Little less than two months ago, a nursing home fire broke out in a patient’s room at a facility in Greenacres, prompting staffers to rush 50 residents out of the facility as the sprinklers kicked on. Thankfully, there were no injuries, though questions linger about what started the blaze.
Our Greenacres nursing home negligence attorneys know that it could have been far worse.
A recent report by The New York Times revealed that until this past August, federal regulators did not mandate that all nursing homes have automatic sprinkler systems.
As the Greenacres case shows, these systems are known to be the most effective form of protection against fires, as the prospect of quickly organizing an escape for dozens if not hundreds of frail, bedridden or dementia-suffering patients can prove a nearly impossible task.
True, the systems were required for any new nursing home that was certified by either Medicaid or Medicare. It was also true for any facility that was adding on to an existing structure.
However, for older nursing homes, there was no requirement that they have such a system in place until August of 2008. Of course, there was significant industry backlash to this requirement, citing what they said would be an inordinately high cost. As part of a concession, the federal government allowed the industry five years to comply. That time ran out two months ago.
Still, federal agencies are reporting that there are still some 1,100 nursing home facilities that don’t have sprinkler systems, or if they do, they are only partial systems that don’t offer full protection to residents. These partial systems are found in areas like laundry rooms or kitchens. Sometimes you’ll find them in individual patient rooms. However, the hallways usually aren’t equipped with them, making a safe, orderly escape an incredibly slim prospect.
In those instances, patients who are bed-bound would have almost no chance of survival at all. Those who suffer from dementia may not have the full capability to grasp how they should respond to a smoke alarm or to staff commands.
And all of that doesn’t even touch the fact that far too many nursing homes don’t have enough staff to handle such a situation to begin with. Compounding matters is the fact that the majority of nursing home fires break out at night, when the facility may have even fewer staff on hand.
Although the fire in Greenacres ultimately had a happy ending, there have been many other instances in which patients were not so lucky. A decade ago in Connecticut, a nursing home resident with dementia set her bed on fire at 2:30 a.m. The fire killed 16 people. A few months later in Tennessee, another night fire at a nursing home claimed the lives of 15 residents.
These incidents prompted some states to beef up their fire safety regulations in nursing homes. In Florida, nursing home fire safety regulations were enacted in 2006.
However, it was another two years after that before federal regulators moved to enact higher standards, and it was another five years after that before they demanded compliance. And still, we don’t have it.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services say they are working closely to ensure more compliance, and they expect the number of facilities to do so over the next several months to increase.
However, nursing homes aren’t inspected by federal regulators on a monthly basis. It could be as many as 18 months before investigators are able to force facilities into compliance by slapping them with deficiencies and fines. In the meantime, it is our most vulnerable citizens who are most at risk.
Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
Many Nursing Homes Operate Without Adequate Sprinkler Systems, Sept. 30, 2013, By Paula Span, The New York Times
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