Nursing Home Residents And The Danger Of Burns

When people think about personal injuries or wrongful death regarding nursing homes, falls, malnutrition, medication errors, choking, and abuse by staff and other residents come to mind. But burns are also a significant issue for nursing home residents. A nursing home facility's duty to protect its residents includes an obligation to prevent injuries or death caused by burning.

According to federal studies, fires occur at hundreds of nursing homes every year. Luckily, most of those fires are minor and are extinguished before anyone is hurt or killed. Also fortunate is the fact that fire prevention, suppression, and evacuation techniques have become better as time goes on. Most of the deadliest fires at nursing facilities occurred before 1982. 

Nursing homes should have adequate fire prevention, suppression, alarms, and evacuation plans in place in the event a fire does occur. That is especially important in a nursing home where the residents may have reduced hearing, eyesight, or mobility or may be restrained in some manner. That can make it difficult or impossible for residents to hear any alarms or safely evacuate. And, when nursing home residents are able to safely evacuate the facility, it needs to have available protection from the elements so that residents don't face further risks once outdoors.

Although many different events can cause a fire, a few common causes are seen in the literature regarding burns in nursing homes: 

  • Smoking accidents – Many nursing home facilities allow their residents to smoke inside the buildings. Obviously, that increases risk of a fire. Information compiled by the U.S. Fire Administration, which is part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, indicates that smoking is the most frequent  cause of fire fatalities among the elderly is smoking. No federal regulation bans smoking in nursing facilities. Nursing homes that allow smoking or fail to enforce smoking prohibitions create a greater danger for their patients and residents.

  • Candles – Burning candles that are left unattended or aren't watched can cause a fire. Nursing home residents may light a candle and then fall asleep because of their medication or simply because they're tired. Or they may forget to extinguish the candle when they leave their room or living quarters.

  • Flammable medical hazards – Pressurized oxygen is very dangerous because of its flammability. But it's also used for medical reasons by many nursing home residents. That increases the risk for large fires at the facility. So do the electrical equipment and flammable gases found all over a nursing facility.

Serious burns from fire are not the only burn risks for nursing home residents. Burns from hot surfaces and substances can also be very dangerous. Elderly adults are much more likely to die from a surface burn than a younger person. Suffering serious burns may be extremely dangerous for older residents. In older adults, the mortality and morbidity rate from a surface burn is much higher. It is thus crucial that nursing home facilities protect residents against the risks of surface burns, including those cause by heating elements, scalding hot water, and cooking equipment.

Harley Erbe