River Region to snuff out smokes July 4|[04/26/07]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 26, 2007

Three employees sat behind River Region Medical Center Wednesday doing something they’ll be prohibited from doing starting Independence Day: Smoking.

Employees were sent e-mails explaining a &#8220tobacco-free” policy, they said, but they have mixed feelings about it.

&#8220I don’t know if this is going to work, but I can stop,” surgery technician Larry Blackmore, 34, said. &#8220If we get caught smoking, we get terminated.”

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The policy is part of a &#8220huge” River Region Health System initiative that includes removing designated smoking areas outside all River Region properties, a hospital spokesman said.

&#8220We’ve had a policy since 2002 that there is no smoking anywhere inside the building, and that goes for patients and employees,” Diane Gawronski said. &#8220Starting July 4, if you are caught a second time on campus using tobacco, you could be dismissed. It’s a huge initiative, probably the largest we’ve taken on since we opened our doors.”

About 1,500 people work at River Region, Gawronski said.

The medical facility is joining a growing list of workplaces where indoor and outdoor tobacco use is banned. When River Region opened in February 2002, kiosks were at several spots to provide places for people to puff.

In a little more than two months, that stops.

Jodie Williams, 38, is a clinic nurse at the hospital. She said she will simply leave the hospital at lunch so she can smoke.

&#8220I can go without smoking in the mornings, but I have to leave at lunch to smoke,” she said. &#8220I’ve been smoking since I was about 14.”

But, she conceded, the tobacco-free policy is &#8220good” for the company.

&#8220I’ve heard they’re going to supply us with patches and gum to help us quit smoking,” Williams said. &#8220We have to take a four-week class and see a nurse practitioner. They’ve got to do something to help, but I don’t know how it’s going to affect the patients.”

Gawronski said employees have been offered three ways to quit smoking.

&#8220For any employees wanting to change their lifestyles, we are offering free enrollment in on-campus tobacco cessation classes,” she said. &#8220They do not pay for the prescribed nicotine products. They have to get the prescription written, and we are directing people to one of our nurse practitioners at an after-hours family care clinic.”

Additionally, she said, prescriptions for Chantix or BupropionSR may be written for 90 days.

&#8220Then there’s gum, lozenges and other various ways you can stop using tobacco. And we give them a 1-800 number (1-800-784-8669), a ‘quit line.’ We are not asking anybody to quit or forcing them to quit, but we hope they would take advantage of the classes and the nicotine replacement.”

Another River Region employee, Frances Jowers, 68, said the new policy might convince her to give up smoking.

&#8220Actually, it might be a good time to quit,” Jowers, a radiological technician, said. &#8220It’s just like anything else. I don’t like it, but you’ve got to follow the rules.”

Gawronski dismissed one rumor that employees would be fired if they had the aroma of tobacco.

&#8220Part of our dress code policy is that you have to maintain a professional appearance and demeanor,” she said. &#8220Therefore, if you come in smelling like smoke … and it is unusually strong or noticeable, you might be asked to change your clothes. But you won’t be fired.”

As for patients and visitors, they won’t be allowed to smoke outside River Region properties, either. Those who do after July 3 will be asked to &#8220refrain,” Gawronski said.

&#8220No patients will be allowed to smoke at the medical center, and now that extends to outside of building. If we do see somebody out there smoking, they will be asked to refrain and return to their rooms, and their physicians will be notified.”

The prohibition results from a partnership between the Mississippi Hospital Association and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi. It was initially set to take effect July 1.

&#8220It’s a gradual thing right now,” MHA spokesman Shawn Lea said. &#8220It’s all hospitals in metro Jackson and the one in Vicksburg. In the northeast area, they’ve already agreed to go smoke-free, and some (hospitals) are doing it individually.”

Other River Region properties here include The Family Medicine Clinic, Southern Orthopedics, The Street Clinic, River Region West Campus, Vicksburg Clinic, Marion Hill Chemical Dependency Center, and Consolidated Services. River Region Health also has properties in Port Gibson and Tallulah.