New fire safety regs for hospitals

The Obama administration is looking to modernize the fire safety requirements at certain hospitals and other healthcare centers.

The proposed fire safety standards from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) address everything from automatic sprinkler systems to the size of patients' rooms and where to store medical equipment.

"Our intention is to ensure that patients and staff continue to experience the highest degree of fire safety possible," the agency announced Monday.

The new rules that the CMS is adopting come from the National Fire Protection Association, an advocacy group that publishes a series of fire safety standards known as the Life Safety Code (LSC).

The rules would apply to certain Medicare and Medicaid-participating facilities, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, and hospices, among others. They are scheduled to appear in Wednesday's edition of the Federal Register.

Healthcare facilities that are taller than 75 feet would have 12 years to install automatic sprinkler systems.

"We propose to adopt this new provision because high-rise buildings require more time to evacuate, and sprinklers would very likely allow additional time to safely evacuate a facility," the agency wrote.

These healthcare centers would be allowed to increase the size of patients rooms, so more patients can fit into one room. The rooms could now be as large as 7,500 square feet, an increase of 50 percent in size.

"This change allows healthcare facilities to have more patients in a single area, reducing the number of staff that are necessary to visually monitor patients and allowing facilities to accommodate additional pieces of medical equipment or visitor space," the agency wrote.

In some cases, these healthcare centers would be allowed to lock patients in their rooms to either protect children from being kidnapped, or to protect other patients from escaping and hurting themselves.

"This provision allows interior doors to be locked to reduce the risk of infant abductions and individuals who may wander," the agency wrote.

But all staff members would be required to have keys, so that these patients could be safely evacuated during a fire.

The new fire safety standards also allow healthcare facilities to post aerosol and hand sanitizer dispensers around the building, as well as triple the size of recycling containers to 96 gallons.

The new rules would also allow medical equipment to be stored in hospital corridors. 

The agency is also keeping a rule that requires smoke control systems in operating rooms, so doctors can finish working on a patient before they evacuate.

The public has 60 days to comment on the proposed rule.