Smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em: Southwest Florida hospitals soon going tobacco-free

— Southwest Florida hospitals are going to help employees, patients and their families quit the habit.

The NCH Healthcare System and Physicians Regional Healthcare System in Collier County are teaming up with the Lee Memorial Health System in Lee County to become tobacco-free campuses effective Nov. 19, which will be the Great American Smokeout Day in 2009.

The unified effort began as a result of a conversation in January with the chief executive officer of Lee Memorial, and the NCH leadership was brought into the discussion, said Geoffrey Moebius, chief executive officer of Physicians Regional.

“It is the right thing to do. Smoking can really have an impact on people’s health,” Moebius said.

Physicians Regional at Pine Ridge became tobacco-free when the hospital opened in spring 2001 as Cleveland Clinic Naples, he said. That’s when Cleveland Clinic in Florida built and opened the hospital and it was the only smoke-free hospital in Southwest Florida, he said.

Naples-based Health Management Associates bought the hospital a few years later and renamed it.

Now the no-tobacco policy will extend to Physicians Regional at Collier Boulevard and measures will start Aug. 19 to transition into a no-smoking campus, with the official effective date Nov. 19. A “smoking hut” on the back side of the hospital will be removed, signs will be installed about the smoking ban and employees and patients will be offered assistance to stop, he said.

The hospital is working with the Collier County Department of Health to provide smoking cessation assistance to employees and patients, he said. The Collier Boulevard campus has about 400 employees.

Moebius said it’s hard to gauge how many employees smoke but the hospital system estimates 20 percent. Employees who are caught smoking on campus after Nov. 19 will face corrective action, similar to any other policy violation, he said.

That involves a verbal counseling followed by written discipline.

The Lee Memorial system owns Cape Coral Hospital, Lee Memorial Hospital, Gulf Coast Hospital and HealthPark Medical Center and 70 other medical-related properties in Lee County. All will become tobacco-free on Nov. 19, said Brad Pollins, system director of organizational effectiveness.

Lee Memorial has about 8,500 employees and the smoking ban likewise will apply to visitors, vendors, and patients.

An announcement about the new policy was made in May and a phased-in approach began June 19; now, there are limited areas for patients and visitors to smoke and different areas for employees, Pollins said.

“We want to approach this in a respectful and compassionate way,” he said. “We want to role model what we are about, which is to improve the health of the community.”

Based on an estimate that 20 percent of an organization’s workforce uses tobacco products, that would mean 1,800 to 2,000 Lee Memorial employees smoke, he said.

Cessation support programs are being provided to employees and many have already quit smoking, Pollins said.

“This really was the tipping point for them to quit once and for all,” he said. “I have not really heard anything negative since June 19. It’s how we believe we need to set an example for the community based on the business we are about, which is health care.”

Pollins acknowledged it will be tough addressing family members who come to the emergency room and step outside for a cigarette after learning a loved one is seriously ill or has been injured.

“No doubt the ED is the highest area of sensitivity,” he said. “We have not yet determined the exact approach of how we are going to address that.”

At NCH, which operates Downtown Naples and North Naples hospital campuses, there was consideration a few years ago of going tobacco-free but administration didn’t pursue it, said Dr. Allen Weiss, president and chief executive officer of NCH.

Now, the coordinated campaign is being developed with the other hospital systems.

“It’s a pretty big program to roll out. There’s a lot of bases to be covered,” said Scott Wiley, director of respiratory care for NCH. “We have a checklist of 25 issues.”

That includes impact to patient treatment protocols, enforcement with employees, signs around the hospitals and behavior issues, he said.

For the emergency rooms where family members and friends are dealing with the stress of a loved one’s medical conditions or injuries, the plan is to have a psychological first aid plan for staff to recognize that a visitor is distressed, he said.

Employees will be trained to say to visitors that the campus is smoke free and it would be appreciated if they refrain or go step off campus property, he said.

“Thousands of hospitals in the United States are already doing this and, in Florida, about 44 percent have done the same thing,” Weiss said.

Weiss said an estimated 14 percent of NCH employees smoke, a figure that is derived from their self-reporting when the sign up for insurance.

NCH is preparing for a new insurance system in which employees who comply with the no-tobacco policy will be eligible for two different insurance options, a good plan or a premium plan with higher benefits and lower deductibles, he said.

Employees who aren’t compliant will be offered a basic plan with higher deductibles and costs, he said. The insurance changes will take effect Jan. 1, he said.

Follow health-care reporter Liz Freeman on twitter at twitter.com/ndn_lfreeman.

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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