Birmingham hospitals the next to go smoke-free

January 10, 2011

A smoke-free hospital seems almost too much like common sense to seem newsworthy.

Perhaps that’s why the Birmingham News story about St. Vincent Health Systems caught my eye today. The Birmingham, AL hospital campuses are the next to join the smoke-free movement that’s caught so much attention over the past several years.

Bars and restaurants first banned tobacco use, banishing smoking sections and moving smokers to sidewalks in states from California to, more recently Michigan. Now  St. Vincent’s in Birmingham, as well as St. Vincent’s East, Blount and St. Clair locations have even gone so far as to ban outdoor areas designated for smoking.

According to the Birmingham News:

The ban began New Year’s Day, said Sean Tinney, president of rural hospital operations for the system. Under the new policy:

Outdoor ashtrays were removed and “no smoking” signs were put up.

Employees are forbidden from going to their cars to smoke.

Visitors who light up will be approached, “and then we’ll nicely say we’re a smoke-free campus,” Tinney said. At the same time, the visitor will be given a flier on smoking and a pack of gum.

Tinney said all St. Vincent’s employees were taught to intervene if they see a visitor smoking.

Because of the hospital setting, the choice seems to be an obvious one. It seems to me, cigarette smoke is harmful and potentially detrimental to a sterile environment. While confining it to an outdoor area might seem a fair solution, walking through a designated smoking area such as that tends to be a truly unpleasant experience.

I admit, as a non-smoker, my view is obviously skewed to one side. But as laws have been moving in this direction for some time, and the hospital management had taken steps to notify its staff of the coming change well ahead of time, the policy was handled as professionally as possible, incorporating team member engagement to do so.

According to the Birmingham News:

St. Vincent’s took a go-slow approach to its change.

“We tried to give the community quite a bit of notice,” John O’Neil, president and CEO of St. Vincent’s Health System  said. “We wanted to make it as easy as possible and treat people with respect, because it’s a difficult issue .¤.¤. But we’re obligated to provide a healthy environment for everyone who visits our campus.”

Tinney said St. Vincent’s began a year ago letting all of its employees, medical staff and tenants of the professional office buildings know about the looming change. Teams were chosen at each campus to work on policy changes, education, marketing and human resource issues for the planned ban.

Each team included an employee who was a smoker.

What do you think of the changes at St. Vincent Health System campuses? Do you feel it’s a fair and health-minded decision? What would you do if it were your business? Leave us a comment and tell us.

This post is brought to you by the good folks at Dale Carnegie Training of Birmingham, Alabama. We would love to connect with you on Facebook and Twitter @dalecarnegieala.

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