Accreditation survey during COVID-19 is an ‘invaluable’ experience, says Surveyor Michelle Piwniuk

October 28, 2020

Though the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic began this fall, Accreditation Canada (AC) worked to prepare its surveyors for the task at hand; to continue to improve care quality and patient safety.

From Sept. 28 to Oct. 2, 2020, 23 surveyors participated in Alberta Health Services (AHS)’ accreditation survey, which included 64 sites across the province, with a mix of rural and urban locations, EMS and correctional facilities.

Michelle Piwniuk, a registered respiratory therapist and a licensed paramedic who has more than 20 years of experience as a surveyor for AC, said it was “an experience like no other.”

She noted surveyors were well prepared to return to survey even in the pandemic, as AC provided many resources such as additional guides and virtual townhalls to keep everyone informed. “I consumed those resources to ensure that I could be the best possible surveyor, but also to ensure that I could survey safely for myself and for those I’d be interacting with,” she said.

AC Surveyor Michelle Piwniuk

Piwniuk said that though she was apprehensive about traveling to Calgary, Alta., for the survey, she was not nervous about being exposed to COVID-19 during the survey. “If the purpose of surveying is to see safe patient care in action, there’s a lot of merit for doing it in the face of the pandemic. We really got to see policies and protocols in place,” Piwniuk said. She added: “I was confident that all the safeguards would be in place.”

Piwniuk said a challenge for this particular survey was a new, heavier reliance on technology. Due to COVID-19, she explained that surveyors had to rely on video conferencing for the introductory and Service Excellence Team (SET) meetings, and on Health Standards Organization (HSO)’s OnBoard software.

“It was a very unusual experience as we were never in the same room as other surveyors,” Piwniuk added. “I’ve been involved in AHS surveys before. It’s a huge undertaking, but this one really added some new dimensions to the experience.”

Piwniuk noted that AC’s accreditation process allows an organization to evaluate itself against standards of excellence. She said some people might think that a pandemic is not the best time for a semi-unannounced accreditation survey. “But I think it’s invaluable,” she said. “Instead of having to talk about something such as a pandemic in a hypothetical manner, we could actually discuss the situation based on the organization’s responses and see people at work in a real environment. It’s a great time to see an organization in its true form.”

Piwniuk said she enjoys surveying as it is an ongoing learning and knowledge sharing process. “I think it’s neat to go and see how others are doing things. It allows me to share what I’ve learned with organizations, but also bring back ideas that help improve the services that I work in,” she said. “It’s about growing, learning, interacting with others and offering experience.”

She adds that when you begin a survey, you only have basic information about the organization. “But through interviews, discussion and observation, it’s amazing how much you can learn,” Piwniuk said. “I’m always fascinated by how much you can learn in a short period of time.”

AHS is AC’s first major accreditation survey since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Due to the pandemic, AHS’ spring survey was postponed, causing the spring and fall assessments to take place at the same time. “Preparing a team of 23 to use new software and surveying processes is no easy feat, especially during a pandemic,” said Jessica Barlow, Client Engagement Coordinator at AC.

She noted that AC’s Health System team held several online training sessions including sessions on the new OnBoard software, a webinar on Surveying During a Pandemic, one on one sessions with surveyors and more.

“We were fortunate to work with an incredibly dedicated, knowledgeable and professional survey team who were willing to try out many of our new initiatives, including Attestation, semi-unannounced visits and HSO OnBoard,” Barlow said. “The surveyor team took on this challenge with great humour and determination.”

Piwniuk added that having access to online training with AC prior to the AHS survey was very helpful. “I think a lot was done to prepare us to go forward and do the best job that we could do,” she said.

In terms of the ongoing pandemic, Piwniuk said it’s a challenging time for everyone, both personally and professionally, but she is hopeful that it’s “just a bump in the road.”

She added: “There have been other tumultuous challenges in history. We can get past this and be better for it. We can learn and apply that learning in our work and personal lives. We’ll see our current situation in the rearview mirror at some point in the future.”

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