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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…

The other shoe is starting to fall: Moving beyond ligature risks!

Well, it does seem like there are a couple of compliance themes asserting themselves in 2018, concerns related to emergency management (relatively simple in terms of execution and sustainability) and concerns relating to the management of behavioral health patients and the management of workplace violence (relatively complicated in terms of execution and sustainability). I think we can say with some degree of certainty that there are some commonalities relative to the latter two (beyond being complicated to work through) as well as some crossover. And while I wish that I had a ready solution for all of this, if I have learned nothing else over the last 39+ years, it is that there are no panaceas when it comes to any of this stuff. And with so many different regulatory perspectives that can come into play, is it enough to do the best you can under the circumstances? As usual, the answer to that question (at least for the moment) is “probably not.”

In last week’s Hospital Safety Insider, there was a news item regarding OSHA citations for a behavioral health facility in Florida for which inadequate provisions had been made relative to protecting staff from workplace violence. As near as I can make out from the story, the violence was being perpetrated mostly in patient encounters and revolved around “failing to institute controls to prevent patients from verbal and physical threats of assault, including punches, kicks, and bites; and from using objects as weapons.” Now, in scanning that quote (from information released by the Department of Labor), it does seem rather daunting in terms of “preventing” patients from engaging in the listed activities. This is one of those really clear division between federal jurisdictions—OSHA is driving the prevention of patients from engaging in verbal and physical threats while CMS is (more or less) driving a limited approach to what I euphemistically refer to as the “laying on of hands” in the management of patients. That said, I think it’s worth your while to take a look at the specific correction action plan elements included in the DOL release—it may have the makings of a reasonable gap analysis if you have inpatient behavioral health in your facility. It appears that the entity providing some level of management at the cited facility was also cited at another facility back in 2016 for similar issues, so it may be that some of this is recurrent in theme, but I think it probably makes sense to take a look at the details to see if your place has any of the identified vulnerabilities.

Wanting to end this week’s installment on an upbeat note, as well as providing fodder for your summer reading list, I was recently listening to the id10t podcast and happened upon an interview with astronaut Leland Melvin, who navigated a number of personal and profession barriers to become the first person to play in the NFL and go into space as an astronaut. His book, Chasing Space, is a fun and thought-provoking read and really captures the essence of what we, as safety professionals, often face in terms of barrier management. I would encourage you to check out the book as well as the interview. As a side note, I’m not sure if you folks would all be familiar with Chris Hardwick and his Nerdist empire, but I think he’s become a most winning and empathetic interviewer, and since I’ve never been afraid to embrace my inner (and outer) nerd, I will leave you with that recommendation (and please, if you folks have stuff that you’re reading and think would be worth sharing with our little safety community, please do—fiction, non-fiction—a good read is a good read!)

What the world needs now: Effective management of workplace violence

By now I’m sure you’ve all noted the unveiling of the latest Sentinel Event Alert (#59 for those of you keeping count) from our friends in Chicago; this particular SEA represents the third swing at concerns and considerations relative to workplace safety, inclusive of workplace violence. But, as I look at the information and guidance provided in the May 2018 issue of Perspectives, it makes me wonder what pieces of this remain elusive to folks, beyond the “normal” operational challenges of providing effective safety education to staff on a regular basis.

So, my questions for the group are these:

  • Have you clearly defined workplace violence?
  • Have you put systems into place across your organization that enable staff to report workplace violence events, inclusive of verbal abuse?
  • Have you identified all the potential sources of data relative to workplace violence occurrences?
  • Are you capturing, tracking, and trending all reports of workplace violence, inclusive of verbal abuse and attempted assaults, when no harm occurred?
  • Are you providing appropriate follow-up and support to victims, witnesses, and others impacted by workplace violence, including psychological counseling and trauma-informed care?
  • Are you reviewing each case of workplace violence to determine the contributing factors?
  • Are you analyzing data related to workplace violence, and worksite conditions, to determine priority situations for intervention?
  • Have you developed any quality improvement initiatives to reduce incidents of workplace violence?
  • Have you provided education to all staff in de-escalation, self-defense, and response to emergency codes?
  • Are you evaluating on an ongoing basis the effectiveness of your workplace violence reduction initiatives?

If your response to any of these questions is “no” or “not sure,” it’s probably worth (at the very least) some discussion time at your EOC and/or organizational QAPI committee, but I have a strong suspicion that most of you have already identified the component pieces identified above in your own efforts. That’s not to say that there aren’t improvement opportunities relative to workplace violence (as there likely always will be), but I do think we’ve made some pretty decent strides in this regard over the past few years. There was a time when the incidence rate was sufficiently concentrated to certain healthcare environments (cities, urban areas, etc.), but, and this is probably the toughest risk element to truly manage, it appears that workplace violence can happen at any time, anywhere. In some ways, it reminds me of the early days of the Bloodborne Pathogens standard and Universal Precautions; it was frequently a struggle for safety and infection control folks to sufficiently encourage good behaviors (and lord knows hand washing can still be a struggle), but much of what was initially viewed as foreign, inconvenient, etc. has finally been (something close to) hardwired into behaviors.

Again, I’m not convinced that this revisitation of covered territory helps anything more than increasing the risks of getting hammered during a survey if you can’t specifically identify how your program reflects their expert advice, but maybe it will help to gently remind organizational leaders that this one’s not going to go away.

Civilization and its discontents

A bit of a hodge-podge this week, with the thematic element of security being the tie that binds, so to speak. There continues to be a lot of news (or it certainly seems that way to me) lately about various security concerns, from violence in the workplace to incursions by unauthorized persons into restricted and/or sensitive areas. We have spent a fair amount of time on these subjects this year (and I somehow suspect that this won’t be the last time for discussion in this realm), but I did want to share some resources with you in case you missed them in the deluge of this, that, and the other thing. (I sometimes marvel that I manage to capture anything, given the fire hose of information constantly spewing into the ether, but I digress.) So, in (relative) brief:

Hospitals & Health Networks (H&HN) published a very interesting story last week about efforts by Milwaukee-based Aurora Health Care to use a clinical approach to reducing assaults in their workplace, including establishment of a Behavioral Emergency Response Team (BERT)—I think you’re going to become very familiar with this term. At any rate, a lot of valuable information, so if you’ve not yet checked it out, I would encourage you to do so (“Violence in the Hospital: Preventing Assaults Using a Clinical Approach“).

In the comment section at the end of the H&HN article, an individual left a comment regarding a public health film titled “One Punch Homicide” that might be of benefit as a preventive measure. I have yet to watch the documentary in its entirety—the trailer is pretty intense—then again, there’s nothing not brutal about violence. The film runs about 90 minutes, but, as information, if nothing else, it’s worth a look: www.onepunchhomicide.com.

As our final thought for this week’s adventure, our friends in Chicago are covering the dangers of tailgating. (I guess since the featured videos are Massachusetts-sourced, the concept of tailgating takes on a whole ‘nutha dimension.) As you will recall, a few months earlier, there was an incident involving an interloper at a hospital in Boston. Since then, the security folks have been hard at work coming up with inventive ways to get folks to use those eyes in the back of their head.

Since it is impossible to determine how much influence anything from Chicago might have on the survey front, I would encourage you (I’m very encouraging this week, aren’t I?) to check out the blog by Dave Corbin, director of security and parking at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and maybe show these videos to your EOC Committee and maybe others in your organization—this is one of those things that is scary because it’s true (“Leading Hospital Improvement: New Campaign Illustrates Need for Staff Training on Dangers of Tailgating”).

Hope the summer is treating you well—keep it cool and keep it tuned to www.hospitalsafetycenter.com.

Horrors beyond contemplation

It is impossible to capture, or even comment on, the events that transpired at the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center in New York at the end of last month with anything less than abject horror. There have been lots of news stories about the various events that contributed to what happened, so I will let you investigate the causative factors on your own. But having checked out the available information, I can’t help but feel almost powerless when it comes to being able to provide any sort of guidance relative to the compliance aspects of preparing for such an event.

I think I can say, without much fear of contradiction, that this is likely to create an additional focal point for TJC surveys this year (so, keeping count, we have ligature risks; management of environmental conditions including temperature, humidity, air pressure relationships; intermediate- and high-level disinfection activities; workplace violence, including active shooter). But I still keep coming back to Sentinel Event Alert #45, “Preventing violence in the health care setting,” and I keep pondering the import of that one word: preventing.

Much as we have discussed in the past with a whole bunch of topics, at what point can we say that we have reduced the risk associated with X, Y and/or Z to the full extent possible? It would be an amazing thing to be able to put in place measures and strategies that could actually prevent something (really anything) bad from happening, but I have yet to encounter many instances in which prevention is actually achieved. Do we work towards that as a goal every moment of every day? Absolutely! But I don’t know how you “prevent” what happened at Bronx-Lebanon.

Until we have sufficiently sophisticated early detection for armed persons, aberrant behavior, etc. (we can’t have metal detectors at the front door of everyone’s home, can’t do a behavioral health assessment at everyone’s front door either), the purpose of looking at this is to ensure that there is an appropriate response, be it de-escalation or run, hide, fight. From what I gather, the response at Bronx-Lebanon was in keeping with appropriate levels of preparedness. As is usually the case with human beings, I suspect that there will be valuable lessons learned in reviewing what happened, but the fact of the matter is that this could have been so, so much worse.

At any rate, we know this is likely to be a focus during survey (information from a survey just this past week indicates a very significant focus on the management of violent events), and I think one of the most important preparation activities is to share information with the healthcare safety community. To that end, I wanted to alert you to an opportunity to do just that: next week, on Thursday, July 20, 2017, HCPro will present a webinar, “Emergency Preparedness for SNFs: How to Plan for, Respond to, and Recover From an Armed Intruder/Active Shooter Event.” While the title indicates a focus on skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), the general concepts are very much applicable to all healthcare environments and, truthfully, couldn’t be more timely.

I’ve worked in healthcare long enough to recall a time when this level of violence occurred in environments other than health care, but I think we have to operate under the thought that it is only a matter of time before our organizations come face-to-face with the reality of 21st Century existence. Although I wish it were otherwise, not focusing on preparing is no longer an option.

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?

We mean it, man!

I’ve been watching this whole thing unfold for a really long time and I continue to be curious as to when the subject of managing workplace violence moves over into the survey of the physical environment. I think that, as an industry, we are doing a better job of this, perhaps as much as a function of identifying the component issues and working them through collaboratively as anything, but I don’t know that the data necessarily supports my optimistic outlook on the subject. One think I can say is that our friends at the Occupational Safety & Health Administration are going to be closing out the comment period soon (April 6, to be exact) on whether or not they need to establish an OSHA standard relative to preventing violence in healthcare and social assistance—if you have something to add to the conversation, I would encourage you to do so.

I do think that there are always opportunities to more carefully/thoughtfully/comprehensively prepare the folks on the front lines as they deal with ever greater volumes of at-risk patients (a rising tide that shows little or no sign of abating any time soon). They are, after all, the ones that have to enforce the “law,” sometimes in the face of overwhelming mental decompensation on the part of patients, family members, etc. As an additional item for your workplace violence toolbox, the American Society for Healthcare Risk Management has developed a risk assessment tool (with a very full resource list at the end) to help you identify improvement opportunities in your management of workplace violence. As I think we all know by now, a cookie-cutter approach rarely results in a demonstrably effective program, but what I like about the tool is it prompts you to ask questions that don’t always have a correct or incorrect response, but rather to ask questions about what happens in your “house.”

This topic somehow brings to mind some thoughts I had recently relative to the recalcitrance of some of my fellow travelers (meaning folks I encounter while traveling and not those that might have been encountered during the era of McCarthyism…) when it comes to following the directions of the TSA folks or other “gatekeepers” who keep things moving in an orderly fashion. I have seen folks in suit and tie pitch an absolute fit because they couldn’t skip to head of the line, had three carry-on bags instead of the allowed two, or had liquids in excess of what is allowed. I understand being a little embarrassed in the moment for the bag thing or the liquid thing, but to give the person who identified the issue a hard time makes no sense to me. And I think that sometimes our frontline staff fall victim to this type of interaction and have to suffer the consequences of an unhinged (OK, that may be a little hyperbolic, but I suspect you know what I mean) patron—even if they don’t have to endure someone taking a swing at them during these moments of tension. There was a day when the customer was always right, but now far too often, the customer is nothing more than an entitled bully and we have to make sure that our folks know we have their backs.

 

Is you is or is you ain’t a required policy?

Yet another mixed bag this week, mostly from the mailbag, but perhaps some other bags will enter into the conversation. We shall see, we shall see.

First up, we have the announcement of a new Joint Commission portal that deals with resources for preventing workplace violence. The portal includes some real-world examples, some of the information coming from hospitals with whom I have done work in the past (both coasts are covered). There is also invocation of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (lots of links this week). I know that everyone out there in the listening audience is working very diligently towards minimizing workplace violence risks and perhaps there’s some information of value to be had. If you should happen to uncover something particularly compelling as you wander over to the Workplace Violence Portal, please share it with the group. Bullying behavior is a real culture disruptor and the more we can share ideas that help to manage all the various disruptors, we’ll definitely be in a better place.

And speaking of a better place, I did want to bring to your attention some findings that have been cropping up during Joint Commission surveys of late. The findings relate to being able to demonstrate that you have documented a risk assessment of the areas in which you manage behavioral health patients; particularly those areas of your ED that are perhaps not as absolutely safe as they might otherwise be, in order to have sufficient flexibility to use those rooms for “other” patients. Unless you have a pretty significant volume of behavioral health patients, it’s probably going to be tough to designate and “safe” rooms to be used for behavioral health patients only, so in all likelihood you’re going to have to deal with some level of risk. I suppose it would be appropriate at this juncture to point out that it is nigh on impossible to provide an absolutely risk-free environment; the reality of the situation is that for the management of individuals intent on hurting themselves, the “safety” of the environment on its own is not enough. Just as with any risk, we work to reduce the risk to the extent possible and work to manage what risks remain. That said, if you have not documented an assessment of the physical environment in the areas in which you manage behavioral health patients, it is probably a worthwhile activity to have in your back pocket. I think an excellent starting point would be to check out the most recent edition of the Design Guide for the Built Environment of Behavioral Health Facilities, which is available from the Facilities Guidelines Institute. There’s a ton of information about products, strategies, etc. for managing this at-risk patient population. And please keep in mind that, as you go through the process, you may very well uncover some risks for which you feel that some level of intervention is indicated (this is not a static patient population—they change, you may need to change your environment to keep pace), in which case it is very important to let the clinical folks know that you’ve identified an opportunity and then brainstorm with them to determine how to manage the identified risk(s) until such time as corrective measures can be taken. Staff being able to speak to the proactive management of identified risks is a very powerful strategy for keeping everybody safe. So please keep that in mind, particularly if you haven’t formally looked at this in a bit.

As a closing thought for the week, I know there are a number of folks (could be lots) who purchased those customizable EOC manuals back in the day and ever since have been managing like a billion policies, which, quite frankly, tends to be an enormous pain in the posterior. I’m not entirely certain where all these policies came from, but I can tell you that the list of policies that you are required to have is actually fairly limited:

  • Hazard Communications Plan (OSHA)
  • Bloodborne Pathogens Exposure Control Plan (OSHA)
  • Respiratory Protection Program (OSHA)
  • Emergency Operations Plan (CMS & Accreditation Organizations)
  • Interim Life Safety Measures Policy (CMS & Accreditation Organizations)
  • Radiation Protection Program (State)
  • Safety Management Plan (Accreditation Organizations)
  • Security Management Plan (Accreditation Organizations)
  • Hazardous Materials & Waste Management Plan (Accreditation Organizations)
  • Fire Safety Management Plan (Accreditation Organizations)
  • Medical Equipment Management Plan (Accreditation Organizations)
  • Utility Systems Management Plan (Accreditation Organizations)
  • Security Incident Procedure (Accreditation Organizations)
  • Smoking Policy (Accreditation Organizations)
  • Utility Disruption Response Procedure (Accreditation Organizations)

Now I will freely admit that I kind of stretched things a little bit (you could, for example, make the case that CMS does not specifically require an ILSM policy; you could also make the case that it is past time for the management plans to go the way of <insert defunct thing here> at the very least leaving it up to the individual organizations to determine how useful the management plans might be in real life…). At any rate, there is no requirement to have any policies, etc., beyond the list here (unless, of course, I have left one out). So, no policy for changing a light bulb (regardless of whether it wants to change) or policy for writing policies. You’ll want to have guidelines and procedures, but please don’t fall into the policy “trap”: Keep it simple, smarty!