Sprinklers only 'part' of the solution

A regional NSW community-based not-for-profit aged care provider has claimed the mandatory fitting of sprinklers in the state’s aged care facilities should not have been announced without a “clear path forward” for the industry.

IRT chief executive, Nieves Murray, said aged care facilities in regional centres were vital community resources and its continued operations could be jeopardised if the three-year timeline of installation was not softened with financial assistance.

“Anyone would agree that all nursing homes should be retrofitted with sprinklers to prevent fires – and IRT is working towards that. However, a retroactive law with no funding attached will cause considerable concern for smaller communities,” Ms Murray said.

Her comments come following last week’s announcement that sprinklers will become mandatory in NSW nursing homes following the deaths last year of 11 people in a fire at a Sydney home.

With NSW nursing homes given until mid-2014 to retrofit sprinkler systems, the New South Wales government and industry have called on the commonwealth to meet some of the $170 million cost.

But Ms Murray claimed aged care operators were already facing funding cuts to the federal government s Aged Care Funding Instrument (ACFI).

She added the need to find further money for a mandated infrastructure spend could “hurt a lot” of small operators and directly impact funding available for the direct provision of care.

“The program needs to be more staggered and, in all honesty, it needs to be appropriately funded. We do not want to see cases from across the industry where funding for sprinklers is at the expense of residential care.

“There is also potentially a great deal of disruption to the lives of residents when undertaking any form of major construction – and operators need to be aware of that also,” she said.

Ms Murray also claimed the solution to fire safety in an aged care environment cannot “start and finish with sprinklers”.

“We need to also see broader training involving government agencies, which links staff and residents with emergency services, including fire drills.”

She added IRT was constantly upgrading and improving services and care centres, and voluntarily retrofitting its premises with sprinklers.

“Within three years, 100% of our care centres will be fitted with sprinklers – and all our buildings comply with the relevant codes.”

IRT is reportedly spending $375,000 this year and $750,000 next year and the remainder the year after, in order to have this operational – but it is a $3 million dollar spend, according to Ms Murray.

“I think a lot of smaller operators could find themselves in trouble without some financial help,” she added.