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Authorities to crack down on nursing institutions

Posted May. 31, 2014 05:51,   


The current safety standards for nursing institutions, which were strengthened beginning in last month, are found to be effectively useless in the real situation. Many institutions establish safety facilities as formality only to follow the rules, even though their actual use is impossible. Hence, critics say that the government should conduct on-site inspections, rather than relying only on document screening.

○ Safety standards become useless

The Dong-A Ilbo reporters visited "institution A" in Seoul’s Yeongdeungpo district on Thursday.

The public notification on “standards of fire safety for escape equipment" by the National Emergency Management Agency requires that an escape gear at medical institutions be installed in every building space measuring 500 sq. meters on each floor. Escape equipments required to be installed are also different for each floor. Fourth to 10th floors should be installed with rescue tunnels, escape trap, and descending escaper.

The institution A has been equipped with a rescue tunnel as emergency escape tool. The rescue tunnel is escaping equipment in the form of a long sack, through which people can slide down from upper stories in case of fire. Naturally, it can only be used at a window large enough for people to pass through. The rescue tunnels at the sanitarium, however, are impossible to use because almost all windows are designed to be pushed open for ventilation, rather than sliding windows. It means that rescue tunnels are installed at windows, but people cannot pass through due to the narrow windows. A source from a company producing rescue tunnels said, “Generally rescue tunnels should be installed at windows or rooftops,” adding, “It is nonsense to use a rescue tunnel at small windows. Therefore it is impossible for people to pass through the windows.” The institution A is not alone as windows at most of sanitarium have similar windows, which are designed to prevent patients from committing suicide or accidents due to falloff.

“Because patients sometimes attempt to commit suicide, we inevitably install small-sized windows or windows that only open partially,” said the head of a sanatorium in Gyeonggi Province. “An elderly man committed suicide by jumping off window at a nursing institution in the past, because he did not want to be a burden to his children.” Many nursing facilities are equipped with escape ladders or escape ropes, but in reality they were found to be difficult to use because of the same reason.

The current executive ordinance under the Medical Act requires nursing institutions to install a slope-way between different stories, and remove thresholds or bumps on the floor. However, institution B in Seoul’s Dongjak district has a refrigerator at staircases, which makes it difficult for people to freely move. It means that emergency exits are effectively blocked with things.

As the law requires, many nursing facilities have installed safety doorknobs at corridors, steps, toilets, and bathrooms, but in reality using them were challenging at many of such facilities. This is because various items including wheelchairs and rehabilitation equipment are placed right before safety doorknobs.

○ Hired caregivers not obliged to take safety training

The Health and Welfare Ministry inspects safety management of nursing institutions by commissioning the task to the Korea Institute for Healthcare Accreditation. Items evaluated for validation include safety training of staff at nursing institutions. However, personal caregivers are not included in the groups of people who are required to take such training. At an institution, caregivers outnumber doctors, nurses and administrative staff. The health ministry says the caregiver is exempt from safety training because he or she is not regular hospital staff.

Institution C in Seoul’s Dongjak district has 40 patients, but only deploys three nurses in the morning and two in the evening hours. Instead, caregivers take care of patients at different rooms. In case of fire, support from caregivers is critical to ensure the safety of patients, but the former do not get safety management training at all.

Kim Jin-soo, senior researcher at the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, said “As nursing facilities house many long-term inpatients who cannot easily move around, the patients cannot escape without help from others in the event of accident,” adding, “They should carefully set escape plans to prepare for an accident, and significantly beef up management rules from the patient’s perspective.”