Guest Blog: States Step Up For Safety…

Stan Szpytek

Stan Szpytek

As a life safety/disaster planning consultant having the privilege of working with several state associations affiliated with the American Health Care Association, I have personally witnessed the outstanding work that these organizations are doing to better prepare LTC providers for emergencies and disasters. State affiliates that have developed robust disaster planning and emergency management programs for their members clearly provide a valuable service by not only ensuring that facilities will be better prepared for crisis but will also be in a position to comply with the proposed CMS rule change on emergency preparedness.

A recent project that I completed with the Utah Health Care Association illustrates the type of comprehensive resources and consultative assistance that many state affiliates are providing to their members. This past November, two workshops were scheduled in Salt Lake City and St. George where members and other providers in the state were given the opportunity to review disaster planning concepts and emergency management trends, including the use of the Nursing Home Incident Command System (NHICS).

The morning session of the all-day program was designed to review essential disaster management information, including review of recent real-world events like the fertilizer plant tragedy in West, Texas, where a nursing home was directly impacted by a catastrophic explosion. In the afternoon, attendees participated in an interactive tabletop exercise where they were able to put the concepts learned into practice by simulating the management of a complex scenario involving a hazardous materials incident occurring near their property, first requiring the facility to shelter-in-place and subsequently requiring complete evacuation.

The final part of the day included an overview on how to address a situation involving an armed intruder/active shooter in the health care environment. Attendees learned essential concepts that focused on resident safety as well as personal safety when confronting these types of dynamic events.

The Utah Health Care Association (UHCA) has been a leader in disaster preparedness by providing its members with educational opportunities as well as tangible resources for the past several years. Some of those tangible resources were clearly evident at the November workshops, where every facility in Utah received an NHICS management board (tactical dry-erase chart) and associated tools to help manage incidents that may impact their operations. Additionally, each facility was given a complete triage kit and triage canopy (tent) to enhance their capabilities during mass casualty incidents. All of this material, as well as coordination of the workshops, was provided by UHCA in partnership with the Utah Department of Health with grant funds they receive from the Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP).

While Utah is an excellent example of some of the fine work that state affiliates around the nation have been providing their members, I have been able to see first-hand what other states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Texas have done to help prepare LTC providers for disaster. Disaster planning and emergency management are initiatives that should be high on the priority list of every state association. As we say in Arizona, it is essential that we make sure that our facilities are “Disaster Ready” (which is the name of AzHCA’s disaster preparedness program).

Stan Szpytek is the president of Fire and Life Safety (FLS) and is the life safety/disaster planning consultant for the Arizona Health Care Association (AzHCA) and California Association of Health Facilities. Szpytek is a former deputy fire chief and fire marshal with more than 35 years of experience in life safety compliance and emergency preparedness. Email Szpytek at

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