CMS Requires Sprinklers in Long-Term Care Facilities

For the first time, nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in the United States will have to install fire sprinkler systems throughout their buildings if they wish to continue to serve Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. A rule published this week by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services regulation gives facilities five years to comply fully with the rule. Newly constructed and renovated nursing homes already were required to be equipped with sprinklers.

About 3 million elderly and disabled Americans live in 16,000 nursing homes nationwide, all of which must have comprehensive sprinkler systems in place by 2013. CMS said there has never been a multiple-fatality fire in a facility with a sprinkler system that meets the rule's requirements. "CMS is taking further action to protect the lives of our beneficiaries through a more comprehensive and effective approach to fire safety," said Kerry Weems, acting administrator of CMS. "In the past, certain older facilities were exempt from having an automatic sprinkler system, but we now will hold all 16,000 nursing homes in the nation to this standard."

As an interim step, CMS in March 2005 began requiring long-term care facilities that did not have sprinklers to install battery-operated smoke alarms in all patient rooms and public areas. The agency also includes the number of fire safety violations and sprinkler status on its Nursing Home Compare Web site.

All new sprinkler systems in nursing homes must meet National Fire Protection Association technical specifications.

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