Prompted by the Sept. 11 attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) has issued a 24-page advisory emphasizing the need for a new level of hospital preparedness to respond to bioterror attacks, and providing tips on compliance. Hospitals that fail to take adequate steps risk losing their JCAHO accreditation.

Among the tips for compliance:
Preparation should include names of people to contact at the FBI and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; specific decontamination plans for victims of a mass bioterrorism attack; and identification of alternative treatment sites if the hospital is overrun with patients.

JCAHO sent the advisory last Thursday to the almost 5,000 hospitals and 13,000 clinics, labs and nursing homes nationwide that it monitors and accredits.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2002 (six weeks away), random, unannounced visits to hospitals by the commission's monitoring staff will include a special focus on emergency preparedness. Facilities found deficient will be given a certain amount of time to comply; if the deficiency remains, it could mean loss of accreditation.