Hundreds of Nursing Homes Lack Adequate Sprinkler Systems, CMS Reports

Hundreds of nursing homes throughout the United States have failed to meet government requirements for fire suppression systems, and in some cases do not even have sprinklers installed, according to recent government data. 

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has found that only 97% of nursing homes are in compliance with sprinkler regulations, which made up-to-date fire suppression systems mandatory as of August 2013, according to a report by the Associated Press.

While the vast majority of facilities nationwide have systems in place, the data suggests that 385 facilities in 39 states continue to have inadequate sprinkler and fire protection, which places more than 52,000 elderly and ill residents at an increased risk of serious injury in the event of a nursing home fire.

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In 44 of the nursing homes, there are no sprinkler systems at all. In others, CMS has deemed the existing measures to be out-of-date and inadequate.

Lack of proper fire safety systems place nursing home residents at a particular risk, since many are severely disabled and lack mobility to evacuate quickly.

As a result of the risk, work began on the current rules in 2003, after two major nursing home fires captured media attention. At least 16 people died in one of the fires, at the Greenwood Health Center in Hartford, Connecticut. The other fire occured at NHC Healthcare Center in Nashville, Tennessee, leading to the deaths of 15. Neither of the facilities had automatic sprinklers installed.

The new rules were passed in 2008, giving nursing homes nationwide five years to come into compliance. However, hundreds of facilities have failed to update their systems or install the fire protection measures now required.

Those nursing homes that do not have any sprinkler systems must come into substantial compliance within three months of being cited or face an inability to reapply for Medicare reimbursements. If they are not in compliance within six months of the citation, they will be terminated from the Medicare program, CMS warns. In some special circumstances, facilities may be granted an extension.

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