Sparta NHC safe for all

Posted By | October 3, 2003 12:00 am

Kim Swindell Wood
“It was so heartbreaking for everyone,” said Cheri’ Cropper, NHC HealthCare of Sparta administrator. “You could see it in their faces – the firefighters, the workers, and the patients that had already been evacuated.”
Cropper spoke with The Expositor on Monday about the tragic fire that occurred on Sept. 25, 2003, at NHC Nashville HealthCare Center. At press time, nine residents had died who resided in the Nashville facility.
National Healthcare Corporation (NHC), which owns the Nashville facility, as well as the Sparta facility, operates for itself and third parties 78 long-term healthcare centers throughout the United States and maintains a home office in Murfreesboro.
The Expositor asked Cropper if NHC corporate executives had issued any official statements to the other facilities.
“I think it’s too early to tell, because we have an investigation that has not been completed with final results,” said Cropper, “Also, I think they [corporate executives] would have to look at us individually. I know that they’re very concerned. I have seen our corporate officials on television being interviewed saying that when the investigation is concluded, then we can step forward and make plans for the future. But, right now, you just have to wait until you can see the cause and get the reports from the separate investigative people that were on the scene. That will determine how we proceed from there.”
NHC Nashville HealthCare Center was a four-floor facility, which made rescue attempts more difficult for firefighters and volunteers. However, NHC HealthCare of Sparta is a single-floor facility with each room at ground level. Some of the windows in the residents’ rooms are approximately “waist-high” and others are just “knee-level.” According to Sparta Fire Chief Ed Kay, this type of accessibility would greatly aid in case normal rescue procedures could not be implemented.
“I in-serviced my staff immediately Friday [Sept. 26, 2003] morning so they could get a feeling of ease,” said Cropper. “Every time you see something in your field where something tragic has happened, you start looking around and wondering.”
According to Cropper, the staff at NHC HealthCare of Sparta is stringently trained in disaster procedures. The maintenance supervisor does an annual in-service where he goes over the fire safety manual, which is multi-sectional and includes all types of disasters that require evacuation. This is a mandatory meeting, and all staff must attend.
“Also, we rehearse monthly what our responsibilities and duties are in case the fire system is activated. We know exactly what stations to go to and what our job responsibilities are. And, also, we have a red fire safety manual on every nurse’s station – and we have three – and they can access that at their desk to immediately refresh their memory. It’s a manual that basically helps them remember all levels of responsibility they have in a state of disaster. We also have personnel in basement areas, and our basement areas are at ground access, too, and they have their own fire plan and their in-service, too.”
The controversy about the lack of a sprinkler system at NHC Nashville HealthCare has concerned Tennessee legislators. However, John A. Viniello, president of the National Fire Sprinkler Association, said Tennessee is not alone in exempting older nursing homes from installing sprinkler systems. According to a statement released by Viniello, which was provided on the internet, numerous older nursing homes don’t have sprinkler protection because of “grandfather” clauses exempting them from newer building codes that require sprinklers.
Sparta Fire Chief Ed Kay said even though a nursing home does not have a sprinkler system, the Tennessee Department of Health requires the facility to have a fire escape plan.
Original reports in the Tennesseean, on Sept. 28, 2003, stated that NHC Healthcare of Sparta did not have any sprinklers. According to Cropper, NHC Healthcare of Sparta does have a sprinkler system in a 30-bed addition that was built approximately 15 years ago, and they also have an excellent evacuation plan.
“We do monthly fire drills, and they are unannounced,” said Cropper. “It’s a full fire drill where the alarms are going off and doors are shutting. We also test our generator under full load. In case of a fire, that’s the first thing that would go – your electrical source. So, we actually have our generator put under full load, that means it’s carrying the building single-handedly, and we do that every month, as well, to make sure it’s functioning properly.”
Cropper said the corridor doors at NHC HealthCare of Sparta are attached to magnets that are controlled by an electrical signal. When the alarm system is activated, the magnets release to all the doors inside the building.
“They automatically shut,” said Cropper, “and what you then focus on is the location of the fire, and then you rescue from the point of origin, outward, until you feel it’s fairly safely contained.”
NHC HealthCare of Sparta has never had a fire, but they have had evacuations. A chemical incident, near nurse’s station number one, created a need to evacuate. This is a 44-bed unit, and they were all evacuated to the outside parking lot. There was also another situation on nurse’s station number two, which is a 62-bed unit, where staff evacuated residents in 38 minutes.
Cropper is proud of the staff’s dedication to the safety of the residents. Rooms are assigned to each staff member as the caregiver for that particular shift. The number one priority, according to Cropper, in the event of a fire, is to check the patients and make sure the doors are closed to each of the individual rooms.
“I believe Mr. Kay [Sparta Fire Chief] would agree that most people don’t die in a fire. They die from smoke inhalation. So, having the room doors and corridor doors closed are essential. It prevents smoke from freely moving from room to room and getting throughout the building.”
Sparta Fire Chief Ed Kay praised NHC HealthCare of Sparta during an interview on Friday after the Nashville fire.
He said their professionalism and quick reaction time when a fire alarm has been activated is essential to the survival of their residents.
Cropper said she had only received two calls from concerned family members after they had seen the tragic fire at NHC Nashville HealthCare.
“If it were my mother or father living here at NHC, I would want to know that they were safe,” said Cropper. “I want everyone to know that the staff and management of NHC HealthCare of Sparta are dedicated to protecting the safety of its residents. They are our family.”

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