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1,200+ Nursing Homes not Equipped with Automatic Sprinkler Systems

Nursing home abuse lawyers at Pintas & Mullins report that, despite federal mandates requiring them, more than 1,200 nursing homes throughout the U.S. do not have automatic sprinkler systems. This puts residents of those facilities in grave danger should a fire ever erupt.

The law was published on March 13, 2008 and applies to all nursing home facilities accepting Medicare and Medicaid. The agency gave these facilities over five years to implement automatic sprinklers, which means they should have complied by August 13, 2013 at the latest.

The danger of noncompliance should go without saying: most residents of long-term care facilities have limited to no mobility, and would be unable to escape on their own in case of a fire. This danger is further compounded when nursing homes are understaffed, which most for-profit nursing homes are.

Understaffing nursing homes is a common practice among for-profit facilities because it increases the bottom line for the corporate owners, such as Genesis HealthCare. In fact, one recent analysis found that for-profits maintain staffing levels about one-third lower than non-profits and government-owned nursing homes.

That analysis, led by researchers at the University of California San Francisco, examined the relationship between caregivers, staffing levels, and the quality of care at ten of the largest for-profit chains. They found that chains consistently keep labor costs low to increase profits at the expense of care quality. And, although top chains by and large have the residents that need the most care, total nursing hours were 30% lower than non-profits and government nursing homes.

Additionally, for-profits had 36% more deficiencies and 41% more serious deficiencies than the highest-ranked nursing homes. Among these deficiencies include failure to prevent infections, falls, mistreatment, bed sores, weight loss, dehydration, and poor sanitary conditions.

Complex electrical systems and kitchen or laundry operations in nursing homes pose significant hazards of fire, and many smaller nursing home. One of the most devastating fires took place in 1989, in Norfolk, Virginia, taking the lives of twelve residents and injuring nearly 100 more. The four-story nursing home housed over 160 residents, most of whom were bedridden. The fire started on the second floor, and no alarms were heard even as firefighters approached.

Bedridden residents were trapped in their rooms and had to be physically carried out by rescuers through heavy smoke and heat. Efforts to save those on the second floor took about 35 minutes. The blaze was thought to be the cause of accidental discarding of a lighted match onto a bed. The blaze was so deadly because there were no smoke detectors in patient rooms and interior fire alarms failed to operate, causing a significant delay in fire department notification. Resident removal was also difficult because many elderly patients were restrained in their beds with cotton ties or connected to life support systems.

A fire recently killed one resident at Meadowbrook Nursing Home in DeKalb, Georgia, and injured two others. The blaze set off two alarms, and firefighters were able to remove 75 out of 128 residents from danger. Like the 1989 blaze, the fire also erupted on the second floor of the facility; fortunately, Meadowbrook had an automatic sprinkler system, which doused the fire before firefighters even got there. The one resident who died was in the room the fire erupted in at the time. Due to the sprinkler system, the fire was contained to that room and no one else was killed.

A report by the National Fire Protection Association determined that the main source of structure fires in nursing homes is cooking equipment, followed by clothes dryer or washers, heating equipment, and electrical distribution and lighting. That report estimated that U.S. nursing homes averaged over 2,800 structure fires per year, causing about 16 deaths, 160 injuries, and $6.6 million in property damage.

Nursing home negligence lawyers at Pintas & Mullins warn families of nursing home residents of the very real and imminent dangers of fires in these facilities. Devastating consequences occur when nursing homes to not adhere to basic federal fire safety standards, so make sure your loved one’s nursing home has a full automatic sprinkler system. If it does not, and a loved one was seriously injured in a fire, you may be entitled to significant compensation for their injuries.