3 Local Hospitals Unite on Going Tobacco-free



Three local hospitals announced yesterday the facilities will go tobacco-free the first of next year.

Williamson ARH (Appalachian Regional Healthcare) Hospital, Williamson Memorial Hospital and Logan Regional Medical Center will join other local healthcare facilities Jan. 1, 2010 in prohibiting tobacco use of any kind inside or outside hospital property.

The health-oriented move will include the elimination of designated areas outside the three hospitals where employees, patients and visitors are currently permitted to use tobacco products, hospital officials reported.

“As healthcare organizations, we are committed to the health and safety of our employees and patients,” said Williamson ARH Community CEO Tim Hatfield. “We believe that we have a responsibility to take a leadership role on this major health issue, and establishing our entire campus as tobacco-free firmly supports that belief.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), each year approximately 440,000 Americans, nearly 8,000 of whom are Kentuckians, die from diseases caused by smoking. The state has the highest smoking rate in the United States at 29 percent, compared with the national average of 21 percent. Kentucky’s incidence and death rates for cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and other cancer-related diseases far exceed the national averages.

Direct healthcare costs of smoking in West Virginia are currently estimated by the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health at over $1 billion per year. Tobacco use is the number one cause of all cancers and emphysema, and is a leading preventable cause of heart disease and stroke. Among pregnant women, tobacco use is a major contributor to low birth weight and premature delivery. West Virginia has the highest smoking rate among pregnant women in the country, 26.8 percent, which is more than double the U.S. rate of 10.2 percent.

The US Surgeon General has confirmed that exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke is a serious health hazard and that there is no risk-free level of exposure. Tobacco use in and around hospitals poses health and safety risks for patients, employees and visitors.

“Our hospitals have a long tradition of providing outstanding care to the communities we serve”, says Logan Regional Medical Center CEO Kevin Fowler. “Reducing the harmful effects of smoking has lead to our decision for establishing smoke free campuses. This plan reinforces our mission of supporting quality healthcare to the entire region.”

“Williamson Memorial, Logan Regional and Williamson ARH hospitals’ decision to go tobacco-free is not an attempt to force anyone to quit using tobacco products,” said Williamson Memorial Hospital CEO Todd Huber. “Rather, the tobacco-free initiative is a concrete way to demonstrate our ongoing commitment to healthy living.”

Williamson ARH, in South Williamson,will join other local Kentucky hospitals which are already tobacco-free. Pikeville Medical Center went tobacco-free Jan. 1, 2008, inviting the community to a New Year’s Eve function to celebrate the event. Highlands Regional Medical Center, in Prestonsburg, Ky., went smoke free later that year on Nov. 20, 2008, the day of the Great American Smokeout. Also that day, several health care providers in the Lexington area and surrounding communities announced participation in the Kentucky Hospital Association’s Tobacco-free Healthcare Collaborative with plans to go tobacco-free.

The West Virginia Hospital Association (WVHA) has an initiative with which the organization offers hospitals assistance in adopting tobacco-free campuses. Also, WVHA President & CEO Joseph M. Letnaunchyn says, “Thanks to a grant from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Division of Tobacco Prevention, the Association is able to offer “mini-grants” to hospitals in support of their efforts.”

Of West Virginia’s 55 counties, 54 have instituted some type of clean indoor air regulation, several of which establish restaurants, worksites, and bars as 100 percent smoke-free, WVHA reports.

“Hospitals across the country are establishing tobacco-free campuses to save lives and money and to create healthier worksites, communities and states,” WVHA officials say. “Tobacco-free campuses protect and promote the health of staff, inpatients and outpatients, decrease smoking-related employee costs, strengthen the image of hospitals as healthcare leaders, and supports other tobacco-free initiatives within the community. While spit tobacco doesn’t create a second- hand smoke danger, it does present an unhealthy image of hospitals.”