UPMC keeps smoking policies

Although UPMC acquired Altoona Regional Health System recently, it will not immediately change the anti-smoking policy of its new affiliate to match that of the parent organization, according to a UPMC official.

Starting last fall, Altoona quit hiring smokers as part of a tightening of its anti-smoking policy to include a prohibition of tobacco products on its grounds.

UPMC also prohibits tobacco products on its grounds, but the organization as a whole continues to hire smokers – and will continue to do so when it begins prohibiting tobacco use throughout employee work shifts in mid-2014, according to a recent announcement.

Or maybe it won’t hire smokers – depending on the Altoona experience, according to Greg Peaslee, UPMC’s chief human resources and administrative services officer.

A smoking policy change based on the experience of a new affiliate wouldn’t be unprecedented for UPMC.

The idea for not allowing workers to smoke even off campus during their daily shifts – the change that will come in mid-2014 – came from Hamot Medical Center in Erie, which adopted that policy before it became part of UPMC in 2011, according to Peaslee.

That change was “very positively received in Erie,” he said.

No smoking during shifts helps put an end to workers coming back from breaks smelling of smoke, which generates complaints from patients and even nonsmoking employees, according to UPMC spokeswoman Gloria Kreps.

“It’s really about clean air,” Peaslee said.

The organization is still working through enforcement details on that proposed policy, but expects that on receiving a complaint or witnessing a violation, managers will “work with the employee to address the issue” – while alerting the employee to UPMC’s smoking cessation resources.

Those who violate the policy repeatedly will be subject to the organization’s “progressive discipline policy,” Kreps said.

The yearlong advance notice is in recognition of the difficulty of overcoming tobacco addiction, and the likelihood of initial failure, according to Kreps.

The post-break smoke smell problem is reminiscent of the problem caused by employees who wear too much cologne or perfume, according to Peaslee.

Management has dealt with that by making those employees aware of the effect they’re having on patients or other employees who are sensitive to those smells, according to Peaslee.

Employees who may be tempted to smoke on breaks after June 30, 2014, shouldn’t envision managers coming up to sniff them, Peaslee said.

Nor does he himself envision management in the role of school officials, as depicted in the song “Smokin’ in The Boys’ Room,” by Brownsville Station, Peaslee said.

After all, UPMC is not making “a value judgment,” he said.

It’s simply about “the best patient care,” he said.

In tightening the policy, UPMC will be joining top health systems Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic, Kreps said.

“Our mission as a health care organization is to support and promote healthy lifestyles throughout our communities,” she said. “It’s time for us to lead by example within our region.”

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.