Inspection Frequently Asked Questions

How many hospitals does the Washington State Department of Health license?

The state licenses more than 90 hospitals in Washington to provide care within the minimum health and safety standards established by state law. The Department of Health is required to inspect these hospitals at regular intervals.

How often are state-licensed hospitals inspected?

Acute care hospitals are inspected every 18 months or, if the facility is accredited by another approved organization such as the Joint Commission, it is inspected every 36 months. Psychiatric and chemical dependency hospitals are inspected annually.

Which laws establish minimum standards for hospitals and provide for the department's authority to inspect to confirm compliance with these standards?

Acute Care Hospitals

Alcoholism and Chemical Dependency Hospitals

Psychiatric Hospitals

Who does the inspecting?

The department's inspection staff includes both nurses and public health advisors. Nurses assess the clinical aspects of the hospital. Public health advisors inspect the facility's physical aspects for environment of care issues. In addition, we contract with the state fire marshal to inspect for fire, life and safety standards.

Are hospitals aware of impending inspections?

Hospitals know generally when to anticipate an inspection based on the date they were last inspected and the frequency mandated by law, but these same laws require that the inspections be unannounced.

What are inspectors looking for?

Our inspectors are trained to inspect healthcare facilities such as acute care hospitals to confirm minimum compliance with appropriate state regulatory standards. They're looking for indications of system-wide deficiencies that pose patient safety risks.

What happens if a hospital doesn't pass inspection?

Hospitals we inspect are not given a "grade" but instead are provided with a written assessment of any deficiencies we identify during the inspection. This assessment outlines areas where the facility doesn't meet the applicable standards that are set out in law to ensure patient safety. The inspection team works with the hospital to explain how those deficiencies were identified and requires that the hospital at a minimum provide an adequate written plan for addressing these deficiencies.

Is there public notification of the inspection results?

While we don't post individual hospitals inspection results, the assessment results of any facility inspection we conduct are disclosable to the public upon request subject to state public disclosure laws.

Can a hospital request "blackout" dates during which no inspection would occur?

We're amendable to taking such requests and have granted them on a limited and appropriate basis. An example would be when the hospital anticipates major disruption to its operations such as a scheduled computer overhaul.