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Health groups told to improve disaster plans

NEW YORK — Federal officials are proposing sweeping requirements for health care facilities — from large hospitals to small group homes for the mentally disabled — intended to ensure their readiness to care for patients during disasters.

Describing emergency preparedness as an “urgent public health issue,” the proposal by the Department of Health and Human Services offers regulations aimed at preventing the severe disruptions to health care that followed Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy. More than 68,000 institutions would be affected, including large hospital chains, “mom and pop” nursing homes, home health agencies, rural health clinics, organ transplant procurement organizations, outpatient surgery sites, psychiatric hospitals for youths, and kidney dialysis centers.

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The proposed rule, issued in December and open for comment until later this month, has met resistance from industry officials who question the first-year price tag of $225 million. Some complained that the costs could be “draconian.”

The American Hospital Association said in a member advisory that federal officials “may have significantly underestimated the burden and cost associated with complying with this rule.”

The regulations would require hospitals, nursing facilities, and group homes to have plans to maintain emergency lighting, fire safety systems, and sewage and waste disposal during power losses, and to keep temperatures at a safe level for patients. Those inpatient facilities would also be expected to track displaced patients, provide care at alternate sites, and handle volunteers.

“It’s a big step,” said Susan C. Waltman, an executive vice president of the Greater New York Hospital Association, which is urging substantive changes.

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