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Healthcare Providers Scramble To Meet New Disaster Readiness Rule

An estimated 72,315 American health care providers and suppliers — from hospitals and nursing homes to dialysis facilities and care homes for those with intellectual disabilities — will have a little over a year to meet federal disaster preparedness requirements completed this week by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The new rule is aimed at preventing the severe breakdown in patient care that followed disasters including Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, while also strengthening the ability to provide services during other types of emergencies, such as pandemics and terrorist attacks. The rule is unusual in that it has provisions for 17 different provider types, among them those that patients rely on to live at home, like outpatient surgery sites, physical therapy offices and home health agencies.

The rule “will make it more likely that facilities will be able to stay open and able to care for patients, and if they need to close or stop work temporarily, get back up and able to care for patients quickly,” said Dr. Nicole Lurie, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services. “The need for patient care doesn’t stop because streets are flooded or trees are down. In fact disasters often increase the need for health care services.”

While the vast majority of organizations have had to adhere to at least some emergency preparedness requirements for accreditation, others were not subject to any, including hundreds of residential psychiatric facilities, nearly 200 community mental health centers, dozens of organ procurement organizations and nearly 4,000 outpatient hospices, which treat patients with limited life expectancies.