Surplus Safety: A Symposium To Redefine Risk

By / Posted on October 15th, 2012

Drs. Judah Ronch, Dean of the Erickson School of Aging, and Dr. William Thomas, founder of the Eden Alternative and Green House Project, have coined a new term and developed a new concept called surplus safety. Instead of risk meaning the possibility that only something bad might happen, they teach that the real definition of risk is the possibility of an unanticipated outcome. They further explain that there are two kinds of risk, upside and downside. Downside risk is an outcome that is worse than expected and upside risk is an outcome that is better than expected. They point out that our obsession with downside risk unfortunately leads to the taking away of any chance of upside risk for those living in long term care environments and that we prevent outcomes better than expected (upside risk) because we our obsessed with minimizing the risk of a worse outcome. Dr. Thomas as a physician and Dr. Ronch as a psychologist point out that no other part of the human life cycle allows this removal of upside risk. For instance, we do not restrain toddlers as they try to learn to walk because they might fall. Not too many people talk about our development and growth at an older age but thankfully they do. Each advocate that our human development includes a balance of both upside risk and down side risk.
The current landscape of safety where the current conception of risk includes only downside risk – in which harm may come to elders if they attempt certain activities such as getting out of bed – has resulted in very restrictive policies and practices, such as bed and chair alarms. Many safety measures, such as alarms, are designed with only downside risk management in mind i.e. preventing falls. However, the upside risk of preserving one’s ability to continue walking and to keep their balance and strength are not evaluated. Nor is the other downside risk of losing these abilities talked about. Nor is the quality of life considered according to the person of being immobilized by an alarm or agitated or isolated. Therefore, there is a strong need to look at upside risk management in addition to the traditional focus of managing downside risk.

Thus the first-ever Surplus Safety Symposium was held on September 12 – 13, 2012 in Baltimore, MD. Many thanks to the Hulda B. and Maurice L. Rothschild Foundation for funding and to the Erickson School for hosting this event.
Approximately 50 stakeholders from a diverse group of constituencies discussed the current state of the safety landscape. Experts addressed the areas of: Policy as Written and Interpreted; Risk Assessment Methodologies; Case Law; Management and Workforce Conditions; and Resident Perspective presenting key issues and identifying levers of change. Workgroups then recommended ways to implement a strategy to change how risk is perceived, understood, managed and regulated.

The goals for the two-day symposium were to:
1. Identify strategies to promote a full evaluation of risk vs. potential outcomes in long term care.
2. Reframe the current concept of safety to better balance both upside and downside risk potential.
3. Identify codes and standards which should be addressed in order to better balance upside and downside risk.
4. Identify stakeholder groups to enlist in seeking necessary code and standard changes.

Some ideas collected (not consensus) were the following:

• Consider using probability instead of potential for harm in the CMS scope and severity grid; gather the research to back the use of probability of harm instead of potential which can be anything.
• Consider adding to every regulation “if the resident desires” or “according to the resident;” for example, Tag F363 Menus be followed if the resident desires.
• Discontinue making policies for the 1%, make the policies for the 99%. Broad global policies limit life for the 99%, individualize polices by stating that individual care plans will be adapted for each person in relationship to risk, safety, etc.
• Copy the CMS survey process for homecare where whatever provider has done is recognized and considered into survey findings.
• Incentivize like Colorado P4P bonus reimbursement and Ohio Medicaid Reimbursement where homes must implement a subset of person-directed practices in order to receive full reimbursement.
• Include each person’s goals for themselves and their perspective on risk. This should be individualized based on how much risk they want/can tolerate. Kind of like investing in 401K plans, some of us prefer low risk, others moderate or high risk. Risk needs to be determined by the Elder primarily, and not by surveyors, corporate leaders or other professionals who assign this determination based upon what they think is best for all parties involved.
• Concept of safety is one dimensional regarding the body. Need to add mind/spirit, psychosocial.
• Immediate Jeopardy includes potential for harm which is so very easy to cite, easier to cite IJ than a G. This needs to change because it has the greatest sanction associated with it – possibly move potential for harm somewhere lower down on the grid.
• Equitable attention to all relevant regulations; treat all requirements the same. Preventing accidents is just as important as resident has the right to refuse medical treatment or right to choice.
• Eliminate FOSS/federal surveys as they are over burdensome and do not result in better care for residents; redirect those resources to training of how culture change practices embody intent of OBRA ’87 Nursing Home Reform Law and current regulations.
• Explore legal strategies to promote resident choice and consistent enforcement of all regulations.
• Recognition that accidents happen – differentiate between accident and neglect/systems failure.
• Reconsider the current metrics for success and incentives: do we incentivize surplus safety or highest practicable physical, mental and psychosocial well-being?
• Research the benefits to upside risk.

As you can see, many good ideas on how to eliminate surplus safety were collected. According to Rob Mayer of the Hulda B. and Maurice L. Rothschild Foundation, this is just the start. Be on the alert for more to come. In the meanwhile, do whatever you can to promote the balance in every person’s life of both upside and downside risk. Better yet, do all you can to promote that the person continues to be the boss of their life. Promote this daily with persons you serve. Call for meetings with your survey agency that is to serve the persons living in nursing homes and assisted livings in your state. Lean on your state culture change coalition to bring up these issues in already-established stakeholder meetings. Don’t wait for someone else to do something. See what you can make happen. Go get famous. Eden has a great motto: “It’s Time.” Actually, it’s past time. We all want better.

Carmen Bowman, Regulator turned Educator, owner Edu-Catering: Catering Education for Compliance and Culture Change and Facilitator of the 2012 Surplus Safety Symposium