The four accrediting organizations in the behavioral health space have a complaint process for patients/clients/consumers and staff (because staff need to be able to report complaints as well). Most offer a toll-free number that is posted prominently in the facility.
“We will investigate immediately anything that could cause imminent danger,” says Carl Noyes, surveyor for the Accreditation Commission for Health Care (ACHC).
Complaints can also be an unplanned part of a survey. For example, a month before the CARF survey, a notice is posted with the date of the visit so patients can talk to surveyors directly.
Joint Commission standards require that programs have complaint procedures posted, but there is a separate process for complaints presented directly to surveyors, says Peter Vance, LPCC, CPHQ, field director for the Joint Commission.
“If it’s beyond the actual survey, we have another program that would follow up with that. We interact with them during the site visit as well,” he says.
In general, accrediting organizations urge patients to talk to the organization to resolve their complaints, but sometimes patients are fearful, says Brian J. Boon, PhD, president and CEO of CARF. CARF might also suggest they go to the local advocacy or protection agency in the state to resolve the problem. The bottom line is that the organization’s accreditation at risk.
“One of the commitments of being CARF accredited is that you are focused on the persons served,” says Boon.
The president and CEO of the Council on Accreditation (COA) handles all consumer complaints personally. Consumers can call or report on the website. Having an internal grievance process is part of being a good human services organization. “Many times when we receive those complaints, we start by going back to the organization to make sure that they have their own internal process,” says Kerry Deas, quality improvement manager for COA.
Unfortunately, consumers of behavioral health services might be viewed as difficult populations, more likely to make unfounded complaints.
“I can’t think of an example where any complaints were the result of a deteriorating mental health condition,” says COA’s David Haynik, LMSW. “I have a clinical background, and we have a lot of social workers here.”
All complaints should be taken seriously, he says.
Also see: Follow best practices in accreditation