Judge says nursing home resident can smoke

PAINESVILLE, Ohio (AP) - A woman dying of lung disease should be allowed to smoke despite her nursing home's ban on lighting up indoors, a judge has ruled.

Virgie Meade, 57, sued Western Reserve Extended Care in Kirtland last week because new managers last month started enforcing a no-smoking policy residents say was largely ignored since 1989.

Lake County Common Pleas Judge Eugene Lucci ruled in her favor on Friday, rebuking nursing home officials for resisting a "dying woman's last request to smoke."

"This is a short-lived request because the patient is short-lived," he said. "But it is a reasonable request and you will grant it."

Meade has lived four years at the home about 15 miles east of Cleveland. She's dying of emphysema and progressive lung disease, her lawyer said. She lost a leg to cancer and needs pure oxygen to breathe, but she still smokes three or four cigarettes a day.

Lucci said the nursing home must allow Meade to smoke four cigarettes a day, giving her four minutes for each. She must be supervised, face an outside window and blow the smoke out the
window, he said.

Meade will not be allowed to take her flammable oxygen tank into the designated smoking room, and the other 170 residents must be kept away while she smokes.

Western Reserve officials protested, saying nursing home workers would be forced to help Meade smoke when they are needed elsewhere. They also argued that the ruling could violate regulations against residents smoking indoors.

Amy Knapp, a spokeswoman for Arkansas-based Beverly Enterprises Inc., which owns the facility and 460 others in 27 states, has said smoking restrictions are made in residents' best interests.

The home's policy was never enforced until a new administrator ousted Meade and other smokers from a TV room about a month ago, Meade's attorney said. Residents were told they could smoke only on an outside porch, protected from the weather by sheets of plastic.

Meade has said the cold makes her chest hurt and she feared catching pneumonia.

"You will accommodate this patient before she dies," Lucci told the home. "Her addiction is a medical problem and you will attend to the addict."

Meade has smoked for 37 years, since she was 20.

"It's worth the fight," Meade said a week ago. "I feel like they're taking away my rights to enjoy what life I have left."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)