Hospitals’ Smoking Lamp Is Out!

    GRAND RAPIDS — Acute care hospitals in this town may be intense competitors, but last month they officially began marching in step on one major health issue — smoking.

    Metropolitan Hospital, Saint Mary’s Mercy Medical Center and Spectrum Health jointly announced May 30 that they had formally implemented an expanded smoke-free policy.

    Basically, they supplemented the ban on smoking inside their buildings by prohibiting smoking of any kind at all points on their campuses — all satellite properties included.

    Because of extreme fire hazards related to oxygen and flammable medical gasses, both law and policy for decades have prohibited smoking in or around acute care and critical care hospital units.

    But the old rubric about “take it outdoors” is gone. Those who can’t go without a smoke are going to grit their teeth and bear it, or leave the grounds entirely — or kick the habit.

    For staff members, patients and visitors who’ve been accustomed to taking smoke breaks outside the hospital buildings, the hospitals announced they recognize that nicotine is addictive.

    Accordingly, they indicated that they would furnish nicotine replacement products to those smokers.

    According to Tom Peterson, M.D., the hospitals’ complete ban on smoking is something for which an entity called Tobacco Free Partners (TFP) has been striving for years. Peterson, who is the medical director of Michigan Medical PC, also is the current chair of TFP.

    “While we announced this policy change in September of 2002,” Peterson said, “this effort began several years ago when the hospitals jointly agreed to expand smoking cessation classes for the community.

    “What makes this meaningful,” he added, “is that all three hospitals have decided to join together to support this effort for the benefit of our entire community.”

    TFP is a coalition of more than 40 community groups trying to help people here cease smoking.

    Peterson explained that plans for nicotine replacement for staff, visitors and patients have been a component of preparation for the policy. He also indicated help is available at no cost to people who want to quit.

    Peterson said free nicotine gum will be provided to patients’ family members and staffers who suffer a craving for nicotine. Too, he said physicians who are admitting patients for hospital stays have been advised of the policy so they can prepare the patients before and during a visit.

    Greg Forzley, M.D., the medical director of informatics at St. Mary’s, said he hopes the new policy will prompt more people to take advantage of no-cost smoking cessation classes throughout the community.

    “We’ve been working with physicians, nurses and other staff members for months to prepare for accommodating not only internal needs among staff, but also education and support in the form of nicotine replacements for patients and visitors.”

    Sandy Sefton, chief personnel officer for Metropolitan, said she thinks it’s important for the area’s hospitals to have cooperated in addressing “a public health issue as serious and pervasive as smoking.”

    TFP reported that 25 percent of Michigan’s adults smoke regularly and that by the end of this year, 16,000 Michigan adults will have died from to the effects of smoking, which render people much more vulnerable to respiratory, circulatory and cardiac diseases.

    “We hope this policy will create a healthier environment at all of our locations by eliminating second-hand smoke, and at the same time increase our involvement in treating nicotine addiction,” Sefton said.

    Hospital representatives said they realize that compliance with the policy won’t be easy and that it will take time.

    “We’re talking about creating a new culture in our workplaces,” said Bill Rietscha, Spectrum’s vice president of operations.

    “The support mechanisms we have in place should actually encourage families and staff members to refrain from leaving the campus to smoke. This will allow families to spend more time with their loved ones rather than taking time to leave the premises to smoke.”

    The hospitals urged residents seeking information about smoking cessation programs to call TFP at 336-3037 or (800) 301-1733


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