Alabama slates 2007 for nursing home sprinklers

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Sunday, August 1, 2004

MONTGOMERY, Ala. - The State Committee of Public Health in Alabama has adopted a new rule that requires 70 nursing homes throughout the state to have complete sprinkler systems installed in each facility. The adoption of the stringent guidelines follows law changes in both Connecticut and Tennessee.

By 2007, all nursing homes throughout Alabama need to operate full sprinklers as a result of the rule amendment. The rule change will be phased in through three phases. Overall, the state said about 167 nursing homes now have sprinkler systems or are in the process of installing sprinkler systems and are unaffected by the change.

The first phase will require the seven-nursing homes with no sprinkler systems and nine multi-story nursing homes with partial systems to have working sprinkler systems in place by January 2006. The second phase calls for 30 one-story nursing homes with partial sprinkler systems to install compliant systems by September 2006. The third phase mandates 24 nursing homes to furnish all areas of their facilities not already covered by sprinklers, such as closets, by February 2007.

“We did not want an Alabama nursing home on the national news,” said Victor Hunt, director of technical services unit, office of facilities management at the Alabama department of public health.

Hunt explained the state has a number of healthcare facilities built in the 1960s, which were previously not required to maintain sprinkler systems, since they were constructed using concrete and steel material.

This spring, Tennessee passed a similar law that requires all nursing homes to have fire sprinklers by 2007. The decision follows a nursing home fire last year in which 17 people died.

“It awakened quite a few of us,” said Tennessee State Sen. Thelma Harper, about her state’s lack of fire system requirements in nursing homes. “It’s something you don’t think about until something happens.”

Healthcare facilities, such as nursing homes, are unlike other buildings where people live, Hunt said. “They are designed so you don’t leave the building in case of fire,” said Hunt.