We all remember the horror stories from New Orleans of health care facilities that failed to evacuate before Hurricane Katrina and the deaths and mayhem that followed.  The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have just issues a new rule to help prevent preventing the severe breakdown in patient care, 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, PT and home health agencies. An estimated 72,315 American health care providers and suppliers will have a little over a year to meet these new federal disaster preparedness requirements

This final rule establishes national emergency preparedness requirements for Medicare- and Medicaid-participating providers and suppliers to plan adequately for both natural and man-made disasters, and coordinate with federal, state, tribal, regional, and local emergency preparedness systems. It will also assist providers and suppliers to adequately prepare to meet the needs of patients, residents, clients, and participants during disasters and emergency situations. Despite some variations, our regulations will provide consistent emergency preparedness requirements, enhance patient safety during emergencies for persons served by Medicare- and Medicaid-participating facilities, and establish a more coordinated and defined response to natural and man-made disasters.

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.

An example of one of the requirements is that hospitals and nursing homes test their backup power systems for a minimum of four hours every year at the full load needed in an emergency, rather than the current standard of once every three years. Generators have failed catastrophically in hospitals and nursing homes around the country during prolonged power outages, endangering patients and leading to chaotic evacuations.