The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations has started a dialogue with organized labor that could lead to more involvement of hospital employees in the accreditation survey process, MODERN HEALTHCARE*has learned.
The entente follows a public attack on the accrediting agency by the Service Employees International Union earlier this year, which alleged that improprieties in the survey process are harming the public's safety (Jan. 27, p. 8).
A labor delegation led by the SEIU met with leadership of the Joint Commission on July 14 at the JCAHO's Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., headquarters.
"It was a very productive discussion," said Dennis O'Leary, M.D., JCAHO president. "We haven't agreed to do anything yet."
He said the dialogue is an attempt to gain "an understanding of what their issues and perspectives are, and what our mission is, and how we go about achieving that. And to look, on our part, at ways we might do a better job in the accreditation process."
Betty Bednarczyk, secretary/treasurer of the SEIU, led the labor group, accompanied by staffers of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the building trades division of the AFL-CIO.
Bednarczyk and the heads of the other two unions are members of President Clinton's healthcare quality commission.
Also present was JCAHO Commissioner Gerald M. Shea, assistant to the president for government affairs for the AFL-CIO. Shea was appointed to the JCAHO board of commissioners last January.
About a dozen senior executives of the Joint Commission attended the all-day session, including O'Leary.
"It was a friendly meeting," said Steve Askin, SEIU assistant director of research. "They spent a lot of time describing their policies and procedures to us. We left disagreeing on some big issues."
Fundamentally, the SEIU thinks a government agency, not a private one, should accredit hospitals for Medicare and Medicaid participation. And it wants survey information on hospital deficiencies made public.
The SEIU took an interest in the Joint Commission during an accreditation survey last year of Columbia Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas, which it is trying to organize. The union wanted the surveyors to allow workers to describe staffing levels and working conditions outside the presence of management. The surveyors declined. The SEIU did some research and found the JCAHO's survey process deficient in a number of ways.
Since then, Askin said, the Joint Commission has shown a willingness to talk about "how frontline caregivers and consumers can have input into the process."