Main Line Health to stop hiring smokers

Posted: February 26, 2014

Main Line Health and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital are the latest regional employers to announce plans to stop hiring smokers.

The Main Line health system - made up of Lankenau Medical Center, Bryn Mawr Hospital, Paoli Hospital, Riddle Hospital, and Bryn Mawr Rehabilitation Hospital - on Monday said it would no longer hire users of tobacco and nicotine products, including electronic cigarettes.

Beginning May 1, job applicants must certify that they have not used such products in the previous 90 days, and will abstain during their employment. Those caught violating the policy will face disciplinary action that includes a smoking cessation program and random nicotine tests for two years.

The system's 10,000 current employees will have to certify whether they smoke. Those who haven't kicked the habit will pay a $520 annual health plan surcharge starting in 2015.

"It's part of this notion that we're a health-care organization," said Paul Yakulis, senior vice president for human resources. "As part of our mission, we want to make sure our community is healthy. One of best places to start is our own workforce."

Thomas Jefferson University Hospital had told employees that it would no longer hire smokers beginning July 1, spokeswoman Jackie Kozloski said Monday night, and decided to go public after Main Line announced its decision. Current employees will be grandfathered in.

The hospital and the Main Line system are both part of the larger Jefferson Health System, but few details about the Jefferson hospital's decision were available late Monday.

The shift toward policies that ban smokers - not just smoking - has been growing in Pennsylvania and 20 other states that allow them. New Jersey and many others do not, on the grounds that they are discriminatory. Some ethicists agree, arguing that smoking is an addiction.

Hiring bans began in the 1980s with big companies such as Turner Broadcasting and Alaska Airlines, and have expanded to police and fire departments, universities and hospitals.

Among the local converts to no-nicotine hiring in recent years: Abington Memorial Hospital, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, CTCA Eastern Regional Medical Center, Roxborough Memorial Hospital, and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, plus St. Luke's in the Lehigh Valley and Geisinger Health System in central Pennsylvania.

Like these organizations, Main Line said the change should cut health-care costs while encouraging healthier living. Yakulis estimated savings in employees' health claims of over $1 million a year.

This year Main Line also launched a wellness initiative that asks workers to voluntarily complete an online health risk and "biometric" assessment - a check of blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight. In the future, Yakulis said, employees may be offered financial incentives to do it.



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