Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Hospitals Hack Off Some Employees*

A gaggle of black robed judges, gathered together on the sidewalk outside the courthouse, each swigging from a bottle of hooch conspicuously concealed inside a brown paper bag. It’s an image that wouldn’t inspire much confidence in the proceedings that are carried out inside. The legal profession recognizes that the sight of rum-tickled barristers wouldn’t play well in the public eye. Concern with that perception probably played a role in the recent decision to suspend the license of a former judge for failing to abide by conditions placed upon his practice based on alcohol-related issues.

Now imagine a group of healthcare workers, plainly identified by their uniform of scrubs and comfortable shoes, puffing away on cigarettes outside of a hospital. Unlike the flask tipping judges, who were conjured up merely to illustrate a point, the discouraging and almost paradoxical image of healthcare professionals engaging in a highly health damaging activity is all too real. But it will soon be a thing of the past, at least in Springfield.

The SJ-R reported today on a joint decision made between St. John’s and Memorial hospitals to ban smoking anywhere on their property.

The article included several quotes from employees who will be affected by the decision. Most were none too happy. Some commented on the inevitable change in mood that will be brought about. I can only assume this means a decline in decorum and comportment by those in the throes of nicotine withdrawal. It’s baffling then that they recognize the effects of their pastime but not the dire nature of their addiction. How will the hospitals deal with those employees who can no longer muster up the tender, loving aspects of caregiving because they can no longer light-up at work?

It was surprising to see that an estimated 25 percent of the employees at the two hospitals are smokers. This figure is higher than the national average for adults, that stands at around 21 percent according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It would seem that firsthand exposure to smoking-induced ailments would have a scared straight effect and lead to a lower rate. And the very calling of their profession that requires they constantly advise against activities detrimental to health, of which smoking is near the top, has to create a level of cognitive dissonance that is just begging for resolution.

Granted, not everyone who works at the hospital is a healthcare professional. There are custodial and food service staff, among others. This was pointed out to me by a former PR flack at one of the hospitals when I mentioned, several years ago, that bands of smoke bellowing employees hovering around the premises were clouding their message of health and well-being. My response was that it can be difficult to tell a doctor from a nurse from a housekeeper when they’re all dressed in scrubs and away from their vehicles, so the perception still exists.

The flack, by the way, would be pleased by the ban.

When sounding off in response to proposed laws that would ban smoking in privately-owned locales, smoking advocates try to come across as fair and discerning by stating that such decisions are best left to the individual proprietors. Now that such a decision has been made by two of the city’s larger employers, it will be interesting to see if it is championed by those smokers as a victory for the libertarian values of self-government, or if they borrow a phrase from Charlton Heston and decree that they’ll give up their cigarettes when they are pried from their cold, dead hands.

*Get it, hack? Because they're smokers.


Dan M. said...

I once worked for a municipality that required me to sign a document that said if I ever ingested any tobacco product during my time of employment I could be fired. How's that for the boost you need to finally quit smoking? I can promise you that if I am ever in a position to make such a policy I will in a nano-second.

On a personal note. The indignation of smokers is absolutely unreal! Their belief that they are entitled to fire up whenever and wherever borders on psychotic. I can't remember what comedian said it but he made a similar analogy in response to the smokers' rights. He said that he too had a nasty habit that he just couldn't control.....spitting.

Anonymous said...

Well if the employess don't like the new polict then they have 2 choices...1. quit smoking or 2. quit their job. I would hope most would choose to stop smoking but some are too stubborn and stupid to make the wise decision.