ASC Waiting Area

Q: I am looking at a hospital facility with an Ambulatory Surgery Center in an existing building that is a Business Occupancy and construction type – II (222). We are working to separate the Ambulatory Surgery Center from the other business in the building with a two-hour fire rated partition. The waiting area, which is adjacent to the lobby/elevator area is enclosed by glass. Can we leave the waiting area out of the Ambulatory Surgery Center and make the separation behind the waiting area? This would be just separating the Ambulatory Surgery rooms and recovery area from the rest of the building (i.e. enclosed by a two-hour fire-rated wall).

A: No… I believe you are not permitted to do that. Actually, the LSC does not address this, but the CMS Conditions for Coverage (CfC) does address this. According to CMS Conditions for Coverage §416.44(a)(2), the ASC must have a separate recovery room and waiting area.

The Interpretive Guidelines for §416.44(a)(2) says this about waiting rooms:

The ASC is required to have both a waiting area and a recovery room, which must be separate from each other as well as other parts of the ASC. They may not be shared with another healthcare facility or physician office. (See the interpretive guidelines for §416.2 concerning sharing of physical space by an ASC and another entity.)

While the CfC does not specially say the waiting area must be inside the fire-barriers surrounding the ASC, if the waiting area was outside of these boundaries the surveyors could conclude that the waiting area is shared with other another healthcare facility or physician office.

I suggest you make sure the waiting area is inside the fire-rated barrier separating the ASC from the other entities.

New vs. Existing Construction

Q: How do we classify existing versus new construction? Do we look at the date of adoption of the current Life Safety Code as the cutoff? Anything constructed before that date is considered existing construction? The 2000 LSC required areas of major rehabilitation to be classified as new construction. The 2012 LSC appears to just require those areas be fully sprinklered. On our Life Safety plans all areas of the hospital were constructed prior to the adoption of the 2012 Code. Can the entire hospital now be considered existing and can we remove all notes on the plans referring to new construction?

A: According to the CMS Final Rule on adopting the 2012 Life Safety Code which was released in May, 2016, they identified July 5, 2016 as the threshold date to differentiate between new construction and existing conditions. However, the 2012 Life Safety Code says in section 4.6.12.1 that whenever a feature of life safety is required for compliance, it must be maintained as such for the life of the building. Section 4.6.12.2 continues to say that features of life safety shall not be removed or reduced where such features are required for new construction.

What this means, is you cannot down-grade a feature of life safety that was installed under new construction requirements, to meet existing condition requirements now that it is no longer considered new construction. It is true that something built prior to July 5, 2016 is now considered existing conditions, but you still are not permitted to down-grade the feature to meet existing condition requirements.

Smoke Door Testing?

Q: The Joint Commission standard for annual door testing states “The hospital has written documentation of annual inspection and testing of door assemblies by individuals who can demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the operating components of the door being tested”. The Joint Commission also references NFPA 105 (smoke doors). Would this include all smoke barrier doors?

A: It appears you have an older copy of the Joint Commission standards. In January, 2019, the standard in which you refer has been changed to specifically identify the need to inspect and test fire door assemblies. Their note to this standard says nonrated doors including smoke barrier doors are not subject to the annual inspection and testing requirements of either NFPA 80 or NFPA 105.

It is the position of CMS and all accreditation organizations that non-rated doors in smoke barriers (barriers that separate smoke compartments) do not have to be inspected on an annual basis.

Here is why: Even though section 7.2.1.15.2 of the 2012 LSC says (in part) smoke door assemblies need to be tested, that conflicts with the occupancy chapter for healthcare. Section 4.4.2.3 says when specific requirements in the occupancy chapters differ from the general requirements contained in the core chapters, the occupancy chapter shall govern. Section 19.3.7.8 says doors in smoke barriers shall comply with section 8.5.4. Section 8.5.4.2 says where required by chapters 11 -43 doors in smoke barriers that are required to be smoke leakaged-rated, must comply with section 8.2.2.4 (which requires testing).

Chapters 18 & 19 (healthcare occupancies) do not require smoke doors to be smoke leakaged-rated: Therefore, smoke barrier doors do not have to be tested in healthcare occupancies. Now… you may have an AHJ that believes differently. You may show them this code trail and perhaps they will allow you to not test your smoke doors, but ultimately they are an authority and if they say you have to test smoke doors, then you have to test smoke doors. But it is not required in healthcare occupancies according to the 2012 LSC.

NFPA 99 Risk Assessment

Q: A question came up concerning the NFPA 99 (2012) Risk Assessment. Does this only pertain to new construction or does it pertain to existing buildings also? Our company has never had an assessment done in the past but it is my understanding that it became a requirement in 2016. The CMS has established compliance requirements (K Tag) for risk assessment and its completion. Who would be the qualified personnel to perform this procedure and create a formal and documented risk assessment?

A: According to members of the Technical Committee who wrote the new Chapter 4 in NFPA 99-2012, the original intent was the risk assessment only applies to new construction. However, the way chapter 4 is written, it is not clear that the risk assessment is only applicable to new construction.

CMS has instructed the accreditation organizations and the state agencies who survey on the behalf of CMS to require all hospitals to have completed their NFPA 99 risk assessment for new as well as existing construction. Therefore, hospitals must conduct the risk assessment for new and existing conditions. These assessments are not difficult to do and only takes a few minutes.

There is no requirement to make a room-by-room assessment, but the intent is to assess the risk of the entire system if it were to fail and there were no back-up systems. It would stand to reason that most hospital systems would be Category 1 or Category 2. Anyone may conduct the assessment, but would have to have knowledge of the risk assessment process and knowledge of the facility.

Risk Assessments

Q: In regards to risk assessments, would you base a risk level to include having any additional controls in place for each item assessed, or do you place the risk level on the impact to patients/staff assuming the item being assessed would not be available or functional? We are performing a risk assessment on facility systems and medical equipment and are wondering what the standard is in the approach.

A: It sounds like you’re referring to the NFPA 99-2012 risk assessment for building system categories. If so, then the assessment is conducted with the assumption of the worst-case scenario, whereby the systems being evaluated fail and back-up systems (i.e. emergency power generators) fail as well. According to section A.4.1 of NFPA 99-2012, the category definitions apply to equipment operations and are not intended to consider intervention by caregivers or others. Also, the Introduction to Chapter 4 in the NFPA 99-2012 Handbook, the authors say:

“Each system must be evaluated for its impact on both the patients and the caregivers if the system should fail. Based on the worst-outcome scenario of a failure’s impact, the system is assigned a category. The chapter on that system the describes the requirements for the selected category.”

Be aware that the chairman of the Technical Committee who wrote this new chapter 4 for NFPA 99-2012 told me the intent was for the risk assessment to be on new equipment only, and existing equipment was exempted. However, chapter 4 of NFPA 99-2012 does not say that, and CMS is requiring all certified hospitals to have this risk assessment conducted on existing equipment as well as new. So, I recommend to my clients to do the assessment (it only takes a few minutes) on all existing and new equipment until such time CMS changes their minds.

Blanket Warmers

Q: Is there a code for blanket warmers, towel warmers and such equipment that is used in a medical setting? Since they have a heating element would it be the same as having a space heater?

A: No… Portable space heaters are regulated by section 19.7.8 of the 2012 LSC. Blanket warmers are not regulated by the LSC.

However, blanket warmers are unofficially regulated by the accreditation organization and by CMS. While there are not specific standards that address blanket warmers, surveyors will expect the hospital to regulate their blanket warmers via their own policies. The hospital is expected to have a policy that sets the maximum temperature that the blankets may be. Usually, the maximum temp is set at 130 degrees F. Anything over that will likely be scrutinized by a surveyor.

Blanket warmers are considered medical equipment and must be included in the medical equipment inventory, and they must be maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Emergency Management

Q: Regarding the new CMS rule on emergency preparedness, are they telling us that we must have full heating and cooling support for the entire hospital during a power outage up to and including adding more generators?

A: No… I don’t believe it is. Section 482.15 (b)(1)(ii)(A) says, “The hospital must develop and implement emergency preparedness policies and procedures … that must address temperatures to protect patient health and safety”. This does not say or mean that you need to add equipment to maintain temperatures (other than what the Life Safety code and NFPA 99 requires). It’s saying you must have a policy and a procedure that must address temperatures to protect the health and safety of patients.

So, your policies must reflect a plan on how you are going to accomplish this. If you lose fuel for the heating appliances, then what is your back-up plan? If you lose normal power and then emergency power, what is your back-up plan? Ultimately, your plan should recognize that you must evacuate the building if you can no longer maintain safe temperatures for your patients and staff.

Magnetic Locks

Q: Is there a code requirement for testing magnetic-locking devices, for a facility maintenance director?

A: There is a requirement in NFPA 72-2010, section 14.4.5 that all interface devices (i.e. relays, control modules) be tested once per year. Since the magnetic locks in access-control and delayed egress locks are connected to the fire alarm system via an interface relay, then the magnetic lock needs to be tested once per year to ensure it disconnects during a fire alarm signal. This test is required to be conducted by someone who is certified in accordance with NFPA 72.

If you are CMS certified or accredited by any of the major accreditation organizations then you would be expected to comply with the manufacturer’s recommendations on preventive maintenance. Most manufacturers of magnetic locks requires periodic maintenance to ensure they are functioning correctly.

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.

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.