George Mills, FASHE, CEM, CHFM, a senior engineer at The Joint Commission, spoke in a plenary session at the ASHE Annual Conference in Seattle, sharing his insights on the commission’s standards, updating attendees on changes, and offering some common violations he sees in facilities.

I couldn’t help but think that while a large part of these issues rest on the shoulders of the facilities themselves, the design and construction professionals they work with stand to a huge role in helping them avoid some of the issues that arise on a regular basis for Mills and The Joint Commission.

There were five items he urged every person in the general session room to go back to their facilities and check to avoid what he deemed immediate threats to life. They are:

  • Significantly compromised fire alarm systems;
  • Significantly compromised sprinkler systems;
  • Significantly compromised emergency power supply systems;
  • Significantly compromised medical gas master panels; and
  • Significantly compromised exits.

In addition, Mills notes that facilities must avoid any other situations that place patients, staff, or visitors in extreme danger.

“Stay out of trouble,” he says.

As for the commission’s standards themselves, he shares the top most-cited in the first half of 2011. Here is a breakdown of what standards the violations were related to:

  • 46% penetration and rated doors;
  • 44% corridor clutter;
  • 37% fire safety testing;
  • 35% hazardous areas;
  • 22% patient safety; and
  • 19% fire safety.

Mills also took the audience through the procedures for addressing any issues the commission may find in a visit to a facility, including 45-day corrective actions or the use of equivalencies that offset a deficiency.

Another key point made during the presentation was for facilities not to rely too heavily on contingency plans of which the usefulness may be outdated. He advises facilities to make sure the utilities exist to provide a safe and comfortable environment of care and that the contingency in place in the event of their failure will work the way you want it to work.

However, when it comes to keeping a plan up to date and testing it to be sure, Mills reminds it should be done in a manner that won’t put patients or staff, or the building in general, in harm’s way.

“Start exercising these plans, but exercise them when it’s safe and right to do so,” he says.

To close the session, ASHE presented Mills with an award for his service and dedication to healthcare engineering.