Sprinkler mandate fails to soak in

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John O'Connor, editorial director, McKnight's Long-Term Care News
John O'Connor, editorial director, McKnight's Long-Term Care News
Ben Franklin warned us that death and taxes are life's only certainties. But if you run a long-term care facility, feel free to add regulations to that list. And it looks like a doozy of a looming requirement may soon have many operators hot under the collar.

Facilities have just over a year – until Aug. 13, 2013 – to install or upgrade sprinkler systems. Otherwise, they will be committing a Life Safety Code violation.

Like many regulations that have been foisted on the industry, this one stems from human tragedy. Sixteen people died in a 2003 fire that occurred in a Hartford, CT, facility. Later the same year, eight more people died in a Nashville blaze. Not surprisingly, the public soon demanded greater protections for residents.

Information on the field's progress toward this mandate is anecdotal but disturbing. At this month's Life Services Network meeting, (LSN is the Illinois affiliate of LeadingAge), it was revealed that 278 facilities in Illinois are not yet fully equipped with sprinklers. That's more than a third of the state's skilled care settings. My strong suspicion is that operators in many other states are running similarly late.

The main reason is cost. You can quickly sink more than a million dollars into adding or retrofitting a sprinkler system.  That's a serious fiscal hit to any physical plant budget.

But the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is adamant that the effective date is not going to be pushed back. That's not to say an extension can't happen. But that gamble is sort of like assuming your kids' college costs will be covered as soon as you win the lottery. 

It's best to be ready by next August. Otherwise, you are unlikely to experience anything resembling a mid-summer's dream. Actually, a nightmare might be more like it.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.