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Smoking memo urges facility operators to protect against fire risks

Armen Hareyan's picture

Nursing and adult care home operators will receive a memorandum in the mail this week encouraging them to guard against the risk of fire due to smoking of residents and patients in their licensed homes.

The memorandum is a re-issuance with minor updates of a previous memo sent out June 28, 2004. A March 12 fire killed one resident and injured 21 others in an adult care home in Mocksville. Davie County fire authorities attributed the fire to a resident smoking in her room, while oxygen was being administered through a nasal tube, or cannula.

"Rules clearly state that smoking is not to occur in a resident's room, and approved smoking areas must be a safe distance from oxygen tanks," said Jeff Horton, chief operating officer for the N.C. Division of Facility Services. "We hope to remind all facility operators how critical it is that fire safety requirements are followed."

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North Carolina licenses 635 adult care homes, 644 family care homes and 392 nursing homes, providing residential and medical care services to tens of thousands of residents and patients. The facilities are the workplace for thousands of care givers and staff, and they receive thousands of daily visitors.

Horton's memo cites applicable federal and state requirements that pertain to fire safety, patient supervision and smoking rules. All hospital, nursing homes, adult care home and other institutions are subject to state sanitation rules that state: "Indoor smoking, including the carrying of any lit cigarette, pipe, cigar, or other similar product containing tobacco or other substance shall be restricted to dedicated smoking rooms. Smoking rooms shall be ventilated to prevent environmental tobacco smoke from moving into other occupied portions of the building. There shall be no obligation to establish such smoking rooms."

State licensing rules set standards and requirements for smoking and protection from hazards related to smoking. A copy of those rules was attached to the memo.

The memo also reiterates the facility's requirement to have a smoking policy; to provide adequate supervision, particularly to residents with cognitive deficits; and to protect against the dangers posed by oxygen-rich environments.

"While it is not the policy of the state to either encourage or discourage facilities from allowing residents to smoke, when facilities choose to allow residents to smoke, it is imperative that they consider the amount and level of supervision the resident may need for this activity," Horton said.