Do you ever have the feeling for every step forward, you take two steps backward? Regulatory compliance in the healthcare industry is getting tougher and tougher each year with new interpretations by the authorities. Just when you learn about the latest new requirement, and make the necessary adjustments so you are in compliance, along comes a new interpretation that throws a wrench into your process and you have to re-boot again.
Take the example that a reader sent me last December: Their hospital was having an inspection by their state agency representing CMS and the surveyor for the state said they were going to cite the hospital for not testing their GFCI receptacles on a monthly basis. She wrote me an email and asked me if testing the GFCI receptacles on a monthly basis was a requirement. I looked it up in the NFPA 99-2012 code and could not find any requirement to test GFCI receptacles. I did find a requirement in NFPA 70-2011, Article 517.17 (D) that does require the GFCI receptacles to be tested upon the initial installation, but nothing was mentioned about monthly testing requirements.
The state agency eventually submitted their report and the hospital was cited under K-914 for not providing any documentation that monthly testing was conducted on the Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) receptacles at various locations in the hospital, in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions on testing.
Even though NFPA does not require monthly testing of the GFCI receptacles, the manufacturer does recommend it, and the CMS surveyor cited the hospital for not following the manufacturer’s recommendations. The reader sent me a copy of the survey report and asked if this made sense to me. I replied that yes, it is a legitimate finding, because the hospital was not following the manufacturer’s recommendation for testing the GCFI receptacles. CMS Condition of Participation CFR §482.41 (c)(2) Interpretive Guidelines is clear that hospitals must follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for maintenance activities, or they must comply with the Alternate Equipment Management (AEM) program. But, in a larger picture, it does not make sense to me to start citing healthcare organizations for a little-known requirement without first providing some warning.
Why can’t CMS make an announcement and say they will start holding certified healthcare organizations accountable for monthly testing of their GFCI receptacles and provide a year’s moratorium until they begin enforcement? When I was a surveyor for Joint Commission, the accreditor used to do that. They would make an announcement that they would begin holding hospitals accountable for a new requirement, but would give the healthcare organization at least 6-months, and sometimes a year, to become compliant before that issue was enforced.
So… for now, the lesson we all need to learn from this, is to begin a monthly testing program of all your GFCI receptacles. Do your own survey of your facility and inventory the location where each GFCI receptacle is at. Purchase one of the GFCI testing devices (~$10) in the picture and have your technicians do the test on a monthly basis. Document each monthly test with the date, location, a “Pass” or “Fail” decision of the test, and a signature by the technician. There is a report template on my “Tools” webpage that you can down-load and use for free.
But that takes care of the this ‘flavor-of-the-month’. What will be the next surprise by the CMS surveyors that will catch most healthcare organizations off-guard? The way CMS is putting pressure on their state agency surveyors to find deficiencies that the accreditation organizations over-look, it makes the survey process more of an enforcement interrogation rather than a collaborative and educational event.