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Smokers in Nursing Homes Pose Risks to Selves, Others

A widow is suing the nursing home where her husband, a patient, died last year after his clothes caught fire when he was smoking on the balcony, has filed a nursing home negligence lawsuit, alleging both the facility and the county are responsible for violating federal regulations, resulting in her husband’s death. 

Plaintiff’s attorney explained to the Philly Voice that decedent had been diagnosed with a number of diseases and ailments that necessitated assistance with many basic tasks. Yet, he was allowed to smoke unsupervised on the day of his death. Records show plaintiff was being treated for Parkinson’s disease, brain disease and bipolar disorder. He needed help to eat, dress and bathe. On the day of the fire, he was smoking a cigarette alone on a balcony at the facility, when his clothing caught fire. He was almost immediately engulfed in flames. He was seriously injured and died about a month later of those injuries, after enduring tremendous pain and suffering.

Smoking in nursing homes is a hot-button issue. Although cigarette smoking is becoming less prevalent in younger generations, thanks to education and awareness campaigns that accurately warn of the danger, older generations didn’t have that benefit – or often the same restrictions. Many long-time smokers may be in poor health, but they remain passionate about their right to smoke – and that doesn’t necessarily change just because they have entered a nursing home. Every center may have varying policies, but those that do allow smoking by residents have a duty not only to protect the smokers, but to balance those rights with the health and safety of other residents and staffers. 

This is a pervasive issue at nursing homes across the country, and one that we will likely continue to see crop up in nursing home negligence lawsuits.

The Tampa Bay Times reported in 2013 about a protest staged at a St. Petersburg nursing home that changed its smoking policies to require residents to turn over their cigarettes and lighters and restricts smoking to certain times – a total of nine scheduled 20-minute breaks during which staff would supervise. Residents are also limited to two cigarettes per break. An administrator explained part of the problem was residents were reporting burns on their legs from the ashes. It created a fire hazard, and concerns about liability. The decision was solidified after the facility received a letter from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services detailing how another nursing home resident died when her cigarette set her clothes on fire.

CMS in 2011 issued a memo entitled, “Smoking Safety in Long-Term Care Facilities” which outlines guidance for certain precautions, such as only allowing smoking in certain designated areas, limiting accessibility to lighters and matches and supervising residents whose assessment and plans of care indicate a need for supervision. Assessments for smoking supervision may include weighing the resident’s cognitive ability, judgment, manual dexterity and mobility. It also means making sure oxygen tanks aren’t used in designated smoking areas, which should always be outdoors.

In the case of the Pennsylvania man, there is evidence detailed in court documents that decedent had previous smoking-related injuries. In 2014, he was determined to require supervision after he suffered burns to his fingers while smoking. But then just a few months later, an updated report indicated he was allowed to smoke independently.

His widow is seeking more than $150,000 in damages.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

Lawsuit filed against Delco nursing home for fire that killed smoker, Nov. 25, 2016, Staff Report, Philly Voice

More Blog Entries:

Nursing Home Work Safety Hazards Endanger Patients Too, Dec. 2, 2016, Orlando Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

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