Altoona Regional takes aim at tobacco

Starting the New Year’s Day, Altoona Regional Health System will not hire tobacco users and does not allow any place on its properties.

At the hospital, board approved the policy change within the “integrated approach to health and wellness” - with the damage tobacco users and through passive smoking, even non-users, according to the hospital.

In making the policy, the hospital is unlikely “a pioneer”, the 70 hospitals in Pennsylvania and many others across the country have already adopted similar measures, officials say.

Recruitment ban will be based on a one-time pre-employment nicotine - although applicants who can not apply again after 90 days. Continued tobacco abstinence is waiting for new employees, while not a condition of employment. Current employees who use tobacco may do so from the hospital property, although the hospital will offer a course on smoking cessation.

Ban tobacco on campus includes a prohibition on the use in vehicles in the hospital parking lot - not only employees, but also doctors, contractors and visitors, even on the leased property. Users can smoke during their shifts, but they will have to beat out and go off campus, CEO Jerry Murray said Thursday.

Violators will be subject to the standard “progressive discipline,” which ultimately could lead to dismissal, the police and the hospital authorities will do, a spokesman for the hospital said Dave Cuzzolina.

Some smokers welcoming change “as an incentive to quit smoking”, Cuzzolina said.

Prolonged radiology department employee Sondi Ocker - longtime smoker - it is not.

“Now I’m second-class citizen,” she said.

It is not a problem according to the current policy of smoking in designated areas outside the hospital.

But this goes too far, she said.

“People always want to try to control the people,” she said. “It should be a land of the free.”

And tobacco is legal, she said.

It must be allowed at least to smoke in his car in the parking lot, she said.

It is estimated that about 30 percent of hospital staff tobacco use and some of them are “desperately trying to find an opening,” she said.

She tried to quit four times, and was able to last a couple of weeks.

But she gets a “irritable, nervous, nasty.”

“I nicotine addict,” she said.

Many smokers in the hospital feel too guilty or embarrassed to talk to, she said.

“I do not feel guilty,” she said.

Conemaugh Health System adopted a policy similar to Altoona in 2005.

At the hospital, the ban was preceded with “a lot of education,” and there was a large gap, spokeswoman Amy Bradley said.

Now, “people used to not be able to smoke on hospital property,” she said.

In January, however, the hospital policy tightens further, not allowing employees to smoke at all during their shifts - even off-campus during breaks, Bradley said.

This should help resolve complaints from patients about the staff “is back in smelling like smoke.”

There was a bit of negative feedback to change, she said.

The American Civil Liberties Union does not object to employers prohibiting tobacco use on their properties.

But it is uncomfortable with non-governmental organizations, such as hospitals, trying to move on.

Not hiring smokers is legal, because most will be “at will” employees, subject to any conditions imposed on the employers, “as long as [they do not] violate fair labor and non-discrimination laws,” said the Philadelphia ACLU lawyer Mary Catherine Roper, in an article under ACLU of Pennsylvania, in contact Thursday Mirror.

“But it’s also not a good idea,” said Roper. “[It] gives employers a lot of legal discretion, and, especially in a bad economy, a lot of economic leverage to demand that workers give up control over their lives outside of work, as well.”

Pennsylvania is not one of the 30 states (including Washington, DC) that have laws that prohibit discrimination against smokers, Cuzzolina said. There is a “fast-growing list of” totally smoking hospitals, according to Americans for Nonsmokers Rights website. “

If Ocker were doing it over, she would not have started smoking.

“It is not because of the danger to health, but also because it is socially unacceptable,” she said. “I feel like a leper.”

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