We began a three day accreditation survey visit at the Aiken-Barnwell Mental Health Center today. The two surveyors, one who will look at administrative issues and one who will focus more on clinical programming and outcomes, came as representatives of the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, or CARF.

Our initial contact with the surveyors was a morning meeting where the executive team and other managers introduced themselves and then heard a brief presentation about the survey process and what was to come.

As things moved around the room and it became my turn, I introduced myself as “Greg Smith, Medical Director”. Comments were made about having the doctor in the room and the like, and I thought little of it. I chatted with the surveyors briefly before going on to start my day and to let them get to their work.

Later in the morning I returned to the Board Room at my scheduled time for a brief meeting with the clinical surveyor. She and her coworker had not yet returned from their tour of the facility. Moments later, I heard them coming down the hall, accompanied by one of our staff.

They apologized for making me wait, not being on time for the doctor and the like. Again, I took note of this but thought little of it until later. I assured them that my morning had been kept open for them, that I was available to speak with them and to answer questions at any time they wished, and that I wanted t make myself easily accessible as part of the site visit. “See,” the staffer said, “I told you he would be okay. He’s okay.” Everyone smiled.

It struck me that the two surveyors, very nice and very interested, engaged ladies, were wanting to make sure that we were not inconvenienced or that our schedules were not compromised by their being there to do their survey of our organization. They seemed to be almost embarrassed and were very apologetic about being a few minutes late for an appointment that was certainly not set in stone.

I thought about my own feelings about the survey, and those of the staff I work with. We were all appropriately nervous, anticipating telling our stories and sharing the successes of our organization with someone new to it, and having a good outcome on Friday at the exit conference. I for one was very cognizant of the fact that I could be called back to answer other questions later in the day (I was, twice), to provide further clarification about policies, procedures or other issues that the surveyors might focus on. In essence, they were in the driver’s seat, and we were at their beck and call, not the other way around.

Perception can be a funny thing. Sometimes you can see things one way and have them be completely different. Sometimes you have expectations and the real situation is nothing like the one you were afraid of or nervous about of unsure of. This works both ways in relationships.

My takeaway, after interacting with these ladies on the first day of our CARF survey?

Be yourself, be genuine, be open, and be friendly.

Provide timely, succinct, and valid information.

Express what you feel to be true, focus on the positives, and brag about what the organization does well.

An open, honest exchange that disregards artificial trappings, titles and jargon is usually the best for all parties involved.

Now, we’re ready for days two and three.