On March 25, Missouri Senators endorsed legislation that would repeal a requirement that fire safety inspections in Missouri long-term care facilities be performed by local fire departments or the state fire marshal’s office.
The measure’s sponsor, Sen. Bill Stouffer, said the fire safety inspections still would happen but instead would be handled by the Department of Health and Senior Services. The agency already is responsible for regulating the state’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
Lawmakers put the fire marshal instead of the health department in charge of fire safety inspections in a 2007 law approved months after a deadly fire at the Anderson Guest House in southwest Missouri. That law also required many long-term care facilities to install sprinklers and fire alarms.
Investigators believe a fire smoldered in the attic of the Anderson Guest House in November 2006 before bursting through the ceiling. The facility for the mentally ill and disabled was not equipped with sprinklers. Eleven people died.
The facility’s owners had been cited for previous fire safety violations at the several southwest Missouri facilities they operated. All four of their group homes are now closed, and the owners face charges of money laundering, conspiracy and health care fraud.
The original fire safety law cleared the Legislature with minimal dissent but has run into problems as the state tries to implement the new requirements.
Stouffer, R-Napton, said in an interview that the fire marshal’s office has been overwhelmed by inspections and that the office could train the health department’s inspectors to check for fire safety issues.
A spokesman for the state health department said the agency already has an agreement with the fire marshal’s office to continue inspecting nursing homes and to handle fire safety checks for the assisted living and residential care facilities that the fire marshal cannot get to because of demand.
Health department spokesman Kit Wagar said state inspectors are trained to check for fire safety and already cite facilities for any fire safety problems spotted during regulators’ annual checks. Wagar said the department has taken no position on the changes proposed in Stouffer’s bill.
“We did it for years,” Wagar said. “It’s really just taking over a duty to check these things while we’re doing the health, safety and care inspections.”
Stouffer’s bill also shifts to the state Office of Administration from the health department oversight for a state fund created in the 2007 law to provide loans for long-term care facilities to pay for the required safety improvements. Lawmakers have not yet budgeted any money for that fund.
Fire Marshal Randy Cole did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
The fire safety inspections were included in a larger bill sponsored by Stouffer that is designed to prevent conflicts of interest among the state inspectors for nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
Under those provisions, inspectors would be barred from overseeing a facility where they have worked within the last two years. State inspectors would need to disclose the name of every facility at which they or an immediate family member have worked.
The Senate bill needs another vote before moving to the House, which is considering separate legislation designed to make changes to the 2007 law.
The long-term care facilities bill is SB89.
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