I?d like to know, can you tell me, please don?t tell me: Behavioral health and egress
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April 25, 2019
In response to last week’s modified Top 10 list (there’s been a request for another list regarding point-of-care/point-of-service staff knowledge of EC stuff—coming soon to a blog near you…), I received a question from the Lone Star state that I wanted to chat about with the group at large (I’m never quite sure if folks go back and revisit past questions and I thought this one might generate some comments from folks in general).
The question comes from the folks at a large hospital in east Texas who are in the process of designating a behavioral health “safe room” adjacent to their ER, where they’ll be holding patients for evaluation and eventual transportation to a local behavioral health hospital. The room in question is approximately 900 square feet (30 x 30) and the question raised relates to installing a second door in the space for use in the event of an emergency. The problem (or at least the stated problem, a little more pondering in a moment) is that this second egress door would lead into a major egress corridor. The question resulting from this “problem” is whether, due to the nature of what’s going on in the behavioral health room, having the door swing out into the egress route would be permitted, based on a risk assessment, etc.
First off (and you could certainly look at this as a bit of shameless self-promotion), it would be much more effective to be walking/talking this through in the present physical space, etc., but since I’m not scheduled to visit east Texas any time soon, I’m going to have to work this from afar. To that end, I have one question for the general audience: Do any of you have a behavioral health safe room with more than one “portal”? Since I saw this question, I’ve been racking my brain to recall an instance in which there was a room (as opposed to a designated space within an ER, or indeed, a behavioral health ER) that had a second egress door (and if I’ve visited your “house” and you have a two-door arrangement and I have somehow forgotten, please let me know). Even before I get to the door swinging into the egress corridor (and I think there are ways of being able to do this, but more on that in a moment—though it will require some homework), I start thinking about how you would secure that second door in such a way as to appropriately limit escape by the patient occupant and still provide sufficient access to staff removing themselves from a dangerous situation. Talk about a tightrope. But then I’m thinking, is there a way to configure the space that reduces the potential for a staff person to become “trapped” even with only one way out? I’m intuiting that the request for the second door is based on an actual occurrence in which an entrapment occurred, but I keep coming up against the “reality” that I can’t think of a behavioral health room with multiple ways out and that staff education of appropriate techniques for dealing with patients in a “confined” space would be the way to go.
As to the second egress door itself, while there are instances in which doors do swing out into an egress corridor, I think probably the best way forward, once you have completed the risk assessment, is to seek out the opinion of the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ), which in this instance would be the Texas Department of Health. Having had some experience with CMS surveys conducted by the state in that part of the world (and, truthfully, in most parts of the world) is to embark upon a field modification without providing the AHJ with an opportunity to review the proposed change(s). I think the primary reason that I would encourage this route is that this appears to be a somewhat unusual (if not quite rare, though it may be) arrangement; I understand the safety implications of the second door, but I also understand the implications such an arrangement can have on egress for adjacent occupants and I am not convinced that you’ll get carte blanche from the regulatory folks solely on the basis of a risk assessment in hand.
That said, I suppose you could also investigate a modification to the space that creates enough of an alcove on the egress side of the space to provide room for door swing, though that would certainly reduce the number of folks you could safely manage in the space. It may be that you folks are on the cutting edge of healthcare design, but sometimes the cutting edge “cuts” in the wrong direction. Given the attention being paid to the physical environment at the moment, it is unlikely that such a modification would escape notice (particularly with CMS).
The pendulum may swing back at some point, but I don’t see it happening any time soon—there are so many potential findings that they’d be hard-pressed to turn away. It’s very much like finding buried treasure and then leaving some for somebody else to find—it is not in line with human nature to walk away while there are still riches to be had.