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Paynesville Press - October 3, 2001

PAHCS opts for smoke-free campus

By Michael Jacobson

The campus of the Paynesville Area Health Care System, except for long-term care residents, became smoke-free as of Monday, Oct. 1.

The hospital district board voted to make the campus smoke-free at their meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 26.

The board had directed the administration to make the campus smoke-free in April 1999, but that had never been implemented. Employees, visitors, residents, and patients had been allowed to smoke in a designated smoking room and outside.

With the remodeling at Koronis Manor, the smoking room has not been used for a few weeks, making it an opportune time for the board to readdress this policy, said administrator Willie LaCroix.

LaCroix expressed mixed feelings about a complete ban and brought it back to the board because of pressure from the staff for a ban.

Since the administration will now enforce a smoke-free policy, employees, visitors, and hospital patients will not be able to smoke in the room when it reopens. Nor will they be able to smoke on the grounds or in the parking lot of the four-block PAHCS campus.

Only live-in residents at the Koronis Manor and 700 Stearns Place will be able to smoke in designated areas. Manor residents will be able to smoke in the smoking room and on the patio. Residents of 700 Stearns are allowed to smoke in their individual apartments but not in any public places.

"We have some people in-house who smoke. Whether it's right or wrong, they've been doing it their whole life. I don't want to tell them to stop now," said LaCroix.

"We say nursing homes are supposed to be like home. If this patient were at home, he'd be able to smoke," agreed Dr. Bob Gardner, who as chief of staff serves on the hospital board.

PAHCS could not stop residents from smoking because of their resident rights, said patient care administrator Bev Mueller.

Smoking is banned by Medicare regulations in all hospitals, but hospital patients used to be able to go to the smoking room in the Manor to smoke. They will not any longer.

The biggest influence, though, will be on the smoking members of the PAHCS staff. The administration gave the board an estimate of 30 employees who work at the main campus who smoke.

Gardner pointed out that going smoke-free would have mixed public relations impact because employees would be forced to cross the street and smoke on sidewalks across from the campus. Gardner said he has seen health care staff lined up to smoke across the street at other smoke-free hospitals and smoking there was more visible than at designated areas in secluded spots.

Board members acknowledged that the ban would be unpopular among employees who smoke and that it would be painful to enforce, but felt it was a worthwhile step to take. "When I look at all the other organizations that have gone smoke-free, I think a health-care facility should be, too," said board member Vicki Ruegemer.

The motion passed 12-1 with board member Don Anderson, who smokes, voting against it. "Good luck," he said about enforcing the policy.

PAHCS will treat violations to the policy like any disciplinary action. Per policy in the employee manual, employees will receive a written warning for the first offense, a three-day suspension for the second, and will face discharge for the third.

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