Federal gov’t proposes sprinkler bill

Bill would affect all nursing homes that accept either Medicaid or Medicare
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Friday, October 1, 2004

HARTFORD, Conn. - U.S. Representative John B. Larson has proposed legislation that would require all nursing homes throughout the United States that accept Medicare or Medicaid payments to install fire sprinklers within five years of the measure passing.

The Nursing Home Fire Safety Act has been influenced by fatal nursing home fires in areas of the country that include Connecticut and Tennessee.

Last year, the Greenwood Health Center in Hartford suffered the loss of 16 residents as a result of fire, as did a nursing home in Nashville, Tenn., where 15 died.

These incidents prompted government officials within those two states to separately introduce and successfully pass legislation that requires sprinkler systems at all nursing homes. On a similar note, officials in Alabama adopted a rule to require fire sprinklers within all nursing care facilities within the state as a preventative measure.

“How many more lives do we have to lose before people get the message?,” asked John Viniello, president of the National Fire Sprinkler Association, which supports the measure. “If the states are not going to do something to protect the elderly, then the federal government should.”

According to the July 2004 Nursing Home Fire Safety report from the United States Government Accountability Office, the national average of deaths per year from 1994 through 1999 was five; whereas the two fires in Connecticut and Tennessee alone accounted for 31 in 2003.

Nursing facilities are unique to similar structures where a number of people reside, such as apartment buildings and university dormitories, since the population of nursing homes are typically dependant on others for their own care. In addition, residents do not vacate the buildings on a regular schedule as do college students.

“We are going to work as hard as we can on this as Congress wraps up its current session,” Larson said in a prepared statement. “And if no progress is made this year, this gives us a great head start for the next Congress,” he said.

The bill has been drafted to include a payment schedule for nursing homes, with Medicare or Medicaid picking up the total cost of installation. According to the congressman’s office, 97 percent of all nursing homes participate in either program.

“He worked hard to get this legislation together,” according to John Biechman, vice president of government affairs at the National Fire Protection Association, which has worked with the congressman’s staff and sent a letter of support.

Biechman said of the association, “we endorse this.”