Hospital goes tobacco free |

Hospital goes tobacco free

New policy at Yampa Valley Medical Center takes effect today

Ramsey Bernard

— If your New Year's resolution is to quit smoking, you will get some extra help should you end up at the hospital.

As of today, the Yampa Valley Medical Center campus in Steamboat Springs is tobacco free, meaning tobacco use is prohibited on the property of the hospital, the Doak Walker Care Center, the GrandKids Child Care Center and the Medical Office Building. The ban includes smokeless tobacco and prohibits tobacco use anywhere on the campus, including in parking lots and private vehicles.

Karl Gills, the hospital's CEO, said the tobacco ban is intended to "encourage positive health behaviors" and thereby foster a healthier community. The policy changes have been in the works "for some time," hospital spokeswoman Christine McKelvie said.

"Enough momentum gathered that we decided to go ahead" and use the first day of the new decade as a "new beginning," she said.

Hospital employees will directly communicate the new policy to admitted patients. Inter­­ior signs that have been up since October and exterior signs erected Thursday also serve to advertise the policy to hospital patients and visitors.

"If anyone is seen using tobacco, we will ask them to comply with the policy," McKelvie said. Enforcement will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Recommended Stories For You

The hospital also will provide tobacco dependence treatment to smokers having a tough time adjusting to the new policy. For patients, that treatment will be determined by the hospital's health care team on an individual basis, YVMC Wellness and Community Education Di­­rector Lisa Bankard said. Po­­tential assistance includes nicotine counseling, over-the-counter drugs such as nicotine gum and patches, and prescription medication.

For employees, the hospital offers free counseling, gum and patches until May 1. Hospital employees also are provided a $250 benefit to help pay for prescription nicotine medication.

The new policy exemplifies on a local level the larger-scale movement in America to make tobacco use less mainstream by restricting where it can be consumed. YVMC is the 46th Colo­­rado hospital to establish a tobacco-free policy. Craig's The Mem­orial Hospital will implement its tobacco-free policy Jan. 20.

Hospitals are not the only campuses deciding in droves to go smoke free. More than 380 colleges across the nation have banned smoking everywhere on campus, including on sidewalks and other outdoor areas, according to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation.

Smoking remains the No. 1 cause of preventable death and disability in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 2007-08 Colorado Department of Public Health and Environ­ment survey indicates that about 13 percent of adults in Routt County smoke.

Local hospital officials said some members of the Steam­boat community already have applauded the new policy. McKelvie cited one letter in which a resident reflected on earlier times at other hospitals when he found it "very upsetting" to see crowds of people standing around smoking.

But not everyone is supportive.

The ban "is ridiculous, actually," said Lisa Fender, vice president of the Coalition for Equal Rights, a Denver-based group that formed in 2006 to fight the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act. "First of all, you're breathing pollution outside all the time. … It's absolutely not right, and it's discriminatory towards smokers."

Brandon Jensen, an employee at Smoker Friendly in Steam­boat Springs, said he understands a tobacco ban that applies to hospital grounds, but "if you're in your car, that's another thing."

McKelvie said the hospital's intent is simple.

"While we have focused quite a lot on communication and preparing for what we know may be difficult for some people, we don't want to lose sight of the fact that we are celebrating good health," she said. "We are a health care organization and this is simply a very healthy step we are taking."

Ramsey Bernard is a 2008 Steamboat Springs High School graduate and a sophomore at Pomona College in California.