State looking at fire and safety regulations

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

State officials are taking a look at fire and safety regulations to see if improvements can be made. They hope to prevent further tragedies like the one in Anderson, Mo., Nov. 27, in which 10 people died in a fire in a group residential home., and at least a dozen more people were injured at the Anderson Guest House, a group home for the elderly and mentally ill.

On Nov. 29 Gov. Matt Blunt ordered the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Health and Senior Services to review all safety laws and regulations and send him a report -- with recommendations by the end of the year, said Blunt interim spokesperson Brian Hauswirth.

"What happened down there [Anderson] was absolutely unacceptable," Hauswirth said. "We can't have something like that happen again." Nanci Gonder, public information officer for the Department of Health and Senior Services, said the agency will coordinate its review with the Department of Mental Health.

The DHSS is responsible for licensing long-term care facilities, conducting an initial safety and financial inspection and thereafter twice-annual inspections. If a residential home has a proven record of compliance, inspections will take place once a year, she said.

Any deficiencies are addressed by the DHSS and checked on after corrections have been carried out, she said.

She said the Anderson facility met state requirements when the most recent inspection was undertaken last March.

Group homes such as the Anderson facility and those built after 2000 are required to have sprinkler systems, she said, as are some older buildings, particularly if they are one floor.

In Cape Girardeau, seven of the city's nine residential homes monitored by the DHSS have sprinkler systems,

Frank Soltys, Chateau Girardeau CEO, said two buildings -- the assisted living center and the skilled nursing facility -- both located at 3120 Independence St. have sprinkler systems.

The assisted living residence caters to people requiring assisted care.

He expressed concern that if regulations are changed to require all residential homes to have sprinkler systems, it could cause a financial hardship for operators.

He hopes Missouri lawmakers would consider providing those operators some kind of financial help.

"Obviously, I think it is an important thing to have that," he said, referring to sprinklers Gonder said it was premature to single out sprinkler system regulations or any others as the focus of the review at this time.

DHSS will be reviewing 18 pages of fire and safety regulations the state's residential homes must comply with.

"At this time the plan is to try to look at everything possible," said Bob Bax, legislative liaison for the mental health department. "I think this is an appropriate procedure to do to see if what we're doing is adequate and what steps need to be taken to see if we need to improve."

The two agencies issue different licenses to group residential homes, Bax said, depending on the type of clients living in the facility.

Operating licenses, required for homes that serve those with developmental disabilities, are issued by the mental health department, Bax said, while program licenses are issued through the DHSS.

335-6611, extension 127

Group homes with sprinkler systems

Cape Girardeau residential facilities with sprinkler systems:

* The Lutheran Home, 2825 Bloomfield Road

* Fountainbleau Lodge, 2001 N. Kingshighway

* Maple Crest Manor, 430 N. Frederick St.

* Capetown Assisted Living Center, 3120 Independence St.

* Auburn Creek, 2910 Beaver Creek

* Chateau Girardeau and Chateau Girardeau Assisted Living Center, 3120 Independence St.

Cape Girardeau city residential facilities without sprinkler systems but approved fire suppression installations:

* Country Gardens, 210 Franks Ave.

* Parkwood Manor, 325 N. Sprigg St.

* Sprigg Street Manor, 701 N. Sprigg St.

-- SOURCE: Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services:

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