July 2, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic has burdened the healthcare industry in exceptional ways. One unanticipated challenge has been how to meet the pandemic head-on while experiencing plunging revenues.
With emergency room visits down and nonurgent care largely put on hold, healthcare organizations have been losing significant revenue. This has resulted in significant percentages of staff members — from medical professionals to support workers — being placed on furlough or working reduced hours, according to the Department of Labor.
These staffing cuts and reductions have consequentially challenged hospital environmental health and safety (EHS) and other support services departments — often short on staff to begin with. These departments lead EHS and other regulatory compliance programs, which provide safety management, air emissions compliance, industrial hygiene support, hazardous waste management, chemical storage and other regulatory compliance measures, including those of The Joint Commission. While EHS and other support services do not bring in revenue for healthcare organizations, they are critical to keeping facilities safe and compliant with federal, state and local regulations.
As communities reopen, many healthcare organizations will seek to slowly correct for revenue losses and achieve full staff capacity again. When this time comes, it is likely that EHS teams will face compliance issues and regulatory gaps.
A key aspect of EHS work is program maintenance. EHS professionals maintain a comprehensive and sustainable compliance program to address the ever-changing regulatory landscape. Across the U.S., more than 22,000 healthcare facilities pursue accreditation through The Joint Commission, and the standards are rigorous and complex. While this accreditation often sets a hospital up for success to deliver quality and safe care, preparing for the regular visits and creating policies and strategies to maintain compliance can be an undertaking.
Hospitals have to maintain management programs and implement procedures to achieve compliance. This compliance is likely to slip when EHS staff are unable to support healthcare facilities. For instance, without adequate staffing, requirements related to areas such as hazardous waste management, air emissions reporting, wastewater management or fire safety activities may be left incomplete.
While these regulatory gaps may not cause glaring issues now, they will become clearer when compliance reports are due, such as hazardous waste generation and air compliance reports. When EHS teams are able to return to full capacity, or a new normal is established, teams should work to determine their existing deficiencies and prepare early to mitigate potential issues during inspections or accreditation surveys. Once gaps are identified, industry professionals can help develop solutions and navigate timely, cost-effective results.
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