When the Surveyor Pays a Visit

Expect the unexpected. Since January 2006, healthcare facilities nationwide have learned that lesson as surveys by the Joint Commission went from prescheduled visits to unannounced inspections, changing the way many facilities are maintained.

The Joint Commission is a U.S.-based nonprofit group whose stated goal is to continuously improve the safety and quality of healthcare through evaluation and accreditation of healthcare organizations. The group conducts on-site surveys to assess operations and facilities. Those that comply with Joint Commission standards are considered accredited, while those that do not comply may risk losing Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, possibly putting them out of business.


In 2006, a large hospital on the East Coast was preparing for a Joint Commission survey including a required plant shutdown to test electrical generator load and performance. It was the hospital's first full shutdown in several years and occurred on two consecutive Sundays.

Constant Communication

The hospital's director of plant operations says they have had a culture change in the way they operate since Joint Commission surveys became unannounced. "We meet weekly with our staff and twice monthly with the entire department to discuss our compliance strategies and ways to improve patient safety. We're in constant communication."

Healthcare facility operations staff members deal directly with patient safety issues that are called out in Joint Commission standards. For example, one of the Joint Commission's stated goals for 2007 included reducing the risks of healthcare-associated infection.

The hospital recently began an above-the-ceiling permit program to ensure fire and life safety compliance as well as reduce healthcare-associated infections. The center requires all contractors to comply with the program from proper cabling to installation of firestop to using proper dust containment protocol. For example, if working around immuno- compromised patients, contractors are required to use an environmental containment unit along with a negative air pressure machine that has HEPA filtration, as well as actively monitor dust levels to ensure effective dust containment.

Grainger provides customers with the dust containment products and the UL-approved firestop products as well as the supplier training to ensure the right system is correctly installed. Hospital staff members also prevent infection with hand hygiene protocols such as having waterless hand sanitizer outside every patient room.

A Welcome Resource

The preparation included at least one pleasant surprise. As operations staff prepared to switch to generator power at 5 a.m. on the first Sunday, their local Grainger representative showed up. "I was thrilled," the director recalls. "We didn't ask or expect him to be there, and he stayed the whole time in case we needed anything. He was right; if we needed a breaker, we could have gotten one from Grainger right away. It's great security. You don't see that from any other vendor."

Grainger also provides the hospital with information on issues such as lockout/tagout and accessibility to Material Safety Data Sheets.

The hospital recently decided to consolidate its purchases with Grainger. The director of plant operations says he anticipates benefits such as the ability of his staff to quickly and easily order products from grainger.com. "That's a huge benefit because searching multiple vendors for prices means lost productivity," he says. "Instead, we can focus on getting what we need."

Nearly half of his staff has been trained to order from grainger.com. "Grainger resources are awesome," he adds. "Our rep cares about what he does, which is important because we're not making widgets, we're providing life-saving care."

Related Links