New year will bring tobacco ban to Blount Memorial campus

On the first day of 2011, Blount Memorial Hospital will implement this year’s resolution: a completely tobacco-free campus.

Blount Memorial Assistant Administrator Jane Nelson joined officials from Covenant Health, East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, Mercy Health Partners and University of Tennessee Medical Center at a Thursday morning press conference announcing a tobacco ban on all their properties would extend to patients, visitors and employees, effective Jan. 1.

“The tobacco-free policy ties into the hospital’s vision and mission to continuously improve the health and well-being of our entire community,” Nelson said. “The initiative will also provide for a healthier and safer environment for patients, visitors and employees, as many of our patients and visitors have health conditions or breathing problems that can be complicated by the smell of tobacco products.”

Outdoor smoking areas will be removed and signs posted. The ban on tobacco extends to vehicles on hospital property, and those who operate urban hospitals -- Covenant, Childen’s Hospital and Mercy -- have plans to work with government to make even the public sidewalks and streets outside the hospitals smoke-free.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to obtain legislation to allow us to create a completely smoke-free campus,” including those public areas, said Anthony Spezia, CEO of Covenant Health, which operates Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center in a residential neighborhood near the University of Tennessee campus.

Keith Goodwin, CEO of neighboring Children’s Hospital, said secondhand smoke exacerbates pulmonary problems, “the No. 1 disease issue we deal with.”

“We need to lead by example,” Goodwin said.

That example starts with employees, who were notified last year that they wouldn’t be allowed to smoke on campus as of 2011 and were offered help quitting. When the new policy takes effect, smoking will be treated as any other job performance-related issue, the officials said.

At some hospitals, employees will be asked not to smoke even off-campus on breaks during their shift.

“If you’ve got a caregiver who smokes and they have that smell on them, that can really be a problem for patients with certain challenges,” Spezia said. Too, he said, employees may be encouraged that “if I can make it through a whole 10-hour shift, maybe I can make it through a day, or longer.”

Both Mercy and Covenant have experience with tobacco-free campuses. Mercy North and Jefferson Memorial properties are tobacco-free, and Covenant made its LeConte Medical Center, which opened in February, tobacco-free from the get-go. Covenant communications director Teresa Gross said employees have small cards that they give to visitors as a reminder not to smoke while on hospital property.

“You have to work with guests to remind them,” Gross said.

About 24 percent of Tennesseans smoke, compared to the national average of 21 percent.

“Becoming a tobacco-free facility will help us to continue to promote positive health behaviors,” Nelson said.

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