News

Split among midstate hospitals on banning smoking for some

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Aug 20, 2014 4:00 AM

(Harrisburg) -- Midstate health system Wellspan Health is adding a requirement for new employees: it'll soon begin testing new workers for tobacco and nicotine use.

All applicants to Wellspan hired after January 1, 2015 will have to pass the test before officially getting the job. Current employees will be grandfathered in under the policy.

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Bob Batory, chief human resources officer for Wellspan, says discussions around the policy started when it merged with Ephrata Community Hospital, which has had such a rule in place since 2011.

He says the new policy just makes more sense for a health care organization.

"We think that it's an important leadership role that we as a health organization should play an important part in and anything we can do to help decrease the use of harmful substances like tobacco, we think that's part of our mission."

But he also says he'll be watching to see if good potential employees are turned away because of the test.

"I personally have some concern over that. However, we've talked to a number of health organizations that have blazed this trail ahead of us and each of them have told us that they have not experienced any type of problems with their recruitment"

Besides Ephrata Community Health, Lancaster General Health instituted a policy against hiring smokers at the start of last year.

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Mary Misky, vice president of human resources operations at Lancaster General Health says she's aware of those who say they should be able to live their life, but conditions come attached to employment at any place.

"The position that we took was really one that was more in terms of preventable illnesses, as opposed to necessarily looking at the fact that we were trying to infringe on anyone's liberties."

Under federal law, employers interested in hiring can't discriminate based on race, color, religion, national origin, age, and disability, but smokers are not a protected class.

"Frankly, when you join an organization, there are other things that you have to ascribe to that you might not necessarily agree with. For example, you may not agree with wearing a particular uniform," says Misky.

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Penn State Hershey Medical Center and Pinnacle Health both ban tobacco use on their campuses, and Penn State Hershey also bans the use of e-cigarettes as well.

In a statement, Penn State Hershey spokesman Scott Gilbert says, "We feel we have an obligation to provide our patients, visitors and employees with a healthy, healing environment. Put another way, improved health and the prevention of disease are essential parts of our mission."

Gilbert says employees have access to Highmark's Telephonic Smokeless Program, which offers consultations with a professional tobacco cessation specialist. He says Penn State Hershey's health insurance also fully covers tobacco cessation products if an employee obtains a prescription.

Pinnacle Health spokeswoman Kelly McCall says its campuses are tobacco-free because of its "commitment to the health and wellness of our community."

But neither Penn State Hershey nor Pinnacle Health bans tobacco use among employees while off duty, and there's no indication policies will change.

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