Nursing homes across America would, for the first time, have to install sprinkler systems throughout their buildings if they wish to continue to serve Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries under a new regulation proposed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) on Oct. 27, 2006.
“CMS is taking further action to protect the lives of our beneficiaries through a proven effective approach to fire safety,” says Leslie V. Norwalk, acting administrator of CMS. “Automatic sprinkler systems are integral to increasing safety in nursing homes, and we look forward to their installation in all of the nursing homes across the country.”
As an interim step toward today’s announcement, in March 2005, CMS began requiring all nursing homes that did not have sprinklers to install battery-operated smoke alarms in all patient rooms and public areas. Lack of smoke alarms in the facilities in Hartford, CT, and Nashville, TN, that had fatal nursing home fires in 2003 may have contributed to a delayed response time to the fires, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office issued in July 2004.
CMS has already taken many actions to increase resident safety over the past several years, such as a 17-fold increase in the number of Life Safety Code (LSC) inspections performed between 2004 and 2005. The agency will also publish the number of LSC violations, as well as information on smoke alarms and sprinkler systems for every nursing home in the country on its Nursing Home Compare website by the end of this year.
Under existing CMS regulations, newly constructed nursing homes and nursing homes undergoing major renovations, alterations, or modernizations must be equipped with sprinkler systems. Currently, older homes are not required to have such systems.
“While new facilities must already meet sprinkler requirements, this proposed rule would require all nursing homes to do so,” Norwalk added. “We appreciate the collaboration of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and stakeholders throughout the industry in making these safety improvements as soon as possible.”
CMS follows the fire safety guidelines developed by the NFPA, and all new sprinkler systems installed as a result of this proposed rule will have to meet NFPA technical specifications.
The proposed rule asks for public and industry input on an appropriate phase-in time to allow older homes to retrofit their facilities. The comment period will remain open until Dec. 26, 2006.
For more information on the proposed rule, click here.
SOURCE: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' website (www.cms.hhs.gov)