Q: A Hospital System that I do work for is in the process of constructing a Medical Office Building off-campus (over 250 yards from the Hospital). The building will house exam rooms, treatment rooms, and procedure rooms for a Provider Based Physician. In the past, we would consider this a Business Occupancy. We have heard that for an off-campus Provider Based Physician we will need to use a more restrictive code. Is this true, and if so, do we use the Healthcare Occupancy or the Ambulatory Healthcare Occupancy for this building type?
A: On June 30, 2016, CMS issued a correction to their Final Rule to adopt the 2012 Life Safety Code. This correction specifies that all ‘hospital outpatient surgical departments’ have to meet Ambulatory Health Care Occupancy (AHCO) requirements regardless how many outpatients are incapable of taking action for self-preservation.
One of the confusing issues in this CMS communication is the phrase ‘hospital outpatient surgical departments’. Initially, most people would think that phrase describes Ambulatory Surgical Centers (ASC) because the word ‘surgical’ is used. But in follow-up communications with CMS, they described this phrase ‘hospital outpatient surgical departments’ to mean any service that qualifies under the definition of AHCO.
Section 22.214.171.124 of the 2012 LSC describes AHCO as:
- Outpatient treatment for patients that renders the patient incapable of taking action for self-preservation under emergency conditions without the assistance of others;
- Anesthesia that renders the patients incapable of taking action for self-preservation under emergency conditions without the assistance of others;
- Emergency or urgent care for patients who, due to the nature of the injury or illness are incapable of taking action for self-preservation under emergency conditions without the assistance of others.
This description is beyond just ASC; it includes all sorts of procedures, such as:
- MRI / CT Scan
- Cath Labs
- Some therapy units, such as Aqua-Therapy
Since the 2012 LSC says four or more outpatients in order to qualify for AHCO, CMS felt the need to issue a correction to their Final Rule to say now it is 1 or more outpatients to qualify as an AHCO.
What this means, if the physician’s office was doing a minor procedure and it only involves one outpatient at a time, and that minor procedure qualifies under 126.96.36.199 as being an AHCO, then the building (or story) must meet AHCO occupancy requirements even if there is only one outpatient involved in the entire facility. Under the 2012 LSC definition, that physician office would qualify as being a Business Occupancy, but with the new CMS correction to the Final Rule, it now must be AHCO.
And this is retroactive to existing conditions.