Hospitals Deliver Mixed Messages on Wellness

Anna Webster, June 22, 2011

A couple weeks ago, my colleagues and I were discussing how healthcare, ironically, appears to be one of the unhealthiest industries in the country. When perusing hospital websites, I can't help but notice in many bio photos, nurses or physicians are overweight.

Are healthcare workers really practicing what they preach in terms of wellness? The doctor's office has come a long way from the days when physicians used to puff cigarettes while diagnosing patients. Now smokers are shooed outside hospital walls for their nicotine fixes and more hospitals are putting hiring bans on those who smoke.

Next month, SSM Health Care hospitals are launching a tobacco-free hiring policy in order to set a better example for patients. If an applicant admits to using tobacco on the job application, they are eliminated from the hiring pool.

The reason is clear: Each smoker costs a company an additional $3,400 annually in health care costs and lost productivity, according to the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"As an organization that provides healthcare, we want to encourage our employees to take better care of themselves and set good examples for our patients," said Chris Sutton, SSM spokesman.

The SSM hospitals are eliminating what many think as hypocritical – doctors who can't or refuse to follow their own advice. From the marketing perspective, hospitals and their employees should be united on wellness promotion. But banning smokers opens a can of worms…what's next, a ban on hiring obese docs?

I chatted with a former morbidly obese doctor last week about whether physicians have a responsibility to be healthy role models for their patients. Nick Yphantides, MD, Chief Medical Officer for San Diego County, used to straddle two scales to weigh his 467 lb body. He was a candidate for seven different chronic disease medications, had high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high risk for many other conditions as a result of his weight.

Anna Webster Questions? Comments? Story ideas? Anna Webster, Online Content Coordinator for HealthLeaders Media, can be reached at
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