N.C. Nursing Home Residents Regain Right to Smoke

Residents of a Greensboro nursing home system are smoking again after regulators stamped out a campus tobacco ban.

The Moses Cone Memorial Health System recently outlawed smoking on its property to improve the quality of life for people at its facilities. But a state inspection in mid-August found that tobacco-free policy did not meet federal regulations.

Moses Cone wrongfully discharged three residents because of the new smoking ban, breaking federal rules that govern the industry, said Beverly Speroff, chief of the state's Nursing Home Licensure and Certification Section.

Residents of the extended care center argued that the facility was their home and should be exempted from the smoking ban. Many disabled residents said it was difficult to leave the property to smoke.

"They had to grant us our rights," said Ruby Watlington, a resident at the center.

Debbie Combs-Jones, the executive director for Moses Cone Health System, said no residents were forced to leave because of the smoking ban.

"It was their choice," she said, adding that the three residents who left have been invited to return.

The smoking ban has been relaxed. Old residents have been grandfathered into the policy and can light up in a specific courtyard, but they must remain at least 10 feet away from the building. New residents are prohibited from lighting up.

Moses Cone could be fined for the problems. The state recommended a fine of $500 per day until the issue was resolved.

The ultimate decision rests with federal regulators.