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  • Writer's pictureJohn Larrimer

How are Nursing Homes Failing to Protect Employees?

While we rely on nursing homes to safely take care of and treat our loved ones, we often don’t bear in mind the consideration and care the employees at these homes receive.

Many nursing home employees are registered nurses, so they are familiar with the bodily fluids that comes with the territory of working in a home. However, nursing homes are not required to regulate whether their patients smoke cigarettes, and therefore subject nursing home employees to secondhand smoke.

Why Aren’t Nursing Home Employees Protected from Secondhand Smoke?

In one particular facility in Ohio, residents are permitted to smoke during six daily smoking breaks that each last a half hour. Since the nursing home keeps the cigarettes and lighters in a locked cart, an employee is required to hand out two cigarettes to each smoker and light their cigarettes for them. This employee is also required to monitor the patients who smoke during these breaks. And though they can stand inside, they must face the patio and continue to go outside each time a patient needs a light. In this facility, there are typically 14 smoking patients on the patio during the breaks.

According to an article published on, an employee called the Health Department and was told, essentially, that nursing homes are considered private residences, not public accommodations. More specifically, assisted living spaces or nursing homes are exempt from any smoking limitations. The Health Department recommended the employee contact the Occupational Health and Services Administration (OSHA).

Similarly, OSHA reminded the employee that unless the administration can prove that serious health issues are directly caused by the secondhand smoke, it can only make recommendations to workplaces. However, lung cancer and heart disease are both serious illnesses that have been proven to be caused by secondhand smoke, so the fact that OSHA refuses to cite the nursing home is inexcusable.

The State Legislature and OSHA Need to Protect Nursing Home Employees

Though some nursing homes do not allow smoking on the premises, if a smoking patient moves to a non-smoking facility, the patient is “grandfathered in” and allowed to continue smoking. While it is true, patient care should be a priority within nursing homes, we should also bear in mind the well-being of the employees we trust with the care and treatment of our elderly loved ones.

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