WISCREPORT.COM (11/13/07) - What started as perhaps a stretch goal set a year ago—all hospitals in Wisconsin becoming tobacco-free campus wide by November 15, 2007—is almost a reality. Now, 96 percent—123 in all—of Wisconsin’s hospitals are tobacco-free campus wide. In late 2006, the Wisconsin Hospital Association Board of Directors recommended that 100 percent of hospitals become tobacco-free by the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, November 15, 2007. Some hospitals experienced resistence to changing the smoke 'em if you've got 'em attitude, but the effort to have more healthful environments is gaining ground.
WHA President Steve Brenton said the recommendation met with strong statewide support from hospitals and from community leaders.
“Many employers struggle with the decision on whether to enact a tobacco-free work environment, even though the risks of tobacco use are well documented,” said Brenton. “In some communities, hospitals were the first to become tobacco-free. That put them in a good position to be a resource for other businesses looking to implement tobacco use policies in their own workplaces,” he added.
Columbia St. Mary’s health system in Milwaukee was the first in the state to go tobacco-free campus wide in their hospitals, clinics and nursing school in 2005. Therese Pandl, executive vice president/COO at Columbia St. Mary’s, said the idea was not to create an ‘anti-smoker’ campaign.
“A tobacco-free policy reflects a hospital’s role in their community as a health care provider, and promotes a healthier environment for everyone,” Pandl said.
Hospitals that have gone through the process are quick to share what they learned along the way. Michael Schmidt, president of Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Marshfield, said his organization directed communication strategies at patients, family and staff--with a special emphasis on supporting employee efforts to stop smoking. Schmidt also credited their success to having support from other health care providers.
"It is now more accepted for entire hospital campuses to be smoke-free, thanks to the early efforts of Wisconsin hospitals," Schmidt commented. He advised hospitals that are in the early stages of implementing tobacco-free policies to allow for extended planning timelines, foster respectful communications on the topic, and encourage employee ownership of the importance of becoming tobacco-free.
Mary Starmann-Harrison, immediate past chair of the WHA Board and regional president/CEO of SSM Health Care-Wisconsin, was instrumental in ushering the tobacco-free campus wide recommendation through the WHA Board. "Eliminating tobacco on your campus is not without its challenges," she said, based on SSM’s experience. "It takes a tremendous amount of planning and follow-through from writing the policy to providing employees, patients and visitors with alternatives to tobacco."
Starmann-Harrison said the early roadblocks to becoming tobacco-free are slowly being removed. "The first hospitals to adopt the policy met the most resistance, and Mike Schmidt is right—they helped knock down the roadblocks. ‘It can’t be done here’ was replaced with ‘why not?’ in many communities," Starmann- Harrison added. Starmann-Harrison predicts that sometime in the very near future, the public will just expect hospitals to not allow tobacco anywhere on their campuses.
According to the Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention (CTRI) at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, more Wisconsin residents die every year from disease directly caused by cigarette smoking than from AIDS, illegal drugs, alcohol, suicide and homicide combined. Smoking costs the Wisconsin economy $3 billion per year, including $1.6 billion in direct health care costs and $1.4 billion in lost worker productivity. Health insurance premiums are higher because of these expenses. There are 800,000 smokers in Wisconsin, representing 22 percent of all state residents. CTRI reports that more than 70 percent of Wisconsin smokers want to quit and 50 percent try each year.
“We treat patients every day who are suffering from an illness that was either caused by or made worse by the use of tobacco,” said Starmann-Harrison. “The dangers of both tobacco use and second hand smoke are well-documented. Hospitals must lead by example. By not permitting the use of tobacco on our campuses, we demonstrate our firm commitment to the health and safety of our employees and patients.”