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NCCHC Standards Meet COVID-19. When the chips are down, go all in.

By Jim Martin, MPSA, CCHP,vice president of program development, NCCHC

Success occurs when opportunity meets preparation. – Zig Ziglar.

Never has this resonated more than now, during the historic pandemic crisis we are experiencing at home and abroad. It seems like the COVID-19 virus consumes every second of our day.

I have taken many questions from our accredited facilities asking if NCCHC would allow them to suspend some of their normally accepted practices because of COVID-19. Can they stop having their monthly meetings? Can they stop studying problems for CQIs; can they stop triaging the sick call process? I understand all of this. I, too, worked in a facility when the unthinkable happened and all you want to do is the bare minimum. I say no! Now is the time when your preparation meets opportunity.

For years, facilities have been using the NCCHC Standards for Health Services for jails, prisons, and juvenile facilities as a roadmap to effective and efficient correctional health care. That is your preparation. Now is the time for you to embrace these standards like you never have before. They will better prepare you and your staff for what is creeping into our jails and prisons. In fact, I am also hearing from facilities that have not used these standards as a tool, have not gone through the accreditation process, and have not analyzed their own systems— and are now sorry that they haven’t. They are now … turning to the standards.

“But, Jim, how is this going to affect our next survey?” These are important issues and we appreciate your concerns in wanting to appropriately respond to inmate health care needs.

When assessing compliance, our teams look for trends. If the trend is showing an upward curve of compliance, generally, the committee will accept the actions being taken. If the trend is showing a downward spiral, corrective action will be necessary to bring the activity into compliance. If you miss a meeting “occasionally” due to revised priorities, do not panic. Do the best you can and make sure that this action, or inaction, is an exception, not the norm. Remember, we are looking for trends.

Most of all, do not cut corners on items that affect patient care. Given the increased challenges of the epidemic, triaging will be of the utmost priority. You need to direct your teams accordingly. NCCHC surveyors are health care professionals themselves. Of course, we will review the entire situation you’re in. Our physicians and nurses understand what you are going through and will be compassionate. Ensure that your technical response to the crisis is thoughtful and well documented. This is truly a mass disaster scenario in your state and elsewhere.

Documentation will be key. So, I invite you to dust off that standards manual and ask yourself, “How can this get me through what is to come?” I know this is scary and  challenging. I know this is unexpected, but you are ready. Trust me, you are. We are here to support you and be the resource you have asked us to be. I know how much you have prepared, and I know that COVID-19 is giving you and your teams the opportunity. Stay safe, our friends. Together, we will get through this, just like we have time and time again.

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