Blount Memorial Hospital will join four other Knox area medical centers in becoming a smoke-free workplace by Jan. 1, 2011.
All five hospitals will offer smoking cessation assistance to enable workers to quit tobacco products in the next 11 months.
The combined press conference at the Knox County Health Department announced the initiative on Wednesday morning, Jan. 27. Speaking at the event were Jane Nelson, assistant administrator for Blount Memorial Hospital; Mark Jones, senior director, Knox County Health Department; Joseph R. Landsman Jr., president and CEO of The University of Tennessee Medical Center; Keith Goodwin, president and CEO of East Tennessee Children’s Hospital; Jeff Ashin, president, Mercy Medical Center/St. Mary’s; and Anthony L. Spezia, president and CEO, Covenant Health.
The panel of administrators said the move is to improve the quality of life for employees and the patients they serve. Nelson said Blount Memorial is “pleased to be part of this effort.” Spezia said there is a trend across the country toward smoke-free workplaces. “This is a cultural trend that is happening all across society, and we feel we need to be a leader,” Spezia said. “The Knoxville area hospitals are working together on this initiative because the evidence is compelling, and the message is clear: A tobacco-free workplace promotes better health, and better health is the shared goal of every hospital in this area.”
Each representative said steps would be taken to help workers quit tobacco. Nelson said the issue was being studied to determine cost. “We do anticipate spending for this,” she said. “Blount Memorial is pleased to be part of this effort. This can be difficult for employees who use tobacco. This does not mean we insist they quit,” she said. “We want them to know we’re there if they do want to quit. We’re going to do everything we can to help”
Nelson said the hospital would help employees with nicotine-replacement therapy from chewing gum to medication, cessation classes or counseling.
In a release handed out at the press conference, Blount Memorial Hospital administrator Joe Dawson, who was not at the press conference, said the hospital is adopting a tobacco-free workplace policy to provide a healthy and safe environment for employees, patients and visitors and to promote positive health behaviors.
“This decision and participation in the joint effort fits well with the hospital’s vision and mission to continuously improve the health and well-being of our entire community and to work in partnership with others who share the core values of Blount Memorial,” Dawson said in the release.
Landsman said the hospitals are major employers in the region and they understand trepidation some employees may have who use tobacco. “We recognize the anxiety this might bring for some of our employees. We will offer assistance. We believe this is very, very important to our community,” he said.
Goodwin said health care professionals spend a lot of time talking about second-hand smoke. “For us not to lead by changing what we do would be terribly inconsistent, but we are going to make this as positive an experience as we can,” he said.
Ashton said statistics show smoking or using tobacco causes disease or prolongs illness. “This is an important milestone for our community,” he said.
When asked whether employees would be reprimanded or fired for smoking on their campuses, Landsman said, “We expect all of our employees to follow the rules. You can’t control someone who leaves campus, but you can insist they abide by policies on campus.” Goodwin said this was a move to improve health, not block someone from employment but if someone interviewing for a job at one of the hospitals feels smoking in the workplace is vitally important to them, they may want to work elsewhere. “We’re not taking the position of precluding hiring people who smoke. That may be one step beyond where we want to go,” he said. “The intent is a smoke-free environment. There is ample evidence of the dangers of second-hand smoke.”
Landsman said about 10 percent of the staff at UT Medical Center use tobacco products. “And about half of them want to quit,” he said.
Ashin echoed Landsman’s thoughts on helping employees quit smoking. “It’s about creating a positive, healthy environment for patients,” he said.
Landsman said he came from a family of smokers and understands how difficult quitting tobacco can be, and Goodwin said he has worked in other workplaces where this move was made. “It’s tough to do,” he said. “We want to acknowledge that.”
Spezia said, “All of us know someone who has struggled with disease because of smoking,” he said.
According to the release distributed during the press conference, Tennessee has the sixth highest percentage of smokers and the 14th highest percentage of smokeless tobacco users in the country, with more than 443,000 Americans dying each year due to tobacco-related diseases. Smoking cost the U.S. economy more than $193 billion each year divided between healthcare costs and lost productivity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Each health system will implement its own individual set of policies related tobacco usage, which means there may be some slight differences at various facilities. One component of the new measure is that no employee will be allowed to smoke or use tobacco products while on campus at any of the hospitals and the decision to wait until Jan. l, 2011, for the policy to take effect is intended to give employees who smoke plenty of encouragement and time to quit the habit. Each system will provide smoking cessation programs to employees throughout 2010.