If you’ve been reading my blog postings over the past few months ( see http://keyeslife.wpengine.com/?s=emergency+department), you’ve read were I have reported that CMS has issued informal, non-public letters to the accreditation organizations (AOs) regarding the occupancy classification of emergency departments. To review how this issue started, CMS issued a letter to one of the AOs last fall (in 2016) regarding the occupancy classification of Emergency Departments. In this letter, CMS said Emergency Departments needed to be classified as healthcare occupancies. This information was then shared to the other AOs.
This set-off quite a stir in the healthcare community, as many people and organizations objected to this strict interpretation, since the 2012 Life Safety Code actually permits Emergency Departments to be classified as ambulatory healthcare occupancies. Many free-standing Emergency Departments have already been constructed to meet ambulatory healthcare occupancy requirements, and to make physical changes after the facility has been occupied would be an unreasonable hardship.
Apparently, the objections to this rather strict interpretation have been heard, and CMS has again issued an informal, non-public communication that says they have not issued any policy regarding Emergency Department classification. Therefore, according to CMS, occupancy classification of Emergency Departments would be determined in accordance with 2012 Life Safety Code.
This means according to 126.96.36.199, an Emergency Department may be classified as an ambulatory healthcare occupancy provided it does not have sleeping accommodations for 4 or more patients on a 24-hour basis. CMS considers a bed used for 24-hour observation to be ‘sleeping accommodations’ and if the Emergency Department has 4 or more observation beds, then the Emergency Department must be classified as a healthcare occupancy.
Also, another item to consider… If you have an Emergency Department that is considered a suite and is required to be classified as a healthcare occupancy due to ‘sleeping accommodation’ rooms, then the Emergency Department would have to meet the requirements of section 188.8.131.52.2 “Sleeping Suites”. This means, where you previously may have enjoyed a suite that is up to 10,000 square feet in size, you may now be limited to just 5,000 square feet. However, take a look at section 184.108.40.206.2.3 as you may qualify to meet the requirements to bump the suite size up to 7,500 square feet or perhaps even to 10,000 square feet.
This clarification from CMS is helpful, and should go a long way to explain the occupancy classification of Emergency Departments.