Nursing Home Fire Risks


October 17, 2014 / Personal Injury

Nursing home residents are among our most vulnerable citizens – usually frail, suffering a loss of mobility, sometimes bedridden. You can imagine how helpless they would feel, and actually be, in the event of a fire.

In January 2014, fire broke out in a resident’s room at Bethany Village on Shelby Street in Indianapolis. Two nurses noticed the illumination of the room’s emergency light and responded, discovering the fire and putting it out with a fire extinguisher. The elderly resident went into cardiac arrest and was taken to the hospital in critical condition. Fifteen other residents on her floor were evacuated, reportedly without injury; we would not be surprised, however, if anxiety and blood pressures increased for everyone at Bethany Village.

Are you wondering, as we are, why there apparently was no smoke alarm and why the fire had to be put out with a fire extinguisher rather than a sprinkler system? Fire safety deficiencies were noted in a March 25, 2013, inspection report of the facility by the Department of Health and Human Services, which were noted as having been corrected in a follow-up on April 23. The last inspection of Bethany Village was conducted on April 29, 2014, and there was no mention of fire safety deficiencies.

Compare this with a 2012 nursing home fire in Attica, Indiana, that sent 14 residents and two staff members to the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation. In that incident, a sprinkler system extinguished the fire before the fire department arrived. Had it not been for the sprinkler system, the injuries would undoubtedly have been much worse.

These are examples of the dangers which led the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to establish regulations for the installation of sprinkler systems in nursing homes. Nursing homes across the country, both new and existing facilities, were given until August 2013 to be fully sprinklered. A recent report, however, indicates that 385 facilities in 39 states – housing more than 52,000 people — still fail to meet all of the requirements; 204 are for-profit facilities, 145 are nonprofits, and 36 are run by local and state governments.

NursingHomeRating.org lists 523 nursing homes in the state of Indiana, with 55 in Indianapolis. All of the Indy nursing homes have sprinkler systems installed in required areas, according to their reports. To check the ratings for any of the other Indiana nursing homes, go to http://nursinghomerating.org/indiana-nursinghomes.htm.

The CMS can take a variety of enforcement actions against facilities not in compliance with the automatic sprinkler regulations, including terminating their provider agreement. But for families whose loved ones have been harmed in a nursing home fire, a personal injury lawyer may be able to take a more direct approach to holding a negligent facility responsible.

The AP article reporting on the 385 non-compliant nursing homes tells of the experience of one New York woman whose mother had been in several nursing homes over a period of time, two of which are on the list of those not meeting the sprinkler rules. She said her priority had been to make sure her mother was fed, properly medicated and received good care. “There were so many other things to worry about,” she said, “I didn’t worry about a fire.”

That’s probably true of most people charged with the duty of finding long-term care for parents or other family members. If you find yourself in this position, ask whether all areas of the facility have automatic sprinkler systems, and ask to see the latest inspection report. If your loved one has been injured in a long-term care facility which experienced a fire emergency, call the Indianapolis nursing home lawyers of Stephenson Rife at 1-317-825-5200.

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