The Centers for Medicare &Medicaid Services (CMS) just issued the long-awaited final rule establishing the first-ever national emergency preparedness requirements for 17 providers that includes home health, hospice and PACE programs. This regulation, which mandates that providers plan extensively for natural and man made disasters — with a specific focus on patients and employees — imposes detailed requirements that will be costly, time intensive, and will involve a broad range of organizational employees to implement.
“Situations like the recent flooding in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, remind us that in the event of an emergency, the first priority of health care providers and suppliers is to protect the health and safety of their patients,” said CMS Deputy Administrator and Chief Medical Officer Patrick Conway, M.D., MSc. “Preparation, planning, and one comprehensive approach for emergency preparedness is key. One life lost is one too many.”
“As people with medical needs are cared for in increasingly diverse settings, disaster preparedness is not only a responsibility of hospitals, but of many other providers and suppliers of healthcare services. Whether it’s trauma care or long-term nursing care or a home health service, patients’ needs for health care don’t stop when disasters strike; in fact their needs often increase in the immediate aftermath of a disaster,” said Dr. Nicole Lurie, HHS assistant secretary for preparedness and response. “All parts of the healthcare system must be able to keep providing care through a disaster, both to save lives and to ensure that people can continue to function in their usual setting. Disasters tend to stress the entire health care system, and that’s not good for anyone.”
After reviewing the current Medicare emergency preparedness regulations for both providers and suppliers, CMS found that regulatory requirements were not comprehensive enough to address the complexities of emergency preparedness. For example, the requirements did not address the need for: (1) communication to coordinate with other systems of care within cities or states; (2) contingency planning; and (3) training of personnel. CMS proposed policies to address these gaps in the proposed rule, which was open to stakeholder comments.
After careful consideration of stakeholder comments on the proposed rule, this final rule requires Medicare and Medicaid participating providers and suppliers to meet the following four common and well known industry best practice standards.
- Emergency plan: Based on a risk assessment, develop an emergency plan using an all-hazards approach focusing on capacities and capabilities that are critical to preparedness for a full spectrum of emergencies or disasters specific to the location of a provider or supplier.
- Policies and procedures: Develop and implement policies and procedures based on the plan and risk assessment.
- Communication plan: Develop and maintain a communication plan that complies with both Federal and State law. Patient care must be well-coordinated within the facility, across health care providers, and with State and local public health departments and emergency systems.
- Training and testing program: Develop and maintain training and testing programs, including initial and annual trainings, and conduct drills and exercises or participate in an actual incident that tests the plan.
These standards are adjusted to reflect the characteristics of each type of provider and supplier. For example:
- Outpatient providers and suppliers such as Ambulatory Surgical Centers and End-Stage Renal Disease Facilities will not be required to have policies and procedures for provision of subsistence needs.
- Hospitals, Critical Access Hospitals, and Long Term Care facilities will be required to install and maintain emergency and standby power systems based on their emergency plan.
In response to comments, CMS made changes in several areas of the final rule, including removing the requirement for additional hours of generator testing, flexibility to choose the type of exercise a facility conducts for its second annual testing requirement, and allowing a separately certified facility within a healthcare system to take part in the system’s unified emergency preparedness program.
The final rule also includes a number of local and national resources related to emergency preparedness, including helpful reports, toolkits, and samples. Additionally, health care providers and suppliers can choose to participate in their local healthcare coalitions, which provide an opportunity to share resources and expertise in developing an emergency plan and also can provide support during an emergency.
These regulations are effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. Health care providers and suppliers affected by this rule must comply and implement all regulations one year after the effective date.