U.S. calls emergency preparedness an 'urgent public health issue'

HHS issues proposal to regulate 68,000 medical facilities.
By JC Sevcik   |  Updated March 11, 2014 at 4:04 PM
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Emergency preparedness is described as an “urgent public health issue” in a proposal issued by the Department of Health and Human Services which aims to regulate disaster plans.

The proposed rule would impose readiness requirements on 17 different types of facilities -- from hospitals to hospices, nursing homes to kidney dialysis centers -- intended to prevent interruptions to healthcare during an emergency scenario like those that occurred during Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy.

The rule -- proposed by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a subagency of HHS, and open for comment until the end of the month -- would make meeting emergency preparedness regulations a requirement for many institutions to continue participating in Medicare and Medicaid programs.

The proposed regulations require facilities to maintain emergency lighting, fire safety systems, sewage and waste disposal, air conditioning and heating during power losses. Facilities will also need to have systems in place to track displaced patients, manage volunteers and provide alternate care sites.

Critics of the regulations claim the proposed $225 million dollar price tag is not enough to cover the costs of updating and retrofitting old systems to meet new requirements. In a member advisory issued in January, the American Hospital Association said HHS “may have significantly underestimated the burden and cost associated with complying with this rule.”

The expense of a yearly full-load generator test alone is prohibitive for some facilities already struggling in the wake of health care reforms and cuts to Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement. “It will be a resource-intensive process for many providers,” said Susan Waltman, an executive vice president of the Greater New York Hospital Association.

The hope though, is that compliance with these regulations will prevent a needless loss of life in future emergencies. “In New Orleans it seems very likely that dozens of lives could have been saved by competent emergency planning and execution,” the proposed rule said.

[New York Times] [Federal Register]

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