The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services play a crucial role in regulating the quality of care at most state and local nursing homes. Nursing home care is quite expensive. For that reason, most seniors and their families do not have the financial resources to pay for the care out of their own pocket. As a result, many families rely on Medicaid and Medicare services for help. The program is genuinely a lifesaver for those who count on it.
CMS therefore provides much of the payments that nursing homes receive for their work. This power of the purse, our Chicago nursing home lawyers understand, means that they maintain a particularly influential source of power when it comes to demanding fair treatment of senior residents. CMS can demand that certain actions be met or else the involved nursing home not be able to participate in the CMS programs. Loosing CMS patients is a death knell for most facilities, so they are strongly pressed to abide by their requirements.
Just this week, for instance, CMS issues a “Survey and Certification” memorandum designed to prevent one form of dangerous nursing home neglect that has led to horrific harm to some residents. The new guidelines reemphasize the need for long-term caregivers to monitor residents at all times. Of particular concern was the monitoring of smoking areas for residents. Of course, caregivers were always required to provide appropriate observation anyway. However, the memo acts as a reiteration of these rules in light of a recent tragedy involving a fatal accident caused by unsupervised smoking.
According to the memo, the tragedy which sparked the release involved a resident who was smoking outside of the facility. The resident did not have permission to be outside of the facility, and she had no supervision at the time. She was in a wheelchair and was not wearing a smoking apron. To make matters worse her wheelchair was blocking the only fire extinguisher in the vicinity. Unfortunately, the resident accidentally ignited her clothing. By the time staff members became aware of the incident and tried to help her, it was too late. The woman ultimately died as a result of the incident.
The CMS memo responding to the event explained that “nursing homes with residents who smoke [must] take reasonable precautions to ensure the safety of residents to the maximum extent possible.” As the string of errors in this case demonstrates, even seemingly simple missteps can cost a vulnerable resident their life. When it comes to smoking residents, facilities must conduct an assessment of each resident’s abilities to determine whether or not supervision (or other safety precautions) are required. The assessment should likely take into account a resident’s mental capacity, judgment, mobility, dexterity, and similar factors.
Our Illinois nursing home neglect attorneys know the risks of nursing home smoking very well. For example, we once settled a case for $1.5 million on behalf of a family whose loved one died at an area home because of just this sort of nursing home neglect. The resident-who was mentally impaired-was not properly supervised while smoking a cigarette. An accident occurred which led the man to suffer severe burns before passing away. These tragedies can and must be prevented at all times.
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