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Introducing the Physical Environment Department

03/24/2022

By Herman McKenzie, MBA, CHSP, Director, Physical Environment Department

When I started as a member of The Joint Commission’s Engineering Department, Standards Interpretation Group (SIG), five years ago, I quickly came to understand that the department focused less on engineering and more on ensuring that the physical environment in healthcare facilities we survey is compliant with codes that establish how these spaces are constructed and operated.

An engineer’s role is to apply principles of science to design, analyze, build and test machines, complex systems, structures and materials in healthcare, but The Joint Commission’s Engineering Department went beyond this to evaluate how healthcare organizations maintain these established systems and spaces in accordance with the requirements established in National Fire Protection Agency code manuals such as the Life Safety Code and Healthcare Facilities Code.

The Joint Commission’s Engineering Department was made up of experts in facilities operations, biomedical equipment technology, emergency management, environmental safety and more.

Because of the name, our stakeholders, both internal and external, didn’t have a full understanding of the department’s scope of work. For that reason, in 2022, we established a new name for the department: the Physical Environment Department. In addition, staff who were once called Engineers are now Physical Environment Specialists

The name Physical Environment Department more fully encompasses our goals of ensuring the healthcare environment of all organizations we accredit is:

  • safe, functional and properly maintained
  • equipped with the appropriate infrastructure and equipment to deliver care

Role in the Accreditation Process
Physical Environment Specialists serve a key role in the accreditation process, acting as expert resources for surveyors and reviewers on Joint Commission standards and requirements related to the healthcare environment. They ensure that potential requirements for improvement (RFIs) are documented correctly, employing technologies such as Consistent Interpretations Technology (CITe) and the Machine Learning for Survey Consistency to accurately and consistently assess an organization’s performance. They also support IntraCycle Monitoring conference calls. 

Physical Environment Specialists also field questions directly from healthcare organizations, helping them understand and comply with health and safety requirements. They provide additional educational resources for healthcare organizations, such as: 

  • Developing resource articles in Joint Commission Resources publications Perspectives and EC News
  • Serving as faculty for educational programs and taking on speaking engagements
  • Compiling the Standards FAQs section of our website
  • Updating the physical environment portalon the Joint Commission website

The portal contains many free resources on commonly cited standards.

All of our Physical Environment Specialists have worked directly with Joint Commission environment of care, life safety, emergency management and other relevant standards at healthcare organizations before making the transition to The Joint Commission, with dozens of years of combined experience as subject matter experts and as leaders. Please know that when you reach out to The Joint Commission’s Standards Interpretation Group, the Physical Environment Specialist taking your question has been in your shoes and is dedicated to finding the right answer.



Herman McKenzie, MBA, CHSP, is currently a director in the Standards Interpretation Group at The Joint Commission. In this role, he manages all activities associated with the daily operations of the Physical Environment Department, provides standards interpretation and education to Joint Commission Surveyors and accredited organizations, reviews equivalency requests and survey reports, conducts surveys and Intracycle Monitoring conference calls, serves as faculty for educational programs, and is a speaker for national, regional, state, and local audiences. Mr. McKenzie has also recently been selected as Board Director for the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI).