News and Information

February 11, 2011

Franciscan Begins Nicotine-Free Hiring Policy March 1

Franciscan Health System, one of the largest private employers in the South Puget Sound region with hospitals and medical clinics in Pierce, King and Kitsap counties, announced today that it is implementing a nicotine-free hiring policy starting March 1, 2011.

Nicotine is an addictive drug in cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products.

“Our mission calls us to create healthier communities,” said Franciscan Chief Operating Officer Cliff Robertson, MD. “As part of fulfilling our mission, we are creating a culture within our employee community that encourages good health and supports well-being. We cannot in good conscience simultaneously be a champion for healthy communities and continue to hire people who smoke and use tobacco products.”

Franciscan Health System is the first member of the Washington State Hospital Association to make nicotine-free a condition for employment. A positive test for nicotine will eliminate potential job candidates from consideration. They may be encouraged to reapply in six months.

“I applaud Franciscan Health System for taking this important step to protect the health of its employees and patients,” said Anthony Chen, MD, MPH, director of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. “By causing cancer, heart disease, stroke and lung disease, smoking is the No. 1 cause of death. Second-hand smoke causes all the same health problems and even the residual smoke on clothing, hair, carpeting and furniture can cause asthma attacks and ear infections in children.

“I encourage other organizations and businesses to follow Franciscan Health System’s lead in creating a smoke-free workplace and providing resources for employees who want to quit smoking,” Dr. Chen added.

Implementing a nicotine-clean hiring policy is just the latest step that Franciscan has taken to promote the health of its employees and to help them, and the self-insured organization, control their health-care costs. Other initiatives include:

  • Franciscan and Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI), the national organization that Franciscan is a part of, support robust print and electronic resources that provide employees with free, valuable information regarding preventive care, disease management and other essentials necessary for physical, mental and spiritual well-being. This program is CHI Healthy Spirit.

  • Earlier this month, Franciscan introduced a service for its benefit-eligible employees and their eligible dependents that enables them to use a phone or web cam to access medical advice and treatment for minor illnesses and injuries, rather than incur the cost of going to a doctor’s office or hospital emergency department. Called Franciscan Anytime, this innovative service connects employees with board-certified family medicine physicians and advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNP) who address a range of health concerns. Phone consultations are fully covered by Franciscan employees’ medical insurance. Their co-pays for Franciscan Anytime webcam consultations and house calls are only a fraction of co-pay amounts for conventional medical visits.

  • The Breathe program provides a step-by-step guide to help Franciscan employees stop smoking. The plan, sponsored by Franciscan’s health-and-wellness partner, Carewise, supports staff members who are giving up tobacco products, managing withdrawal symptoms, coping with cravings, and overcoming relapses.

  • Franciscan provides free and reduced-cost cessation medicines for its employees who quit tobacco.

  • For nearly 20 years, Franciscan has been a leader in helping men and women to quit using tobacco products. Its Freedom from Tobacco program was established in 1992 by Tacoma neurologist Patrick Hogan, MD, who remains medical advisor to the program. This free weekly support group has helped thousands of people in the community, including many Franciscan employees, to stop using tobacco.

  • Franciscan has prohibited smoking and the use of all tobacco products inside its hospitals, clinics and other care facilities, as well on Franciscan-owned property outside those facilities, since 2006.

For several years, Franciscan has conducted mandatory post-job offer/pre-employment drug testing for all new hires. Starting March 1, nicotine will be added to substances looked for in this urine test. The test will pick up tobacco use from cigarettes, cigars, chew tobacco, nicotine patches and heavy second-hand smoke. Only job applicants who pass will be considered for employment.

“Not only are cigarettes bad for your health, they drive up costs for employers like Franciscan,” said Dave Lawson, vice president for human resources. “A typical employee that smokes costs his or her employer an additional $4,000 a year or more in increased medical costs and lost productivity.

“Smoking is not illegal but it is clearly dangerous and potentially deadly behavior,” he added. “We will not continue to hire people whose choice to use tobacco products hurts them and costs us more than those who do not. As good stewards of our resources, we must control costs and eliminate unnecessary spending.”

Franciscan is a self-insured organization, which means that employees, through premiums and co-insurance, and the organization pay the costs of health care services provided to employees and their covered dependents.

Individuals hired at Franciscan before March 1 will not be affected by its nicotine-clean hiring policy unless they leave the organization and later apply for re-employment.

“Our current employees will not be required to become nicotine-free as a condition of their employment,” Lawson said. “Still, we hope all individuals who smoke would stop for their health’s sake.”

Based on recent Washington State Department of Health data that shows 14.8 percent of adults in the state are smokers, Franciscan estimates that approximately 1,200 of its 8,100 employees do smoke at least occasionally. Franciscan Health System includes St. Joseph Medical Center, Tacoma; St. Francis Hospital, Federal Way; St. Clare Hospital, Lakewood; St. Elizabeth Hospital, Enumclaw; St. Anthony Hospital, Gig Harbor; and Franciscan Medical Group clinics throughout Pierce, South King and South Kitsap counties.

“Congratulations to Franciscan Health System for taking an important stand on the health of their employees, patients and visitors,” said Washington State Secretary of Health Mary Selecky. “Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the nation, and an addiction that is very hard to break. Health care providers and the public health system are key partners in the work to help adults quit smoking, and encourage kids to never start.” Franciscan joins a growing list of organizations that have embraced nicotine-clean hiring policies. Others include the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department; Cleveland Clinic in Ohio; Summa Health Systems, Akron, Ohio; Truman Medical Center, Kansas City, Mo.; Saint Francis Medical Center, Cape Girardeau, Mo.; St. Luke’s Hospital & Health Network, which has hospitals in several Pennsylvania cities; and Memorial Healthcare System, Chattanooga, Tenn. Like Franciscan, Memorial Healthcare is affiliated with Denver-based Catholic Health Initiatives, one of the largest non-profit health systems in the nation.

Cigarettes and other tobacco products are proven health hazards, linked to fatal conditions such as emphysema, lung cancer and heart disease. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer and that smoking tobacco is the major risk factor for lung cancer. A 1988 report by the U.S. Surgeon General concluded that cigarettes and other forms of tobacco are addicting and that nicotine is a drug that causes this addiction.

“I applaud the Franciscan organization for taking steps to champion a healthy workplace and healthy living,” said Rick Allen, president of United Way of Pierce County. “It seems to me their position on smoking makes perfect sense, given their vital role in our community as a highly visible health institution.”

United Way is planning its own initiative designed to discourage teenagers and younger children from smoking and to provide help for those who want to kick the habit.

“Our own Health Impact Team, composed of citizen volunteers, has analyzed the impacts of smoking,” Allen added. “Our research confirmed that smoking creates a huge cost right here in Pierce County in terms of illness and lives lost, and a huge cost in terms of business costs and health insurance costs to individuals. For that reason, the United Way Board of Directors has made decreasing smoking one of our health priorities. We will join with others to help create strategies to reduce smoking among youths.”

News Media Contact:

P: 253-382-3858