Beginning today, Mountain States Health Alliance will no longer hire people who use tobacco products.
The new policy will see that each applicant is tested for nicotine as part of the pre-employment screening. If evidence of tobacco use is found, the applicant will be deferred for six months before they are able to apply again.
Officials with the health care system hope applicants will take that time to seek tobacco cessation aids.
“The reason behind this is as health care providers we see every single day the devastating effects of tobacco use on people’s health and we believe that it’s our responsibility to set an example to promote a healthy lifestyle and promote a healthy work force,” Mountain States Communications Manager Teresa Hicks said. “This is our way of demonstrating that tobacco use has no place in the healthy lifestyle. We believe health care workers should be held to a higher standard in order to set an example for healthy behaviors.”
Another reason behind the new policy is a patient satisfaction measure, Hicks said.
In the past, patients and family members have complained about employees smelling like smoke.
“Health care workers are constantly in close contact with people who have very fragile health conditions and individuals might be particularly sensitive to tobacco smoke,” she said.
The policy will not affect current Mountain States employees who use tobacco products. Hicks said it only pertains to new hires.
“That being said, we do encourage all team members to be tobacco-free and we offer a number of tools to help them quit, including free classes and reimbursement for smoking-cessation aids, so we want to offer them the opportunity to make that healthy choice,” Hicks said.
Mountain States offers incentives to current employees who are tobacco-free that count toward the system’s overall wellness program, which allows employees to take advantage of discounts on health insurance premiums.
Response to the new policy has been mixed from people outside the system, but Hicks said most people have been supportive of the organization’s efforts to promote healthy lifestyles.
Tobacco users are not a protected class under federal laws, Hicks said.
“Tobacco use is not protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and it is truly one of the most detrimental things that a person can do as far as their health is concerned. It impacts every single organ and system in the body,” she said.
With its new policy, MSHA joins a number of other health care systems across the country that have similar policies, including Memorial Health Care System in Chattanooga, Henry Ford Health System in Michigan, Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania, the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and Baylor Health Care System in Texas.
In a statement from Wellmont Health System, officials said the organization does not have plans to implement a policy of not hiring tobacco users, but they encourage employees to make healthy choices.
“That includes offering tobacco cessation classes for employees and charging higher insurance premiums for those who use these products, among other things,” the statement read. “Wellmont places a great deal of value on wellness, both in our employee population and in the communities we serve. ... We will continue to explore and implement wellness initiatives that make our region not only a great place to live, but a great place to live well.”