Centra Implements New Tobacco and Nicotine-Free Hiring Policy

Issue: March 2012 by in Healthcare, Inside The Magazine

Whether or not you use tobacco products may now determine whether you can be employed by Centra, the largest healthcare system in Central and Southside Virginia. Centra has been a tobacco and nicotine-free workplace since May 2007, when it banned the use and sale of tobacco and nicotine products on all Centra properties. Now, Centra has begun a policy, implemented March 1, to not hire users of tobacco and nicotine.

Jan Walker, Centra Vice President of Human Resources, says the decision was made with the health of Centra employees in mind.

“As part of its mission to build healthier communities, Centra recognizes the importance of its staff’s health and well-being and its responsibility to maintain a culture of wellness for its staff, volunteers, patients and visitors,” Walker said. “The health risks and related costs associated with tobacco and nicotine use have caused Centra to focus on this initiative.”

Centra is one of a growing number of healthcare systems that are banning tobacco and nicotine use by their staff. Walker says the new policy is designed to result in a healthier workforce and to contain the costs of providing healthcare benefits to its employees and their dependents.

“Nicotine-free hiring is the latest in a national trend among businesses, with hospitals and healthcare systems leading the way in Virginia and other states,” Walker explained. “Centra joins other healthcare leaders, including the Cleveland Clinic, Humana and Bon Secours, in promoting a healthy lifestyle and reducing healthcare costs with its tobacco and nicotine-free hospital campuses and affiliated properties.”

Centra employees who currently smoke will not be affected by the new policy. However, they are being encouraged to end their use of tobacco and nicotine products, and free classes are offered to help them kick the habit.

“Centra pays for the first six weeks supply of nicotine replacement therapy for employees with reduced co-payments for continuing therapy,” Walker said.

The first several visits for confidential addiction counseling are also available at no cost to all employees through Employee Assistance of Central Virginia.

According to the American Heart Association, smoking is linked to lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and other chronic lung diseases and is the most preventable cause of death in the United States. Smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke causes 443,000 premature deaths and costs the nation $193 billion in health bills and lost productivity annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Secondhand smoke alone is responsible for an estimated 3,000 lung cancer deaths among U.S. nonsmokers each year and smokeless tobacco is linked to cancers of the esophagus, larynx and stomach.

As a result of widespread information regarding the health risks of smoking as well as thousands of smoke-free workplaces, the number of smokers is declining nationwide. The CDC reports that 19.3 percent of U.S. adults smoked last year, down from 42.4 percent in 1965.

To aid in the declining trend of tobacco and nicotine use, Centra’s Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program offers a six-week Be Tobacco Free clinic for employees and community residents who are seriously considering a tobacco-free life. Be Tobacco Free captures both smoking and chewing tobacco. A free hour-long Be Tobacco Free class also is offered the second Thursday of each month from 1 to 2 p.m. at The Cardiovascular Group in Lynchburg. The class covers quitting options, why people use tobacco, triggers and coping techniques, getting support, nicotine replacement therapy, withdrawal symptoms and other healthy choices. To register for the one-hour class or the six-week series, call (434) 200-3812 and leave a message.

For more information about Centra’s new tobacco and nicotine-free hiring policy, visit www.centrahealth.com.

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