Changes With Equivalency Requests for The Joint Commission

imagesO752ZQ8RAs a result of the June 4, 2014 online announcement by The Joint Commission which identified major changes for the Statement of Condition Plan for Improvement (PFI) list, they also mentioned that beginning July 1, 2014 all equivalency requests submitted to them will be passed along to the appropriate CMS Regional Office for their approval.

What The Joint Commission did not say is CMS will not accept any equivalency requests unless it is submitted as part of the organization’s Plan of Correction. This means, hospitals will no longer be able to submit an equivalency request prior to a survey, but will only be able to submit equivalency requests after the Life Safety Code deficiency is cited in a survey report.

What affect will this have on hospital facility managers? I think both changes involving the PFI list and the equivalency requests has the potential for a huge impact on the overall safety of the physical environment, and it won’t be positive.

In just the two days since Joint Commission announced this change, I must have talked with or emailed with over 20 different facility managers and safety officers of Joint Commission accredited hospitals, discussing what options they have with these new changes. This has many of these individuals very concerned since two key tools are changing on how they manage their Life Safety Code deficiencies.

Allow me to summarize these changes:

1). Beginning July 1, 2014, Joint Commission says all items identified on the PFI list will be cited as deficiencies on the survey decision report. No longer will hospitals enjoy a pass from receiving a written deficiency in the survey report for anything identified on the PFI list. [I talked with one facility manager who has over 200 items on his PFI list and their organization is in the survey window for their triennial survey. He needs to clear those PFIs or risk having them identified on the survey report.]

2). Joint Commission says they will review equivalency requests and send them on to the CMS Regional Office for final action. Since CMS does not accept equivalency requests for LSC deficiencies that have not been cited on a survey report, no longer will facility managers be allowed to be proactive and seek an equivalency for a deficiency prior to a survey.

So, I see a very strong potential for facility managers to discontinue being proactive and identify their LSC deficiencies prior to a triennial survey, since there is no relief from the PFI list and there is no opportunity to seek an equivalency. They very likely will take the stand of wait-and-see if the surveyor finds the deficiency and then deal with it afterwards. I fear our industry may fall back into the “hide our skeletons” concept of over 20 years ago. No longer will some facility managers want to be transparent and self-identify their problems. By failing to self-identify their deficiencies, those deficiencies do not get resolved, and if the surveyors fail to identify them, then they likely will not get resolved at all. How safe is that for our patients?

Do not misunderstand me… I do not advocate facility managers to discontinue being proactive and identifying their LSC deficiencies prior to a survey. In fact, I encourage them to continue as though nothing has happened in regards to the PFI list, and still use it as a tool to manage their deficiencies. But, human nature being what it is, I suspect many hospitals will not be as safe as they once were because some facility managers will no longer be proactive and self-identify their LSC deficiencies.

And, you can forget about the cost effective and economical Traditional Equivalencies that Joint Commission used to accept. CMS will not accept those at all, and will only accept the more costly Fire Safety Evaluation System (FSES) as identified in NFPA 101A.

I think this is a very sad day for healthcare. While I was an advocate for fair play amongst all the accreditation organizations, I wanted CMS to approve the advantage that Joint Commission had with the PFI list and approving equivalencies prior to the deficiency being cited, for all accreditors, not just for Joint Commission. Instead, CMS did not clearly understand the potential actions their insistence will cause.

It looks like CMS will not stop until all the accreditation organizations are homogenized into one big quasi-government group whereby you won’t be able to tell them apart. What good is that?