Pittsburgh Mercy Health System on Sunday became the latest health care provider in the Pittsburgh area to go tobacco-free.
The ban covers nearly every tobacco- and vapor-based product available, from cigarettes to snus to e-cigarettes, and affects not only patients, but employees, even when they are on designated work breaks.
“The word ‘health’ being very important to us, we needed to be concerned about the people we serve and their families, but also the people who work for us and their families,” said Mark Rogalsky, manager of prevention services for the health system. “It goes along with our drug-free workplace policy.”
There are about 1,700 employees at the health system, which doesn’t have an acute-care hospital, but offers physical and mental health care to adults and children. Mercy hospital, Uptown, is part of UPMC.
Pittsburgh Mercy is preceded by Allegheny Health Network, which with its seven hospitals went smoke-free Jan. 1.
“Their policy applies to the individual; our policy applies to the campus,” said Reese Jackson, CEO of Forbes Hospital and administrative head of AHN’s smoke-free program.
AHN employees could theoretically leave campus to smoke, but separate policies covering dress code prohibit them from returning to work with clothes that smell like smoke, and many neighboring properties also are smoke-free, Jackson said.
AHN employees or their dependents who are covered by the company’s health plan can get nicotine-replacement products such as nicotine gum or lozenges for free if prescribed by their doctor, he said, and those products are allowed on the grounds if patients or visitors need them.
“We try to be mindful of the addiction that nicotine can be,” Jackson said.
UPMC went smoke-free in 2007 on its grounds and adjusted its policy to include employees using tobacco on breaks last summer.
The policy appears to have affected the number of smokers on UPMC campuses, said Gloria Kreps, UPMC spokeswoman. In December 2012, 11.2 percent of employees said they smoke. In 2013, the number was 9.8 percent.
Kreps said UPMC hires smokers and asks that they comply with the policy. They offer help quitting, with nicotine replacements, online information, text messaging tips and in-person assistance.
UPMC employees had about one year to prepare for the shift to a tobacco-free policy, Kreps said.
Rogalsky said the complete ban follows up on steps in 2012 to take a Pittsburgh Mercy Health System residential behavioral health facility smoke-free for patients.
At the time, he said, the patients were arriving out of acute-care settings where they hadn’t been allowed to smoke.
“We were carrying over the same thing,” he said.
The health system will offer smoking-cessation services to any of its employees who smoke and still will hire smokers, Rogalsky said. The health system is not just worried about people’s exposure to first- and second-hand smoke, but third-hand smoke — the residues that are left on hands and clothing after tobacco use.
He stresses the economic benefits to those who say they want to quit.
“One employee saved enough money over eight months to put a down payment on a car,” he said.
Staff writer Matthew Santoni contributed to this story. Megha Satyanarayana is a staff writer at Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7991 or [email protected].