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Walla Walla Hospitals Are Tobacco Free Campuses for Health of Staff, Patients, Public


Providence St. Mary Medical Center and Walla Walla General Hospital is tobacco free as of Jan. 1, 2011. No use of tobacco products of any kind is permitted on their campuses.

Leadership at both facilities believe that as healthcare providers, they have a responsibility to encourage and promote healthy lifestyles. They also believe the tobacco free policy is important to protecting the health of staff and visitors who do not smoke.

"We recognize that this will be difficult for some individuals, but the reality is that tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States," said Dr. Timothy Davidson, a pulmonologist and the medical director of Providence St. Mary. "In our own community, people are dying unnecessarily because of tobacco. People are getting sick. The cost in lives and in dollars is simply unacceptable."

In Walla Walla County, 10.8 percent of adults smoke cigarettes, according to a 2009 Washington State Department of Health survey. Over 9 percent of pregnant women smoke, resulting in roughly 70 babies born every year who were subjected to the effects of smoking while in the womb. Smoking is also common here among teen-agers. In a 2008 survey, 12.5 percent of 10th graders and 17.5 percent of 12th graders reported that they smoke.

The Walla Walla County Health Department estimates that tobacco use in Walla Walla County alone costs $12.4 million in healthcare and lost wages every year.

Harvey Crowder, Public Health Administrator for the Health Department, praised the hospitals' efforts to go tobacco free.

"By taking this bold step, Providence St. Mary Medical Center and Walla Walla General Hospital will improve the quality and length of life of their patients and their staff," Crowder said. "These two fine hospitals are helping our community improve quality of life for our citizens."

A majority of hospitals nationwide have instituted smoke-free or tobacco-free campuses. The Joint Commission, a national agency that accredits hospitals, estimates that nearly every hospital in the nation will have full or partial bans in the near future. A survey in late 2009 found that nearly 55 percent of hospitals had already gone smoke free or were preparing to. Another 11 percent had banned smoking except for patients under specific conditions.

The tobacco-free policies at Providence St. Mary and Walla Walla General Hospital apply to everyone who comes onto campus, including patients, visitors, staff, volunteers, vendors and physicians. Tobacco use will not be allowed anywhere on their properties, including parking lots, clinics and outbuildings. At Providence St. Mary, the policy also applies to the Billing Center at 209 W. Poplar Street and the Herring Guest House.

Providence St. Mary and Walla Walla General Hospital recognize that nicotine is a difficult addiction to overcome, and that use of tobacco is an individual choice. People who wish to smoke or dip are free to do so off of the campuses. Nicotine replacement products are available for hospitalized patients. Help with smoking cessation will be available for employees who wish to stop.

Officials at the facilities hope that individuals will take this as an opportunity to improve their health by stopping tobacco use. There are many free resources available locally, including hotlines, free smoking cessation classes and information. Health insurance plans also often cover the cost of nicotine replacement products.

"We appreciate the community's support on this issue," said Stan Ledington, DrPH, Walla Walla General Hospital director of Imaging, Rehabilitation and Wellness Services. "We would like to invite other health care providers and businesses to join us as well in this effort to improve the health of our community by going tobacco free."