New Forms on the ‘Tools’ Webpage

This is a special posting to let you know there are 6 new forms on the ‘Tools’ webpage for you to download for free:

  1. Advantages if the Building is Sprinklered – This form identifies all of the advantages that you can take  if your building is fully sprinklered.
  2. Building Tour by the Numbers – This form identifies many of the quantitative requirements for complying with the Life Safety Code.
  3. EC Document Review Form – This form identifies the documents you need to be compliant with The Joint Commission’s EC chapter.
  4. Fire Extinguisher Annual Maintenance Report – During the document review session, surveyors are often looking for documentation that identifies when the last 6-year inspection, or 12-year hydro test was conducted, and when the next one is due. This form helps you document that for each extinguisher.
  5. Cooking Hood Monthly Inspection – Did you know you are required to perform monthly inspections of the cooking hood fire suppression system? This form helps you document that.
  6. Sprinkler System Pressure Gauge Monthly inspection – All pressure gauges on the sprinkler system need to be inspected, and this form will track that for you.

Take a look at this re-defined webpage as there are over 35 forms and templates waiting for you to download… all at no cost.

Statement of Conditions PFI List

Q: We are expecting Joint Commission at our hospital soon. Since they will no longer look at the PFI lists, is it advisable to keep our current open PFIs open on their website? I was informed to close out the open PFIs and document under “Other” that they are closed since we are no longer required to report them to TJC. But, I do not want to close out open PFIs on the TJC website for this reason. Please advise.

A: It is totally up to you and your organization. It is true that Joint Commission has said the Statement of Conditions PFI section is no longer part of the survey process, and their surveyors will no longer look at the PFIs you have written. For the record, Joint Commission is encouraging hospitals to continue to use the PFI section in the SOC in order to manage their Life Safety Code deficiencies. In fact, the accreditor has recently said that they will even allow Environment of Care deficiencies to be placed on the SOC PFI section for you to manage. Joint Commission does not have any immediate plans to eliminate the PFI section from the SOC because they feel it is a useful tool for you to use to manage your deficiencies.

But if it were me, I would likely discontinue using the PFI section in the SOC because I think the computerized maintenance management system that most hospitals have would be a better tool to manage my deficiencies. And, I see no reason to leave Life Safety Code deficiencies listed on a Joint Commission document for their surveyors to look at, if I don’t have to. I know Joint Commission says their surveyors will not look at the PFIs you’ve written, but how do we know for sure that they won’t? In your case, I would not have a problem closing out the current PFIs using the “Other” choice.

Waivers and Equivalencies

Q: When do I complete an FSES equivalency request, before the survey or after the survey? Where do I find the forms need to complete an FSES equivalency? What is the different between an FSES equivalency and a waiver?

A: Keep in mind that waiver and equivalency requests are no longer completed prior to the survey. Since CMS made changes to how they approve waivers and equivalencies, you may only submit a waiver request or an FSES equivalency request to your accreditation organization (AO i.e. Joint Commission) or state agency after that entity has cited you for a specific Life Safety Code deficiency.

The main differences between a standard waiver request and an FSES equivalency request is in a standard waiver request, you are asking permission from CMS to not have to comply with a particular LSC requirement based on a significant hardship (often times financial), and you are not required to provide any evidence that your facility has an equivalent level of safety based on other features of life safety.

However, in an FSES equivalency request, you are asking permission to not have to comply with a particular LSC requirement based on an engineering evaluation that demonstrates your facility has an acceptable level of safety even with the deficiency cited by the surveyor. The engineering assessment is made using a specific form called the Fire Safety Evaluation System (FSES) and is found in NFPA 101A-2013. This is a separate document from the Life Safety Code, but evaluates your level of compliance with the 2012 Life Safety Code.

The person conducting the engineering evaluation of the facility using the FSES worksheets (found in NFPA 101A-2013), has to be knowledgeable and experienced in the process. As you can imagine, this would likely require the typical hospital to use an architect, engineer or consultant who has the requisite experience. This will often drive the cost of an FSES equivalency request to the point where it is far more cost effective to just submit a standard waiver request.

Waivers and equivalency requests are submitted to the entity who cited you for the LSC deficiency. If they agree with your request, they will send it on to the appropriate CMS Regional Office for approval. This approval process can take anywhere from a week or two, to many months. Once approved, the waiver or equivalency request is only valid until the next triennial survey, and at which time it becomes invalid. The surveyor will determine if the LSC deficiency still exists and if so, you will be cited again. So, in the big-picture of things, it is best to make plans to eventually resolve the deficiency because if you don’t, you will be cited again, and there is no guarantee that a waiver or equivalency request will be approved a second time.

Another type of waiver request is the Time-Limited Waiver (TLW) request, and it differs greatly from the standard waiver request. Whereas in a standard waiver request you are seeking permission to not have to comply with a particular LSC requirement, a TLW request confirms that you will resolve the LSC deficiency cited, but you just need more time to do so. CMS has a rule under Title 42: Public Health in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) that states the following regarding resolving a deficiency cited by their agents:

Ordinarily a provider or supplier is expected to take the steps needed to achieve compliance within 60 days of being notified of the deficiencies but the survey agency may recommend that additional time be granted by the Secretary in individual situations, if in its judgment, it is not reasonable to expect compliance within 60 days, for example, a facility must obtain the approval of its governing body, or engage in competitive bidding. [§488.28(d)]

When a hospital cannot resolve a LSC deficiency within the 60-day window after a survey then they may submit a TLW request to CMS through their AO or state agency that requests additional time to resolve the deficiency. You would follow the specific instructions to submit a TLW from your AO or state agency.

You would follow the instructions in NFPA 101A-2013 to conduct the engineering evaluation for the FSES equivalency request.

NFPA 99 Risk Assessment – PLEASE READ THIS

Q: I need to do the NFPA 99 risk assessment of my hospital. I was told by one of my consultants that I have do this risk assessment from a room-by-room perspective, and he provided me a form from ASHE that lists this assessment by room-by-room. Is this true…? Do I have to do this assessment for each room?

A: No… that’s not correct. Yes, ASHE does have a form that does imply a room-by-room assessment is needed for the Chapter 4 risk assessment, but that’s not required by Chapter 4. What is required is an assessment of building systems based on a defined risk assessment procedure. Chapter 4 does not define the risk assessment procedure that you should use, but the Annex section does identify three risk assessments that they suggest, and the ASHE room-by-room assessment form is not included in these three suggestions. To be sure, you may use the ASHE form if you wish, but then you can use any risk assessment form that you want.

The core of the risk assessment is to determine what level or category the following building systems falls under, in the event of a total catastrophic failure of that system:

  • Gas & Vacuum Systems
  • Electrical Systems
  • HVAC Systems
  • Electrical Equipment
  • Gas Equipment

There are 4 levels or categories:

  • Category 1:    Systems in which failure is likely to cause major injury or death of patients or staff
  • Category 2:    Systems in which failure is likely to cause minor injury to patients or staff
  • Category 3:    Systems in which failure is not likely to cause injury to patients or staff
  • Category 4:    Systems in which failure would have no impact on patient care or staff

The process in the assessment is to determine the level of risk to the patient or staff if there is a catastrophic failure of that particular system. Another way of saying this is “Worst case scenario”.

As an example, let’s take the hospital’s electrical system: The risk assessment must assume a catastrophic failure of the entire system. The normal power system fails, and then the emergency power system from the generators fail. In other words, you have no power whatsoever in the building. Now, what is the level of risk to your patients? It will probably be Category 1, right?

You then do that type of catastrophic failure risk assessment for each of the above listed systems. If you want, you can break this down into different assessments of systems that are the same type. Such as HVAC systems: If the HVAC system fails in patient care areas, then that would be a certain high-level of risk to the patients. But if the HVAC system fails in the Administration wing, it would not be a risk to your patients, and it would be a low risk to your staff.

For hospitals, the expectation would be all of the above systems would be assessed as a Category 1 or Category 2. But for a medical building that only has physician offices and administrative support areas, the expectation is the above systems would be assessed as a Category 3 or Category 4. All healthcare facilities must be assessed for the risk level to patients and/or staff.

You have to document your assessment using a defined process. You can down-load a simple one-page risk assessment from my website and see if that meets your expectations.

The ironic thing is, the NFPA 99-2012 Technical Committee on Chapter 4 did not intend for this risk assessment to be conducted on existing systems. I talked with two members of that committee and they said the committee believed it was obvious the way it is written that this risk assessment is only required for new construction, since most (not all) of NFPA 99 is for new construction.

But CMS did not get that message and they require all of their state agencies and accreditation organizations to evaluate the risk assessment during all surveys. In other words; They fully expect all CMS certified healthcare organizations to have the Chapter 4 risk assessments completed by now.

In my opinion, this risk assessment does not require a lot of time to conduct. As I said, CMS expects all hospitals to have Category 1 or Category 2 systems. This is something you and your staff can do.

Just last week I received a call from a friend of mine who is a facility manager in the Midwest. He returned from a regional ASHE meeting where one of his fellow facility managers was recently surveyed by a leading accreditation organization (AO). The surveyor for the AO cited them for not doing their NFPA 99 risk assessment in accordance with the ASHE form, and do a room-by-room assessment. Please understand that this surveyor was incorrect to make that citation.

There is no NFPA requirement, no CMS requirement, and no AO requirement for healthcare organizations to do a room-by-room assessment to be in compliance with Chapter 4 of NFPA 99-2012. As mentioned above, you can use whatever risk assessment format you wish. The only requirement is the risk assessment must be documented and the surveyors will expect it to be reasonable (meaning all systems in a hospital are Category 1 or Category 2 systems).

Fire Alarm System Communication

The answer to this question was provided by my good friend Gene Rowe, Director of Business Development for Affiliated Fire Systems, Inc., Downers Grove, IL

Q: With the impending discontinuation of the hard copper (POTS) phone lines, and in fact many municipalities already no longer have hard copper pairs from end user to the Central Office, are we, or will we be, in violation of the NFPA code for the primary DACT connection to the CO? Our fire alarm system company is telling us we must upgrade to another form of communication; however we have an IP based phone system in all buildings and the fire alarm company documentation indicates that IP based technology is acceptable, can I simply designate two analog phone lines from our system to the DACT, eliminating the POTS connection?

A: Per NFPA 72 (2010) Chap. 26.6.3.2, Patrick would be code compliant if he continues to use phone lines for a central station connection.  However, if the vendor is saying he must upgrade, it sounds like they’re discontinuing DACT monitoring.  He should verify that with the vendor.  Most central stations have DACT, radio and cellular receivers, but some are discontinuing DACT receiving for the reasons Patrick stated.  If he’s connected to a central station that’s dropping it, he may be able to find a new central station that still has it.  If he’s directly connected to a fire department that’s dropping it, he can see if he’s allowed to use a central station for monitoring.  If they’re not dropping DACT monitoring, he can ride that horse until discontinued by the monitoring agency or the lines die, but I’d advise setting up a new method so he can control the costs before it becomes an emergency.

Switching to IP based phone lines would still use the existing DACT transmitter, but without getting too technical, it comes with a couple of conditions:

  1. There has to be a dial tone on the IP phone lines when the receiver is picked up (loop started).  If you have to dial a number to get a dial tone (ground started), you can’t use it.
  2. The DACT communication out of the fire panel must now be converted into IP packets at the source, then reassembled into digital signals at the receiver.  That means the central station must have an IP converter & the end user must install an IP converter that matches it.
  3. The power for the phone system must be backed up by the emergency generator.

Obviously, bullet #2 is where the costs comes in & it won’t be cheap.  It may seem like it shouldn’t be a big deal, but changing communication methods always involves new equipment.  The costs & legwork involved in staying with phone lines may be more than installing the upgrade, which is probably a radio.

Response to a Recent Post

The following is a response I received from a reader after my posting on April 3, 2018 titled Lawmakers Want More Oversight on AOs. This reader put into words the feelings and emotions of hundreds (if not thousands) of concerned healthcare workers on the subject of over-regulation by the government.

Today’s message makes retirement look sweeter and sweeter. I love my job and for 35 years I have loved taking care of patients and staff from the Plant Ops seat. The last 5-10 years has been harder as the Code enforcement has gotten pickier and more involved in minutia. Your posting today is a virtual death knoll for attracting good qualified younger engineers and mechanics into our business, why would someone want to come into an industry where common sense is treated with absolute disrespect? We’ve taken smoking out of buildings, sprinkled most everything, you can’t find hospital fires in the literature yet we still treat +1/8″ gaps as death traps. Sprinkler piping is designed to support weight well in excess of the piping and water yet one cable on a pipe is a finding? The 1/4″ extra distance on the projection will result in more money being spent with no added value. Even your recent post about data closets and gaps around the conduit through the ceiling tile stretches the imagination about how much smoke or heat will bypass a detector or sprinkler head.

 I looked at the ASHE agenda for Seattle and I didn’t see anything there where we as a group are ready to say either “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” or “Calling BS” on this. Thanks for the opportunity to rant, this is the most discouraged that I have ever been about what we do.

Eye-Wash Risk Assessment

Q: Your articles on eye-wash station refers to the need to conduct a risk assessment. Where can I find such a document?

A: There is no set form to use for risk assessments. You can just get a group of stakeholders together and discuss the issue and the proposed solution and then write down what you discussed.

If you want a form that is based on the seven (7) steps recommended by The Joint Commission, go to my website, click on “Tools” and download the risk assessment form.

Environmental Tours

Q: I have read, or thought I read, that the environmental tours were no longer required with the adoption of the life safety code. Is this correct?

A: No… The NFPA codes and standards referenced by the Life Safety Code never did require environmental tours. When the 2012 Life Safety Code was adopted by CMS (and the accreditation organizations) last year, it made no changes regarding environmental tours because the 2012 LSC does not require it. The 2000 LSC did not require it either. Environmental tours are required… by the accreditation organizations (at least some of them). Joint Commission, HFAP and DNV all require that you evaluate your physical environment on a periodic basis. Some require semi-annually, and some only require annually. CMS does not have any Condition of Participation or standard that specifically requires a periodic tour of the physical environment, although they do require that your physical environment be maintained in a safe manner, which implies a routine inspection would be required to achieve that. So, if you’re accredited by one of the major accreditation organizations, you need to continue to perform environmental tours.

 

Medical Equipment Contractor

 Q: When I came into this new position the medical equipment program was run by a third party managing our own Bio-med technicians. We changed the 3rd party contractor and we still have a problem as far as the PM’s not being done by the new contractor (huge back log). We think with good reason that the hospital is at risk.   We put pressure on the contractor by mentioning our concerns regarding an upcoming accreditation survey, or the state public health department survey, and CMS (which could happen at any time), not to mention the safety of our patients. The contractor’s answer is we should not be concerned since the accreditation organization and CMS will accept the fact that we are “in transition” and that it is commonly accepted to experience a backlog in this type of situation. We asked them to provide documentation to support their position, but we have not heard anything yet. What are your thoughts?

A: I think that is faulty logic. There is nothing in the accreditation standards or the CMS CoPs that allows non-compliance based on a change in contractors. Either you are or you are not compliant. Most surveyors will not care why you’re not compliant.

It is likely that the contractor who told you this was provided misleading information. Perhaps they were part of a survey where the surveyor was benevolent said something like that. If so, then that is an individual surveyor’s preference and is not the policy of the accreditor or the CMS. The chances are you will have a surveyor in your upcoming survey who may be sympathetic, but still cite you if you’re not compliant.

Get cracking on that contractor… You’re the boss, not them.  If they fail to perform, withhold payment and find a new contractor, or better yet, use this situation as a validation to your leadership that you need to manage this important process in-house, and no longer have outside contractors manage your Bio-med services.

Lawmakers Want More Oversight on AOs

In a letter to CMS Administrator Seema Verma, the committee on Energy and Commerce is asking for what could be reams of information from the agency about patient harm and incidents of misconduct at acute care hospitals. The committee has also asked for similar information from each of the four hospital accrediting organizations (AOs).

The committee was particularly concerned about information in a report to Congress published last summer that indicated AOs “conducting hospital surveys did not report 39% of ‘condition level’ deficiencies that were subsequently reported following validation surveys conducted by [CMS] State Survey Agencies no later than 60 days following the AO survey.”

“Although CMS has worked to strengthen its oversight of AOs, the committee is concerned about the adequacy of CMS’ oversight as well as the rigor of the accrediting organization survey process,” wrote the committee leaders.

Noting that the Department of Health and Human Services, through CMS, must provide oversight of accrediting organizations, including CMS’ own survey agencies, “the Committee is concerned about the adequacy of CMS’ oversight as well as the rigor of the AO survey process,” read the letter to Verma.

You can view a copy of this letter at this link: https://energycommerce.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/20180309CMS.pdf

In 2017, approximately 67% of the surveys performed by HFAP and The Joint Commission received a Condition Level Deficiency in the Life Safety or Environment of Care chapters. This percentage of Condition Level Findings was up in 2017 compared to 2016. How much more does the committee expect the AOs to cite Condition Level Findings?

What does all of this mean for the future…? From my point of view, I believe you will see CMS tighten their reigns on the hospital AOs such as Joint Commission, HFAP, DNV-GL and CIHQ…. especially on issues of Life Safety, Environment of Care, and Emergency Management. The reason for this is based on the high disparity rates that most of the AOs have when compared to state agency validation surveys in the area of Life Safety.

Many observers have said that the method CMS uses to compare the efficiency of findings between the AOs and the state agencies is unfair based on the state agencies allowed to have more LS surveyors for more days on their surveys than the AOs.

I also claim that not all surveyors are the same: Most AOs hire current or former hospital facility managers who are operation minded. So they will focus on Life Safety issues pertaining to operations, such as corridor clutter, obstructions to doors and medical gas valves, etc. On the contrary, most state agencies surveying on behalf of CMS hire architects and engineers as LS surveyors, who focus on design issues (such as construction type and egress capacity) and mechanical systems (such as fire alarm systems and sprinkler systems).

Just because the surveyors have different backgrounds does not make them right or wrong: But it does make them different. So naturally, state agency surveyors will gravitate to cite deficiencies that are more along their specialty. And AO surveyors will do likewise. There will always be a disparity when the survey teams are different. To prove that point, the high disparity rate of AO findings compared to state agencies findings, is just as high when you make the comparison the opposite way: When you compare state agency findings to AO findings. The point is…. it is normal to have a high disparity rate when there are so many variables in the mix.

I don’t see this ever being fixed in my lifetime… The people in power seem to be too stubborn to acknowledge this issue and take appropriate action to resolve it. In the mean-time, I foresee CMS cracking down even harder on the AOs to cite even more findings, which will result in tougher Life Safety surveys.