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Let’s talk about a skilled nursing facility’s obligation to supervise and protect senior residents from burns. Occasionally, a senior resident who is a cigarette smoker suffers a cigarette burn to some part of his or her body. Was it an accident?

When a cigarette burn happens, we need to ask whether that resident was adequately supervised or left unattended. Some residents are more at risk than others. Someone who is cognitively impaired, such as having dementia, for example, is at higher risk for injury from cigarette burns because they have poor safety awareness.

Facilities are supposed to develop policies, whereby they have the smokers go out on a smoke break at a designated time with a staff member who must be and supervise the residents at all times. That staff member is the one who keeps possession of the cigarettes, lights the cigarette for the resident, and typically puts a fireproof apron on the resident.

By law, the facility is supposed to supervise the resident for the entire time during that smoke break. Then the facility must collect the physical cigarette butt as a failsafe way to prevent fire and to make sure that a cigarette hasn’t accidentally fallen on a resident’s clothes—one cigarette out, one cigarette butt in – a procedure that keeps residents safe.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen that way. Issues occur when a facility is understaffed; thus they do not supervise the entire time, or where the facility is negligent in not putting on that fireproof apron. Such events are entirely preventable.

Let’s call cigarette burns in nursing facilities what they are: a failure to provide supervision and care services to keep senior residents safe.

Don’t our elderly parents deserve protection in their later years?