CMS issues final emergency planning rules for hospitals

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New rules from the federal government impose emergency preparedness requirements for all facilities that participate in Medicare and Medicaid.

The rules (.pdf) follow a several-year period of increased natural disasters, such as recent flooding in Louisiana, which “remind us that in the event of an emergency, the first priority of healthcare providers and suppliers is to protect the health and safety of their patients,” Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Deputy Administrator and Chief Medical Officer Patrick Conway, M.D., said in an announcement. “Preparation, planning and one comprehensive approach for emergency preparedness is key. One life lost is one too many.”

Under the regulations, Medicare and Medicaid providers must comply with four industry best practices:

  • A comprehensive emergency plan based on an assessment of a hospital’s specific risk level, needs and capabilities
  • A range of policies and procedures derived from that plan
  • A separate communications plan that aligns with federal and state laws, as well as thorough care coordination both throughout the facility and between hospitals and local authorities
  • A training/testing program that features both initial and yearly training sessions, as well as regular drills and exercises--which Philadelphia hospital leaders said were an asset last year after an Amtrak derailment

These rules will be adaptable to each provider’s features, according to CMS. For example, ambulatory surgical centers and other outpatient providers will be exempt from requirements for subsistence needs procedures, while hospitals and long-term care facilities must install emergency and backup power systems in case of an outage.

The final rule makes several amendments to CMS' initial proposal based on industry feedback. It scraps a requirement for additional hours of generator testing was scrapped, and gives separately certified facilities the option to participate in a system’s emergency preparedness program.

“While the physical destruction of a disaster may not always be preventable, the effect on patient care, as well as on the business of healthcare itself, can be prevented if we are truly prepared,” Nicole Lurie, M.D., assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services, wrote in a blog post.

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