A sure-fire way to make nursing homes less dangerous

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

There is nothing nice to be said about nursing home fires. Yet nobody seems to be demanding an obvious way to ensure that fewer take place: ban smoking.

Now before you send me a nasty note disparaging that notion as a civil rights violation, consider the facts. They are quite sobering.

Fire departments respond to more than 2,600 fires each year in nursing homes. These events typically result in three deaths, more than 100 injuries and $8.9 million in damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

As if that's not bad enough, they are also a great lawsuit magnet. In Delaware, a resident's wife recently sued a facility for negligence. According to reports, he was smoking by himself, became engulfed in flames and died from resulting injuries.

Preventing the problems caused by fires would seem to be a pretty good reason to prohibit smoking materials from senior living campuses. Here's another: Such bans greatly reduce actual fires. Just ask hospitals. Smoking-related materials accounted for an average of 100 fires per year in hospitals and hospices between 2006 and 2010. The number has since been cut in half. Why? More hospitals are creating smoke free environments, a new NFPA study asserts.

To be sure, inhalo non grata regulations will not curtail all nursing home fires. In fact, far more are caused by cooking equipment. Clothes dryers and heating equipment are also bigger culprits.

But here's the thing about smoking materials. They can be eliminated overnight.

Look, I have great empathy for people who are smokers. It is an incredibly addictive habit. Smoking also happens to be legal.

But it's one thing to “enjoy” an activity that puts your health in danger. It's quite another to engage in behaviors that can hurt others. Given their potential for harm, smoking materials really have no place in nursing homes. Once that becomes a universal reality, we can all start breathing a little easier.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.