Healthcare News & Insights

Cutting clutter: One hospital’s approach

With all the focus on boosting the quality of care in hospitals, other problems may fall through the cracks – such as clutter that creates obstructions in entryways and hallways. Ignoring this issue can cause headaches for facilities. 

ThinkstockPhotos-87569560The Joint Commission is vigilant about making sure hospitals contain their clutter as required in the Life Safety Code from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Specifically, hospitals must be mindful that “aisles, corridors and ramps required for exit access in a hospital or nursing home shall not be less than 8 feet in clear and unobstructed width,” per NFPA regulation 18.2.3.

In the past, this has caused big problems for facilities. Many common pieces of hospital equipment, such as spare IV poles, computers or hospital beds, count as obstructions in the Joint Commission’s eyes, and citations were issued regularly for violation of LS.02.01.20, or providing a clear means of egress.

Though the rules about obstructions have been relaxed slightly in recent years, compliance with this statute can be tough. It’s still one of the top reasons hospitals are cited by the Joint Commission.

Successful strategy to fight clutter

One hospital tackled its clutter issues head on, with positive results.

Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital had a big problem with clutter. An article in Environment of Care News, a Joint Commission publication, discusses the steps the hospital took to solve it over a four-month period in 2014.

Staff first identified areas of the hospital that were most prone to becoming cluttered. A team of professionals, which included representatives from facilities management, environmental services and security, discussed their first-hand experiences with clutter at Northwestern.

The team decided to focus on 10 corridors throughout the hospital that tended to become cluttered fast. Besides monitoring those areas with regular inspections, representatives from the team would reach out to staff in those departments to help them de-clutter.

Inspections took into account whether equipment or materials were “attended” (meaning someone was actively working with them, like vendors unpacking boxes) or unattended (e.g., boxes stored in a hallway).

Working together

Anytime the team noticed something amiss, inspectors went to department managers and laid out specific guidelines about what should and shouldn’t be stored in a corridor, per federal safety laws.

The hospital used other tactics to raise awareness about keeping clutter at bay, including posting signs in each corridor reading “Corridor Compliance Checkpoint.” Inspectors also sent regular e-mail messages to department managers, praising them when their areas met standards or reminding them to keep up with the project.

Overall, Northwestern’s initial effort reduced clutter in the monitored areas. To build on that success, the hospital introduced an “environmental excellence” program for patient care areas. Staffers in each area are now asked to regularly assess their issues with clutter and report how they’re addressing problems.

The inspection team provides them with regular feedback, taking notes of their improvements. And that’s kept them motivated to stay on top of clutter.

Hospitals may be able to replicate Northwestern’s success in reducing clutter with a similar teamwork strategy that emphasizes pointing out positive improvements, instead of taking an approach that focuses on reprimands.

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