Hospital Hiring Goes Up In Smoke

We all have some bad habits that we would like to kick-maybe you drink a little too much at happy hour, or maybe you smoke socially at parties, or maybe your biggest vice is supermarket tabloids. Regardless of what your detrimental downfall is, did you ever think it would affect your job status, or your ability to secure a job? If you haven't, then you have to think again.

Starting on February 1st, 2010, Memorial Hospital of Chattanooga, TN will only hire non-smokers. Applicants who apply for employment at the hospital will be tested for nicotine use, and even the use of the patch or nicotine gum could make an employee ineligible for hire at this hospital, or cause the hospital to rescind an offer already extended if the potential employee tests positive for nicotine.

Smokers Not Welcome

According to hospital personnel, this new initiative is an attempt to set a good, healthy example for the community in which the hospital is based, and current employees are said to not be affected by this new job screening tactic, but if current employees would like to utilize smoking cessation help, the hospital will provide it. Memorial's VP of Advocacy & Healthy Communities Howard Roddy says, "about 5 years ago Memorial became the first tobacco- free campus hospital in Chattanooga. Subsequently, now all the hospitals have tobacco- free campuses." Clearly Memorial wants to lead the charge to change the trend of having smoke-free workplaces and so far they are doing a pretty good job of setting a replicable example.

Saving money on health care costs is not the issue here, it is about setting a good example and being the model for a good healthy lifestyle. As Brad Pope, Vice President of Human resources at Memorial Hospital, said, "I understand the concerns people have, but we are here for the health of our community. Like it or not, what's proven is that tobacco is the most preventable cause of death and disability in the United States. I think the Chattanooga and surrounding communities should expect this from Memorial."

Employees Weigh In

Some health care workers were impressed by this initiative and think that it is a good thing for a hospital to do. Dr. Carlos Baleeiro, with Battlefield Pulmonology in Fort Oglethorpe, GA, said the refusal by hospitals to hire tobacco users isn't yet widespread, especially in tobacco producing states, "it's very brave of them." "I'm quite impressed by Memorial," said Baleeiro.

Others were not as impressed by Memorial's new hiring practice, calling it discriminatory, and none of the hospital's business, raising more questions about where you draw the lines when it comes to hiring staff. If it is acceptable to only hire non-smokers, is it also acceptable to only hire people who are not overweight or who do not have children? What if someone has a junk food habit, or diabetes, do you not hire them because those unhealthy habits affect their performance as workers? That does not seem fair or logical at all. While educating employees about living a healthy lifestyle is acceptable, putting limitations on the hospital's hiring practice seems a little outrageous and not the smoking gun for screening employees that the hospital thinks it is.

The Future of Smokers In the Workplace

Memorial Hospital is owned and operated by Catholic Health Initiatives, a faith-based national nonprofit system that operates 75 hospitals, 40 assisted and residential- living and long-tern care facilities across 19 states. With annual revenues in excess of $8 billion, Catholic Health Initiatives ranks as the second-largest Catholic health care system in the U.S., and if this new hiring tactic is successfully implemented in one hospital there is no way of knowing how many other hospitals in the Catholic health care system will follow suit.

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