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Keeping an eye on things: Managing behavioral health patients

What, again?!?

Recently, our friends in Chicago added a new FAQ to the canon, this time reflecting on the use of video monitoring/electronic sitters for patients at high risk for suicide (you can find the details here). For those of you paying attention over the years—and I think that’s everybody within the sound of my “voice”—the situational requirements are based on a clear invocation of the “it depends” metric. I think it is pretty clear (and pretty much the standard “problem” relative to the management of behavioral health patients at serious risk for suicide) that providing sufficient flexibility of staffing to be able to provide 1:1 observation of these patients is where folks are looking for that flexibility in technological monitoring and the FAQ pretty much puts a big stop on that front. I think the quote that comes into focus for this aspect is, “The use of video monitoring or ‘electronic-sitters’ would not be acceptable in this situation because staff would not be immediately available to intervene.” So, as a general practice, a 1:1 observation means that somebody (a human somebody) is “immediately available to intervene,” which means all the time, at any time.

At this point in the discussion, I think the important piece of this is (and is likely to remain so) the clinical assessment of the patient, inclusive of the identification of the risk level for suicide. I don’t think that the “reality” of having to deal with way more of these patients than we would prefer is going to change any time soon, and with it, the complete unpredictability of that patient volume as a function of staffing (full moons notwithstanding).

The FAQ goes on to discuss the use of video monitoring in those instances in which it is not safe for staff to be physically located in the patient’s room, but the use of video monitoring has to result in the same level of observation, immediacy of response, etc. It also indicates that video monitoring for patients that are not at high risk for suicide is at the discretion of the organization, indicating that there are no “leading practices” in this regard. I guess that means that you’re really going to have to make your own way if you chose the video monitoring route, which should include (as also noted in the FAQ) provisions for reassessment of the patient(s). Interesting times, my friends, interesting times…

As a final (and almost completely unrelated) note, I wanted to bring to your attention some discussion over at the Motor & Generator Institute (MGI) relating to recent CMS guidance regarding expected temperatures in the care environment during normal power outages and how, if you have a long-term care facility in your mix, a risk assessment might not be enough. You can find the details here and the folks at MGI are encouraging feedback, so I think it might be worth checking out and weighing in.

 

Eat, drink, and be safe: Some guidance on the care and feeding of staff

One of the more universal conditions I find is the whole issue of where staff can grab something to eat or drink in the midst of busy periods, particularly when staffing levels don’t necessarily dovetail with leaving the work space to go to the cafeteria, etc. And there’s always the specter of someone, somewhere having invoked the “You can’t eat there, it’s against TJC regulations” or “You can’t drink there, it’s against regulations” and so forth and so on. And what better strategy than to use a regulatory presence from outside the organization to be the heavy.

Many’s the time I’ve tried to convince folks that, from a regulatory perspective (with some fairly well-defined exceptions, like laboratories), there is nothing that approaches a general prohibition when it comes to the how, when, and where of eating and drinking in the workplace (and yes, I absolutely understand that prohibition is the easiest thing to “police,” but I think prohibitions also tend to “drive” more creative workarounds). And in the March 2019 edition of Perspectives, our friends in Chicago provide a couple of clarifications for folks, and if you think that there’s a risk assessment involved, then you would be correct.

So, the clarifications are two in number:

  • There are no TJC standards that specifically address where staff can have food or drink in the work areas.
  • You can identify safe spaces for food and drink as long as those locations  comply with the evaluation (read: risk assessment) of the space and your exposure control plan as far as risks of contamination from chemicals, blood, or body fluids, etc.

The guiding light in all of this, if you will, are the regulations provided by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, and while they have a lot to say about such things (Bloodborne Pathogens and Sanitation), a careful analysis should yield a means of designating some spaces. I have seen a lot of designated “hydration stations,” particularly in clinical areas, to help keep folks hydrated over the course of the working day, so clearly some folks are working towards providing some flexibility based on a risk assessment. This is a good thing both in terms of staff support, but also in not drawing a line in the sand that they don’t have to. Prohibitions can bring about some of your toughest compliance challenges, so if you can work with folks to build in some flexibility, it could mean fewer headaches during rounding activities.

Making a checklist, making it right: Reducing compliance errors

As you may have noticed, I am something of a fan of public radio (most of my listening in vehicles involves NPR and its analogues) and every once in a while, I hear something that I think would be useful to you folks out in the field. One show that I don’t hear too often (one of the things about terrestrial radio is that it’s all in the timing) is called “Hidden Brain”, the common subject thread being “A conversation about life’s unseen patterns.” I find the programs to be very thought-provoking, well-produced, and generally worth checking out.

This past weekend, they repeated a show from 2017 that described Dr. Atul Gawande’s (among others) use of checklists during surgical (and other) procedures to try to anticipate what unexpected things could occur based on the procedure, where they were operating, etc. One of the remarks that came up during the course of the program dealt with how extensive a checklist one might need, with the overarching thought being that a more limited checklist tends to work better because it’s more brain-friendly (I’m paraphrasing quite a bit here) than a checklist that goes on for pages and pages. I get a lot of questions/requests for tools/checklists for doing surveillance rounds, etc. (to be honest, it has been a very long time since I’ve actually “used” a physical checklist; my methodology, such as it is, tends to involve looking at the environment to see what “falls out”). Folks always seem a little disappointed when the checklist I cough up (so to speak) has about 15-20 items, particularly when I encourage them not to use all the items. When it comes to actual checklists that you’re going to use (particularly if you’re going to try and enlist the assistance of department-level folks) for survey prep, I think starting with five to seven items and working to hardwire those items into how folks “see” the environment is the best way to start. I recall a couple of years ago when first visiting a hospital—every day each manager was charged with completing a five-page environmental surveillance checklist—and I still was able to find imperfections in the environment (both items that they were actually checking on and a couple of other items that weren’t featured in the five-pager and later turned out to be somewhat important). At the point of my arrival, this particular organization was (more or less) under siege from various regulatory forces and were really in a state of shock (sometimes a little regulatory trouble is like exsanguination in shark-infested waters) and had latched on to a process that, at the end of the day, was not particularly effective and became almost like a sleepwalk to ensure compliance (hey, that could be a new show about zombie safety officers, “The Walking Safe”).

At any rate, I think one of the defining tasks/charges of the safety professional is to facilitate the participation of point-of-care/point-of-service folks by helping them learn how to “see” the stuff that jumps out at us when we do our rounds. When you look at the stuff that tends to get cited during surveys (at least when it comes to the physical environment), there’s not a lot of crazy, dangerous stuff; it is the myriad imperfections that come from introducing people into the environment. Buildings are never more perfect than the moment before occupancy—after that, the struggle is real! And checklists might be a good way to get folks on the same page: just remember to start small and focus on the things that are most likely to cause trouble and are most “invisible” to folks.

Don’t bleed before you are wounded, and if you can avoid being wounded…

…so much the better!

Part of me is wondering what took them so long to get to this point in the conversation.

In their latest Quick Safety utterance, our friends in Chicago are advocating de-escalation as a “first-line response to potential violence and aggression in health care settings.”  I believe the last time we touched upon this general topic was back in the spring of 2017 and I was very much in agreement with the importance of “arming” frontline staff (point of care/point of service—it matters not) with a quiver of de-escalation techniques. As noted at the time, there are a lot of instances in which our customers are rather grumpier than not and being able to manage the grumpies early on in the “grumprocess” (see what I did there?!?) makes so much operational sense that it seems somewhat odd that we are still having this conversation. To that end, I think I’m going to have to start gathering data as I wander the highways and byways of these United States and see how much emphasis is being placed on de-escalation skills as a function of everyday customer service. From orientation to periodic refreshers, this one is too important to keep ignoring, but maybe we’re not—you tell me!

At any rate, the latest Quick Safety offers up a whole slate of techniques and methods for preparing staff to deal with aggressive behaviors; there is mention of Sentinel Event Alert 57 regarding violence and health workers, so I think there is every reason to think that (much as ligature risks have taken center stage in the survey process) how well we prepare folks to proactively deal with aggressive behaviors could bubble up over the next little while. It is a certainty that the incidence rate in healthcare has caught the eyes and ears of OSHA (and they merit a mention in the Quick Safety as well as CDC and CMS), and I think that, in the industry overall, there are improvements to be made (recognizing that some of this is the result of others abdicating responsibility for behavioral health and other marginalized populations, but, as parents seem to indicate frequently, nobody ever said it would be fair…or equitable…or reasonable…). I personally think (and have for a very long time, pretty much since I had operational responsibilities for security) that de-escalation skills are vital in any service environment, but who has the time to make it happen?

Please weigh in if you have experiences (positive or negative are fine by me) that you’d feel like sharing—and you can absolutely request anonymity, just reach out to the Gmail account (stevemacsafetyspace@gmail.com) and I will remove any identifying marks…

E to the E to the E to the E: Next step(s) towards a reporting culture

Thinking that this may have gotten lost in the year-end shuffle, I wanted to take a moment to cover a little ground relative to Sentinel Event Alert (SEA) #60: Developing a reporting culture: Learning from close calls and hazardous conditions. I believe (I was going to say “know,” but that’s probably a little more hyperbolic than I can reasonably venture, but I’m basing it on your “presence” here—you folks are all about getting better and on the off chance that I provide something useful to that end, I’m pleased to have you along for the ride) that you folks are committed to ongoing evaluation of performance, occurrences, funky happenstance, etc. and so little of this will come as anything resembling revelation. That said, I think we do need to prepare ourselves for the wild and wacky world of surveyor overreach and draconian interpretation. Part of my “concern” (OK, perhaps most of it) revolves around the innate simplicity of the thrust of SEA #60. It’s straightforward, cogent, and all the things you would want through which to develop a compliance framework:

  • Establish trust
  • Encourage reporting
  • Eliminate fear of punishment
  • Examine errors, close calls and hazardous conditions

But, how do you know when you’ve actually complied with this stuff? Is this more of an activity-driven requirement: We’re going to do A, B, and C to “establish” trust, then we’ll do D, E, F, G, and H to encourage reporting? (Aren’t we already encouraging reporting?) And the whole “eliminate fear” thing (I’ve had one or two bosses that would have a hard time not administering some sort of retributory action if you messed up)…how do you pull that off? Likely, the examination of errors and close calls is a normal part of doing business, but the examination of hazardous conditions seems less of a fit in this hierarchy. My own tendency when I find a hazardous condition is to try and resolve it (I do love a good session of problem-solving), but maybe it’s more of an examination once someone reports the condition as hazardous. Not quite sure about that.

At any rate, there’s lots of information available on the subject, including an infographic on the 4E methodology, as well as the usual caches of information, etc. which you can find here and here and here.

I am a big fan of encouraging the reporting of stuff by the folks at the point of care/point of service, so to the extent that this moves healthcare in that direction, I’m all for it. So, my question to you is: Does  this represent a shift for the way in which you practice safety in your organization or perhaps gives you a little bit more leverage to get folks to “say something if they see something”? Does this help or is it just so much “blah, blah, blah”?

You might have succeeded in changing: Using the annual evaluation to document progress!

I know some folks use the fiscal year (or as one boss a long time ago used to say, the physical year) for managing their annual evaluation process, but I think most lean towards the calendar year. At any rate, I want to urge you (and urge you most sincerely) to think about how you can use the annual evaluation process to demonstrate to leadership that you truly have an effective program: a program that goes beyond the plethora of little missteps of the interaction of humans and their environment. As we continue to paw through the data from various regulatory sources, it continues to be true more often than not that there will be findings in the physical environment during your organization’s next survey. In many ways, there is almost nothing you can do to hold the line at zero findings, so you need to help organizational leadership to understand the value of the process/program as a function of the management of a most imperfect environment.

I think I mentioned this not too long ago: I was probably cursing the notion of a dashboard that is so green that you can’t determine if folks are paying attention to real-life considerations or if they’re just good at cherry-picking measures/metrics that always look good. But as a safety scientist, I don’t want to know what’s going OK, I want to know about what’s not going OK and what steps are being taken to increase the OK-ness of the less than OK (ok?!?). There are no perfect buildings, just as there are no perfect organizations (exalted, maybe, but by no means perfect) and I don’t believe that I have ever encountered a safety officer that was not abundantly aware of the pitfalls/shortcomings/etc. within their organizations, but oh so often, there’s no evidence of that in the evaluation process (or, indeed, in committee minutes). It is the responsibility of organizational leadership to know what’s going on and to be able to allocate resources, etc., in the pursuit of excellence/perfection; if you don’t communicate effectively with leadership, then your program is potentially not as high-powered as it could be.

So, as the year draws to a close, I would encourage you to really start pushing down on your performance measures—look at your thresholds—have you set them at a point for which performance will always be within range. Use the process to drive improvement down to the “street” level of your organization—you’ve got to keep reaching out to the folks at point of care/point of service—in a lot of ways they have the most power to make your job easier (yeah, I know there’s something a little counterintuitive there, but I promise you it can work to your benefit).

At any rate, at the end of the process, you need to be able to speak about what you’ve improved and (perhaps most importantly) what needs to be improved. It’s always nice to be able to pat yourself on the back for good stuff, but you really need to be really clear on where you need to take things moving forward.

Time to bust a cap in your…eyewash station?!?

Howdy folks! A couple of quick items to warm the cockles of your heart as winter starts to make its arrival a little more obvious/foreboding (at least up here in the land of the New English) as we celebrate that most autumnal of days, All Hallows Eve (I’m writing this on All Hallows Eve Eve)…

The first item relates to some general safety considerations, mostly as a function of ensuring that the folks who rely on emergency equipment to work when there is an emergency are sufficiently prepared to ensure that happens. It seems that lately (though this is probably no more true than it usually is, but perhaps more noticeable of late) I’ve been running into a lot of emergency eyewash stations for which the protective caps are not in place. Now I know this is partially the result of too many eyewash stations in too many locations that don’t really need to have them (the reasoning behind the desire for eyewash stations seems to lean towards blood and body fluid splashes, for which we all know there is no specific requirement). At any rate, my concern is that, without the protective caps, the eyewash stations are capable of making the situation worse if someone flushes some sort of contaminant into their eyes because stuff got spilled/splashed/etc. on the “nekkid” eyewash stations. The same thing applies to making sure the caps are in place for the nozzles of the kitchen fire suppression system (nekkid nozzles—could be a band name!—can very quickly get gunked up with grease). We only need these things in the event of an emergency, but we need them to work correctly right away, not after someone wipes them off, etc. So, please remind the folks at point of care/point of service/point of culinary marvels to make sure those caps are in place at all times.

The other item relates to the recent changes in the fire safety management performance element that deals with your fire response plan. Please take a moment to review the response plan education process to ensure that you are capturing cooperation with firefighting authorities when (periodically) instructing staff and licensed independent practitioners. One of the ages-old survey techniques is to focus not so much on the time-honored compliance elements, but rather to poke around at what is new to the party, like cooperation with firefighting authorities (or 1135 waiver processes or continuity of operations plans or, I daresay, ligature risk assessments). It would seem that one of the primary directives of the survey process is to generate findings, so what better way to do that than to “pick” on the latest and (maybe not so) greatest.

Have a safe reorientation of the clocks!

Shine on you crazy fire response plan!

On the things I’ve been doing over the past couple of weeks has been reading through the EC/LS/EM standards and performance elements to see what little pesky items may have shown up since the last time I did a really thorough review. My primary intent is to see if I can find any “Easter eggs” that might provide fodder for findings because of a combination of specificity and curiosity. At any rate, while looking through the fire safety portion of the manual, I noticed a performance element that speaks to the availability of a written copy of your fire response plan. That makes sense to me; you can never completely rely on electronic access (it is very reliable, but a hard-copy backup seems reasonable). The odd component of the performance element is the specificity of the location for the fire response plan to be available—“readily available with the telephone operator or security.”

Now, I know that most folks can pull off that combo as an either/or, but there are smaller, rural facilities that may not have that capacity (I think my personal backup would be the nursing supervisor), so it makes me wonder what the survey risks are for those folks who don’t have 24/7 switchboard or security coverage. At the end of the day, I would think that you could do a risk assessment (what, another one!?!?!?) and pass it through your EC Committee (that kind of makes the Committee sound like some sort of sieve or colander) and then if the topic comes up during survey, you can push back if you happen to encounter a literalist surveyor (insert comment about the likelihood of that occurring). As there is no specific requirement to have 24/7 telephone operator or security presence (is it useful from an operational standpoint to do so, absolutely—but nowhere is it specifically required), I think that this should be an effective means of ensuring you stay out of the hot waters of survey. For me, “readily available” is the important piece of this, not so much how you make it happen.

At any rate, this may be much ado about nothing (a concept of which I am no stranger), but it was just one of those curious requirements that struck me enough to blather on for a bit.

As a closing note, a quick shout-out to the folks in the areas hit by various and sundry weather-related emergencies the past little while. I hope that things are moving quickly back to normal and kudos for keeping things going during very trying times. Over the years, I’ve worked with a number of folks down in that area and I have always been impressed with the level of preparedness. I would wish that you didn’t have to be tested so dramatically, but I am confident that you all (or all y’all, as the case may be) were able to weather the weather in appropriate fashion.

Everybody here comes from somewhere: Leveling the post-survey field

Well, if the numbers published in the September Perspectives are any indication, a lot of folks are going to be working through the post-survey Evidence of Standards Compliance process, so I thought I would take a few moments to let you know what has changed since the last time (if ever—perhaps your last survey was a clean one) you may have embarked upon the process.

So, what used to be a (relatively) simple accounting of Who (is ultimately responsible for the corrective action), What (actions were taken to correct the findings), When (each of the applicable actions were taken), and How (compliance is going to be sustained) has now morphed into a somewhat more involved:

  • Assigning Accountability (for corrective actions and sustained compliance)
  • Assigning Accountability – Leadership Involvement (this is for those especially painful findings in the dark orange and red boxes in the SAFER matrix – again, corrective actions and sustained compliance)
  • Correcting the Non-Compliance – Preventive Analysis (again, this is for those big-ticket findings – the expectation is that there will be analysis of the findings/conditions cited to ensure that the underlying causative factors were addressed along with the correction of the findings)
  • Correcting the Non-Compliance (basically, this mashes together the What and When from the old regimen)
  • And last, but by no means least, Ensuring Sustained Compliance

This last bit is a multifocal outline of how ongoing compliance will be monitored, how often the monitoring activities will occur (don’t over-promise on those frequencies, boys and girls; keep it real and operationally possible), what data is going to be collected from the monitoring process, and, to whom and how often, that data is going to be reported.

Now, I “get” the whole sustaining correction “thing,” but I’ve worked in healthcare long enough to recognize that, while our goal may be perfection in all things, perfection tends not to exist within our various spheres of influence. And I know lots of folks feel rather more inadequate than not when they look at the list of findings at the end of survey (really, any survey—internal, external—there’s always lots to find), which I don’t think brings a ton of value to the process. Gee thanks, Mr. Surveyor, for pointing out that one sprinkler head with dust on it; gee thanks, Ms. Surveyor, for pointing out that missing eyewash check. I believe and take very seriously our charge to ensure that we are facilitating an appropriate physical environment for care, treatment, and services to be provided to patients in the safest possible manner. If I recall, the standards-based expectation refers to minimize or eliminate, and I can’t help thinking that minimization (which clearly doesn’t equal elimination).

Ah, I guess that’s just getting a little too whiny, but I think you see what I’m saying. At any rate, be prepared to provide a more in-depth accounting of the post-survey process than has been the case in the past.

The other piece of the post-survey picture is the correction of those Life Safety Code® deficiencies or ligature risk items that cannot be corrected within 60 days; the TJC portal for each organization, inclusive of the Statement of Conditions section, has a lot of information/instruction regarding how those processes unfold after the survey. While I know you can’t submit anything until you’ve been well and truly cited for it during survey, I think it would be a really good thing to hop on the old extranet site and check out what questions you need to consider, etc., if you have to engage a long-term corrective action or two. While in some ways it is not as daunting as it first seems, there is an expectation for a very (and I do mean very, very) thorough accounting of the corrective actions, timelines, etc., and I think it a far better strategy to at least eyeball the stuff (while familiarity is said to breed contempt, it also breeds understanding) before you’re embroiled in the survey process for real.

Pay a great deal of attention to the man behind the curtain: More ligature survey stuff!

This week’s installment is rather brief and (at least for the moment) is germane only to those folks with inpatient behavioral health units. During a recent TJC survey of a behavioral health hospital, I was able to catch a glimpse into the intentions of the information revealed last November (holy moly, it’s almost been a year!). I have to admit that the “cadence” of this particular guidance was a little confusing to me at the time, but now I “get” it.

In discussing the recommendations regarding nursing stations (nursing stations with an unobstructed view so that a patient attempt at self-harm at the nursing station would be easily seen and interrupted), the article in Perspectives goes on to indicate that areas behind self-closing/self-locking doors do not need to be ligature-resistant. The consideration that I want to share with you is that a self-closing/self-locking door is not the same as a door that is always locked (maybe you figured that out as a proactive stance, but I always considered control over locked spaces to be sufficiently reliable, but it would seem not to be the case). At any rate, if you take the guidance at its word, if you have a space on your behavioral health unit that has ligature risks contained therein, then you best have doors that self-close and lock. You may have a lot of doors that secure ligature-present spaces that do not self-close and lock; if that’s the case, you may want to reach out to the Standards Interpretation Group for official feedback on this. All I can tell you is that it’s been cited in at least one recent survey and it does reflect the content shared last November (I think it would have been my inclination to separate the nursing station concept from the “other” areas for the sake of clarity, but I can see where things “fall” now that it’s come up during a survey), so it’s definitely worth some consideration in your “house.”