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The Leaflet

Don’t be Caught Red Handed – 2023 Healthcare Regulatory Hot Topics

June 22, 2023

By: Christina Olivarria, MSPM, PMP, LBBP, HACP, Director of Business Development and Communications, Yellow Brick Consulting Inc

I think it’s fair to say the lion’s share of us working in healthcare did not get into this field to learn about regulations, compliance, and accreditation. In fact, some of you may even cringe at the thought of developing policies, reviewing scopes of services, or verifying that staff files are up-to-date and inspection ready. Let’s face it, as much as we may dislike the headache they often bring, healthcare regulations are a necessary component to maintaining our healthcare system. As healthcare professionals, we are responsible for keeping abreast of the latest regulatory trends so that we always bring our best, most informed self to whatever setting may need that information.

As a non-clinician, I have challenged myself to become more educated about the various aspects of regulatory compliance. When activating a new healthcare facility, surveys and site inspections are often the final hurdles project teams must overcome before Day 1 Activation. Each year, as part of my regulatory education, I work with our Regulatory Specialist, ask probing questions, attend webinars, and do lots of reading. Below is a summary of prevalent regulatory hot topics across the country.

Behavioral Health Patient Risk Assessments

The CMS Hospital Condition of Participation, “Patient’s Rights” (42 C.F.R. §482.13(c)(2)) establishes the rights of all patients to receive care in a safe setting and is intended to provide protection for a patient’s emotional health and safety as well as his or her physical safety.

The Joint Commission identified patient safety risks as one of the goals listed in the 2023 National Patient Safety Goals. Specifically, reducing the risk of suicide through thorough environmental risk assessments is a top priority of the TJC and CMS, and many healthcare organizations, particularly as Behavioral Health, becomes a more prevalent topic. Evaluating ligature risks within healthcare settings where high-risk patient populations are cared for should be a top priority of healthcare leaders to mitigate the risk of self-harm. Currently, only psychiatric hospitals and hospitals psychiatric units are mandated to be designed to be ligature resistant. Those of us in healthcare understand behavioral health patients are treated in almost every type of healthcare environment, so it is important to be aware of potential risks and have the plan to minimize them.

Some recommendations include:

  • Evaluation of the physical environment through a standardized risk assessment tool
  • Ensure all patients are being screened for suicidal ideation
  • Develop and maintain policies and procedures should a patient be identified at risk for suicide, including continuous monitoring and staff safety
  • Develop and provide training to staff
  • Follow policies and procedures related to discharge counseling and follow-up care

Workplace Violence Prevention

The data paints a bleak picture.

  • Healthcare and Social Services workers are five times more likely to experience workplace violence
  • Workplace violence comprises 73% of all nonfatal workplace injuries
  • 80% of serious violent incidents reported in healthcare settings were caused by interactions with patients
  • The “healthcare and social assistance” sector had 7.8 cases of serious workplace violence per 10,000 full-time employees compared to other large sectors that all had fewer than two cases per 10,000 full-time employees

As a result of this problem riddling our healthcare teams, the Joint Commission issued new and revised workplace violence prevention standards on January 1, 2022. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) plans for a Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) review of rulemaking for workplace violence prevention in health care and social assistance to ensure all healthcare providers are compliant.

The Joint Commission’s glossary defines workplace violence as “An act or threat occurring at the workplace that can include any of the following: verbal, nonverbal, written, or physical aggression; threatening, intimidating, harassing, or humiliating words or actions; bullying; sabotage; sexual harassment; physical assaults; or other behaviors of concern involving staff, licensed practitioners, patients, or visitors.” Healthcare leaders are now faced with the arduous task of incorporating these new standards into existing policies and procedures.

The new prevention standards are comprised of the following components:

  • Management of safety and security risks – Conduct an annual analysis of the effectiveness of the workplace prevention program.
  • Collection of information to monitor environmental conditions – Establish a process to monitor, investigate, and report incidents, including but not limited to injuries to patients and staff, occupational illnesses, safety and security risks, hazardous materials and waste spills, and utility system problems/failures
  • Coordination of ongoing staff education and training – Establish training modules and content for various staff types, including at the time of hire and on an annual/as-needed basis. Content should include roles and responsibilities, de-escalation techniques, and reporting methods.
  • Maintenance of a culture of safety and quality – Develop policies and procedures that address workplace violence. Evaluate key performance indicators that can be established to monitor incidents. Ensure support resources are available to staff.

Although this regulatory requirement has left many organizations scrambling, there are several incentives to adopting policies and procedures addressing workplace violence, including staff-burnout prevention, minimizing workers’ compensation claims, and reducing the need to backfill staff who are out due to injury. To access the Joint Commission resource toolkit, click here.

Disaster and Emergency Preparedness

The Emergency Preparedness CoP at §482.15(d)(1) contains requirements for hospitals to train staff and to have policies and procedures aimed at protecting both their workforce and their patients.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and its impacts still reverberating through the healthcare system, it is unsurprising to see increased scrutiny on emergency preparedness. The Joint Commission has highlighted Emergency Management as key safety topic, focusing on four main areas – preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation.

Preparedness – Conduct a hazard vulnerability analysis utilizing an all-hazards approach, considering internal and external threats to the organization. Develop an Emergency Operations Plan that addresses identified threats. Validate systems required to support critical services and develop plan to maintain in the event of an emergency.

Response – Develop policies and procedures to support an Emergency Action Plan. Conduct staff training to support outlined policies and procedures to ensure teams respond as planned. Ensure communication and roles and responsibilities are outlined.

Recovery –  Address how and when the hospital will return to full functionality after an emergency or disaster. Consider family reunification and patient identification procedures for unidentified adults and unaccompanied children.

Mitigation – Conduct exercises to test emergency response, including fire evacuation drills, active shooter exercises, mass casualty events, and technology ransomware attacks. Evaluate responses and identify areas of opportunity and gaps in planned responses.

Hospitals must ensure that emergency services will be available when the next disaster occurs while prioritizing investments that will build the healthcare delivery system of tomorrow. For more information, please click here for the Joint Commission R3 Report.

End of the COVID-19 National Emergency and Public Health Emergency (PHE)

Throughout the pandemic emergency, declarations allowed extra funding to be utilized to maintain Medicaid coverage for millions of Americans. With this funding being pulled this year, it is unclear how this unwinding will impact the healthcare system and the millions of Americans who may lose access to insurance come May 2023. Emergency declarations enacted during the Covid-19 pandemic will end, which may result in adjusting ratios, retraining staff onboarded during this period, and adjusting billing for services currently covered under the national emergency declarations.

Organizations should conduct an internal analysis of practices and procedures to prepare for this unwinding period to prioritize the next steps. Communication and coordination with community resources are recommended to ensure patients have the most up-to-date information regarding available benefits and resources.

Although not the most exciting of healthcare topics, regulatory and healthcare compliance education should be a goal of every healthcare professional. What I have found most helpful is understanding what I need to know to be successful in my role and also who my subject matter experts are in the event that I need to consult with them on a topic outside my realm of expertise. Plenty of free webinars and articles are available on the various regulatory agency websites. Should you encounter a situation in which you need consultation, reach out to a consultant that specializes in healthcare. Many are happy to point folks in the right direction. Best of luck on your regulatory educational journey, and be sure to keep these hot topics on your radar in 2023.