Lawmakers revisit sprinkler legislation
Nearly 1 in 5 nursing homes might find themselves shopping for sprinkler systems as a result of a new push from federal lawmakers.New bills in the House and Senate would mandate fully automated sprinkler systems for all nursing homes in the United States. The bills would enable providers to receive loans or "hardship" grants to undertake what is often an expensive retrofitting process. Facilities could receive $450 million for loans and $100 million for grants over five years.
Currently, 17% of all nursing homes are not fully sprinklered – including 3% that are not sprinklered at all, according to industry statistics. That means nearly 3,000 facilities would have to make upgrades under the bills' language.
Fatal nursing home fires in 2003 in Tennessee and Connecticut set off sprinkler-related publicity and legislation — and a new federal regulation that is awaiting official implementation. The drive found new energy in November when a fire killed nine residents and one worker at a group home in Missouri that did not have sprinklers.
There never has been a multiple death fire at a nursing home that has been fully sprinklered, the bills' advocates say.
Although they fear the price tag sounds high, nursing home advocates are hoping bills introduced in Congress recently will smooth the way for 100% automatically sprinklered facilities.
The Nursing Home Fire Safety Act of 2007 would require that every nursing home in America become equipped with automatic fire sprinkler systems within five years. The legislation would authorize more than a half billion dollars in loans and "hardship" grants to qualifying nursing homes.
Reps. John Larson (D-CT) and Peter King (R-NY) introduced the bill in the House in late May. Sens. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Richard Burr (R-NC) unveiled identical legislation in the Senate in mid-June.
Sponsors and providers are hoping for a better fate this time around with a Democrat-controlled Congress, particularly in the wake of a fire that killed 10 people at a Missouri facility in November.
Despite dollar value of the bill, advocates, including nursing home leaders, point out that it is a measure that would not require more funding later.
Providers maintain they could not afford the costs of retrofitting the many older, marginal buildings without sprinklers without federal help.
In December, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued a call for comments on a proposed rule that would mandate full sprinklering in all nursing homes. The agency's final rule-making announcement could come at any time.