COLUMBUS — Long-term care facilities must develop more comprehensive emergency preparedness plans to put into motion when a disaster strikes.
Facilities that participate in Medicare and Medicaid must meet the new requirements by Nov. 15. The rules from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services are designed to bolster emergency preparedness plans for natural disasters and other crises.
Among the requirements, providers are asked to develop a risk assessment to identify different emergencies and threats and communications plan to ensure the continuation of patient care and conduct exercises to test the emergency plan.
The new guidelines won’t have much of an impact on Columbus Community Hospital.
“Because we are a joint commissioned hospital, our requirements did not change significantly. We feel very prepared as a hospital. What has changed is that the long-term care facilities in our area now have more requirements,” said Sue Deyke, emergency department director and emergency manager at the local hospital.
Local long-term care providers such as nursing homes and assisted-living facilities must meet the new requirements by the deadline, or their Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements could be impacted.
“They have been given a lot of work. They didn’t have all these requirements before,” Deyke said.
There are more than 15,000 long-term care facilities in the United States, with 71 percent of patients covered through Medicaid or Medicare, according to the American Health Care Association. The other 29 percent is paid by private insurance plans, individuals or other sources.
About 30 people, including representatives of long-term care facilities, attended a recent informational meeting at CCH. The quarterly meetings are a collaborative effort to get health care providers, nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and others on the same page, according to Dona Kudron, patient education educator at CCH.
At last week's meeting they heard from Randy Fischer, public health emergency response coordinator with Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department, who gave a rundown of the new expectations.
Fischer said part of being prepared is a facility's ability to operate independently for a three-day period following a tornado, flood, power outage or other disaster.
“What they are asking you is if you have a plan in place where you are capable of keeping your operations going for the time being if it does not become a huge disaster. The keyword in preparedness is maintaining your assets for 72 hours on your own before anyone comes to help you,” he said.
Assets include having a backup power source, food, water and other supplies.
Vicki Heese, executive director of The Heritage at Meridian Gardens, said that facility already has an emergency plan in place and is reviewing the new guidelines to see if there are regulations that must be incorporated.
If a situation would arise, she said they have transportation arranged through Columbus Area Transit to evacuate residents and they can utilize rooms at Holiday Inn Express, if space allows. An agreement is also in place with the company that provides the assisted-living facility with food.
Meridian Gardens, which is licensed for 117 people, also practices monthly fire drills and drills during tornado season.
The new requirements also encourage providers to coordinate preparedness efforts in their communities and at the state level. That includes working with Platte County Emergency Management and East Central District Health Department.
Heese said a group effort would be important to care for those affected by an emergency.
“Hopefully we will never have a disaster, but if we do it will take all of us,” she said.
Platte County Emergency Manager Tim Hofbauer said collaboration helps everyone know the expectations.
“Now that we are developing a coalition, this will help us understand what each other’s capabilities are. If they are saying they expect emergency management or the fire department or law enforcement to do something, then those people will be asked if they can do that,” Hofbauer said.