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St. Luke's will reject applicants
testing positive for nicotine
By KENT JACKSON (Staff Writer)
The Standard Speaker - Hazelton, Pennsylvania
Published: April 1, 2010
A health system that runs hospitals in Coaldale and the Lehigh Valley set a requirement for new employees: They can't smoke.
St. Luke's Hospital and Health Network will reject job applicants who test positive for nicotine.
The new standard starts May 1 for all outlets of St. Luke's, which employs 7,000 at hospitals in Coaldale, Allentown, Bethlehem and Quakertown, at urgent care centers in Jim Thorpe and Bethlehem, and at other clinics including one opening in McAdoo.
By declining to hire smokers, St. Luke's sends a message about the negative effects that smoking has on health. The health system also might save money later on insurance and sick time if workers avoid diseases such as lung cancer and emphysema that are common to smokers.
"Our organization feels strongly that promoting a healthier workplace benefits everyone," Bob Zimmel, senior vice president of human resources at St. Luke's, said in a statement that the health system issued.
Zimmel wasn't available on Wednesday to discuss how applicants will be tested, how long the test will detect nicotine after an applicant smokes a cigarette, or whether secondhand smoke can lead to a positive test.
St. Luke's will offer applicants information about how to stop smoking and allow them to reapply for jobs in six months.
Current employees aren't affected by the requirement.
Other hospitals, such as the Cleveland Clinic, won't hire smokers, and Pennsylvania is among 20 states that allow employers to follow no-nicotine hiring policies, according to the statement from St. Luke's.
At Hazleton General Hospital, which banned smoking on its campus on Jan. 1, 2008, Chief Executive Officer James Edwards said he hasn't studied a hiring rule like St. Luke's will follow.
"Hospitals have to provide leadership as far as wellness goes," said Edwards, who added: "I'm not here to be Big Brother to dictate how you live your life."
Hazleton General offers incentives to workers to stay healthy such as reimbursing them for membership at the hospital's fitness center if they work out a number of times each year. Edwards said smoking can have a devastating effect on health, and helping employees stop smoking can save money for the hospital.
"But it goes farther than that. These are people you work with every day. You want to see these people be healthy," he said.
Locally, Hazleton General is among the largest employers along with the Hazleton Area School District, where a board member saw less reason to avoid hiring smokers.
"I would love to see everybody nicotine-free, but I'm not sure that is so relevant in terms of a school district. I would like to have teachers demonstrate excellent techniques of teaching and learning and enthusiasm for academic excellence," Dr. Robert Childs said.
He wishes the district would better enforce a rule against smoking within 50 yards of a school by faculty or students.
A medical doctor, Childs pointed out that health care workers often advise patients not to smoke.
"Health institutions should be demonstrating to the patients that what they do to their so-called clients is also practiced by the hospital," he said.