked with doing your rated door inspections are knowledgeable/competent (we know from our intense scrutiny of NFPA 80 that these folks do not need to be certified; it is a handy way to demonstrate that an individual is knowledgeable, but you can certainly evaluate/validate competency in other ways). And pondering that equation made me a little more interested in the following news story than might normally have been the case (there isn’t a time when I wouldn’t have been interested, but this was an especially telling confluence). It seems that an individual has been accused of defrauding some VA hospitals by billing them for work that had not been performed; a little more detail can be found here. I know a lot of folks have struggled over the years with vendors who prefer to “come and go as they please,” which typically results in less control over the process, including timely notifications of discrepancies. I’m curious as to how this ends up when it makes its way through the courts, but I can see a time when those pesky surveyors might start to ask about how one knows that the service for which they have documentation actually occurred. Hopefully this case is all a big misunderstanding and there were no real gaps in oversight…

What we all want: If everything is priority one, then everything is priority none

As our friends from Chicago appear to be embarking in earnest on their charge to be as unpredictable as possible (I know of one instance in which a triennial survey “landed” about 10 months early—if that doesn’t merit a “yow,” I’m not sure what does…), the general concept of constant readiness would seem to be in flux (I think we all “knew” that the true survey window was considerably more limited than what it could be).

To that point, lately I’ve been working with folks who are well and truly within a survey window (lots of folks poking around in healthcare organizations these days…) and I’ve been noticing a tendency for folks requesting things to use “tomorrow” (or something similarly unrealistic) when identifying a requested completion date. And then raising a fuss when things are not repaired/replaced/refurbished almost instantly, which puts the folks who actually have to get the work done in a rather precarious position, depending on how quickly/dramatically the fussiness gets escalated. I think we can agree that expectations like instantaneous gratification do not lend themselves to thoughtful assessment of risk, or even (truth be told) basic triaging of tasks. I know that in crisis mode things can become a little unhinged, but the way the survey process is starting to turn, if we don’t find a way to really hardwire that classic finder/fixer dynamic as a way of like, the potential for chaos as a way of life is fairly strong.

So, the question I have for you out there in the studio audience is this: Does anybody have any unique methodologies they’d be inclined to share? I will freely admit to being at something of a disadvantage in that it has been a very, very long time (other than some interim gigs) since I’ve had day-to-day operational responsibilities in a hospital so there are probably technology solutions, etc., that could be leveraged in pursuit of focused order. But I also know that there is still a fair amount of what I like to call the “corridor work order request,” which, in my younger years, was probably not that big a deal, but now, as I approach my dotage, I find that I am not able to instantly recall quite as much “stuff” (I’m still pretty good, but the seams are much more apparent now).

I’m sure you are all following (with perhaps varying degrees of trepidation) the events unfolding in China relative to the Wuhan coronavirus; if you’re not making a regular stop at the CDC website for updates, etc., I would highly suggest it be a touch point at least every day or so. It’s starting to manifest itself a  bit stateside and I suppose, given the omnipresence of travel these days, it’s only a matter of time before it starts showing up in less-populated regions of the country. You can find as much information as is available here. Hopefully, this one subsides quickly, but preparedness, it seems, is everything these days.

Don’t get soaked by your water management program!

I don’t know about you, but lately I’ve been finding the most interesting stuff being published in Perspectives are the articles entitled “Consistent Interpretation” because I am fascinated by the data they are collecting that drives taking particular note of the standard or performance element being featured. For example, the January 2020 issue covers the intricacies of managing the risks associated with waterborne pathogens, a topic that I’ve been keeping an eye on if only because of the attentions paid to that topic by our friends at CMS (if you’ve lost track of where they are in the fray, feel free to make the jump—but don’t forget to come back!). I figure there are just enough peculiarities involved for this to wreak some havoc during accreditation surveys, and while there are ways for survey findings to be generated, it would appear (based on the just under 4% citation rate during the first half of 2019) that you folks out there in the field are making pretty good headway.

So, where things can go awry include: Not having a water management plan to deal with waterborne pathogen risks (not sure how someone would have missed that, but perhaps it was a question of a slower than normal implementation track); failing to include a new piece of equipment (for instance, a brand new cooling tower) in the program (I should think the time for risk assessment and inclusion is during the commissioning of new equipment); failing to maintain the water in the system in accordance with the levels called for in the water management plan; failing to document scheduled testing and monitoring; and failing to establish acceptable ranges and/or control measures to be taken when levels are out of range.

It would seem that decorative water features, ice machines, and water dispensers were in the mix as well, including issues with equipment not being maintained in accordance with the manufacturers’ instructions for use, but in looking at all the different ways water management concerns could be cited, I suspect a lot of the cited conditions (you can find more specifics in the January Perspectives) were not widely observed.

That said, since a lot of the nuts and bolts implementation of water management programs may be accomplished by “others,” I think that going forward, the surveyors will be especially attentive to reviewing your water management plan and any deliverables from testing and monitoring activities. There are a lot of moving parts in this endeavor; best to be ahead of the curve and keep a close eye on those reports.

2020 starts with a whimper…probably mine!

A fairly brief opening salvo for the New Year: I am hoping it will continue to be difficult to come up with material for this space because that will likely mean we’ve reached something of an equilibrium relative to funky compliance stuff. After the last decade, I think we can probably all use a bit of a rest from the madness…

For those of you keeping track of the goings on in Chicago, you’ve no doubt received any number of exhortations over the past couple of weeks to check out the “new” (the “improved” is somewhat implied, but if you order in the next five minutes, they’ll double your order!) Joint Commission website.  I will say that they have definitely spiffed up the look of the place—everything looks bigger and brighter. But (and isn’t there almost always one of them?), in retooling things, some of the less recent links to material are no longer working. To that point, I had saved a couple of links to share this week, and now that they don’t work, I can’t quite say what it was that I found of particular interest (shame on me for not leaving a better trail of bread crumbs, though perhaps those pesky birds…). So, if you do some archival digging in this space (and perhaps others as well), you may find yourself at the business end of an error message indicating a non-functioning link. Having said that, if you should follow a link from Mac’s Safety Space that dumps you somewhere in the ether, please let me know and I will either try to find the “current” whereabouts of the information you’re looking for or provide some level of analysis to assist you in your efforts.

As an almost completely unrelated item to finish this up for the week, I wanted to bring to your attention a recent finding relating to space heaters that might prove timely given this age of polar vortices (vortexes?) and all manner of cold weather. The finding relates to a portable space heater in a nurse station, with the enjoinder that, for the purposes of this performance element, nurse stations are considered patient treatment areas (looping back on the prohibition of portable space heaters in smoke compartments containing sleeping rooms and patient treatment areas). You can have them in offices that meet the definition of non-sleeping rooms, which are occupied by staff and separated from the corridor and are permitted to have portable space heaters (the heating elements must not exceed 212°F). I’m sure you know where the folks with the cold feet live, so make sure you keep a close eye on the heater situation.

Do you still BBI? Also, how do you spell survey finding?

N-O-I-N-V-E-N-T-O-R-Y

While I am not convinced it every truly went away, next month marks the official return of one of the most (in)famous acronyms in surveydom: BBI, which we all know stands for Basic Building Information (details can be found here). So, for those of you for whom survey is imminent, you might (if you have not already done so) want to hop on to your online Statement of Conditions portal to make sure that all your information is up to date, all required responses are in place, etc. Since this is nominally a “new” requirement, I think it best to presume that the Life Safety surveyors are going to be reviewing the contents, so you want to make sure you have a good read on your square footage numbers and all the rest of it. I don’t see this representing a particularly great risk of survey exposure, but I’d hate to see somebody out there in the audience to get tapped for something so simple.

In other news (and I would consider this more troubling in the long term), back in September, the updates to some of the Environment of Care performance elements for office-based surgery practices were published (details here). While the updates relate mostly to invocation of the 2012 edition of the Life Safety Code® and the applicable reference documents, it also (and this may me being a touch paranoid—’tis always the season) may be indicative of a shift in focus for what documentation might be requested for care locations that are nominally business occupancies. I have definitely seen this (though I wouldn’t yet call it a trend, though it’s getting there) in state surveys of larger healthcare organizations, so it may just be a matter of time before evidence of compliance is requested for all the various life safety systems in place at your offsite locations (remembering that this does not mandate the presence of fire alarm systems, sprinkler systems, etc.—it only requires you to appropriately maintain any existing systems).

On a final note for this week, it would seem that some folks are using their work order system to provide evidence of scheduled activities like monthly testing/inspections of battery-powered lights, exit signs, task lighting, etc., and I just wanted to let you know that in the absence of an inventory of devices by location, there are some surveyors (and perhaps even more than just some surveyors) that will not accept a completed/closed out work order as evidence of compliance for these activities. Recognizing that the standards-based requirement for the “inventory” (in all its glory) has not specifically been extended to utility systems equipment (though I have anticipated that extension for a while), I think it may be time to start including the same level of detail as required for life safety systems inspection, testing and maintenance activities:

  • Name of the activity
  • Date of the activity
  • Inventory of devices, equipment, or other items
  • Required frequency of the activity
  • Name and contact information, including affiliation, of the person who performed the activity
  • NFPA standard(s) referenced for the activity
  • Results of the activity

I suppose to a fair degree it makes sense for inspection, testing, and maintenance documentation to have a standard format and it certainly helps to establish compliance in a fashion that is recognizable to surveyors. I guess we’ll just have to keep a watchful eye on this one…

It appears that everything isn’t meant to be OK…

You may recall a few weeks back we were discussing some recent survey findings relative to the placement of eyewash stations once one has determined that one needs an eyewash station (or stations). At the time, my dream was to clarify those findings and have them vanish into the ether (which is pretty much where they belong). But alas, that dream crashed upon the rocks of an overreach—can’t say for sure if this signals a sea change or is based on a reluctance to overturn a judgement call in the field. The ruling from the home office read thusly (but not justly): “The organization must do a risk assessment to determine if substances that may be in the sink would not splash onto the person using the eyewash station and inadvertently be contaminated.”

And so, I guess we add an additional imponderable to the equation: How do we install the eyewash station close enough to the area of greatest risk without placing the eyewash in a location that could be adjudged to be too close to the risk area? I suppose the ultimate goal would be to try to remove the hazard entirely, but with all the focus on disinfection and the likelihood that whatever disinfectant in use is going to be firmly in the high-risk zone, that seems unlikely to win favor during survey. Is it possible to “sell” engineering controls to a surveyor that is looking to find things to cite? I think we can all agree that the use of PPE and other forms of engineering controls are probably never going to be the interventions we would hope for them to be, but it is often so difficult to protect folks from themselves.

That said, I suppose it wouldn’t be the worst idea to do a little global evaluation of your eyewash station locations (much like a conjunction function) and add yet another risk assessment to the mix. If you’ve got a survey coming up in the near future, it may save you some aggravation.