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Nurses Debate Whether Hospital Shouldn't Hire Smokers

Sarah Kearns, for HealthLeaders Media, January 27, 2010

Smokers may not want to apply to work for Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga, TN. As part of a new hiring policy listed on the hospital's Web site, beginning February 1, the hospital will no longer hire employees who smoke or test positive for nicotine.

Prior to being hired, employees will undergo a drug test and the facility will add nicotine to the list of drugs. Even nicotine coming from a patch or gum would be detected in the screening. The new hiring process will not affect current smokers at Memorial Hospital. Instead, Memorial Hospital will offer smoking cessation help to those employees who smoke.

John Brady, an OR nurse, agrees the hospital's move is a step in the right direction.

"I think that it is about time that the healthcare industry takes a stand such as this," says Brady. "I am an ex-smoker. Instead of complaining about the negative effects of smoking and second-hand smoke, let us take responsibility for our actions and enforce what we believe is good for the people that work for hospitals and their patients."

Not everyone agrees with Memorial Hospital though; nurses from other facilities are speaking out.

"I would be interested in viewing the officials at Memorial Hospital and noting whether they have normal BMI's or not," says Tonya J. Barrere. “Let's go a step further, scrutinize their exercise regime, and evaluate their blood for elevated cholesterol/triglyceride levels. One could even argue that other moral choices could be challenged for review—such as how much alcohol is consumed weekly by the staff?"

Officials at Memorial Hospital believe hospitals need to set a healthy example for the community, and think not hiring smokers is a step in the right direction. Karen Chavez, RN, BSN, an infection control/quality assurance nurse for the Good-Samaritan Society of Socorro (NM), feels differently.

"Smokers take far more breaks then non-smokers. I have worked in smoke-free hospitals where the staff had to leave hospital property to smoke, which took even more time away from their patients," says Chavez. "Having said all that, I don't believe the hospital or any other company has a right to tell you what you can or cannot do on your own time."

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