Geisinger Health Systems will no longer hire doctors, nurses or any job applicants who smoke cigarettes, chew tobacco or use any nicotine products.A number of health care providers across the country have adopted similar policies in recent years, but Geisinger is the largest one in Pennsylvania to do so.
Hospital officials said the goal is to encourage healthier living, decrease absenteeism and reduce health care costs in the long term.“We’re hoping our applicants look at this in the same way we’re looking at it. This is really for a healthy environment for both our employees and our patient populations,” Lynn Miller, the executive vice president for clinical operations at Geisinger, said during a conference call, following
Wednesday’s announcement.Job candidates will undergo testing as part of a routine drug screening.The tests typically detect any nicotine consumed within three to four weeks, said Teri Kreitzer, director of human resources at St. Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau, Mo., which has had a similar policy since January 2011. The test is designed not to detect second-hand smoke.Geisinger’s policy will take effect Feb. 1, and officials said that while the policy will prevent smokers from getting a job in Geisinger, it won’t cause any of them to lose their jobs.That will be true forcurrent employees — and also for any employees who are tobacco-free when hired but start smoking later.“We do not, at this point, have any plans to randomly test future employees,” said Amy Brayford, vice president of human resources at Geisinger.But she said that starting in 2013, Geisinger plans to change its employee health care plan so that smokers will likely pay more for premiums than nonsmokers.“One of the things our employees have asked for over the … past years is, ‘How do we reward healthy employees?’ ” said Miller.Geisinger is based in Danville. It serves about 2.6 million patients throughout central and northeastern Pennsylvania.It’s one of the top 15 employers in Centre County, with about 365 full-time employees and about 70 part-time employees. It has clinics in Bellefonte, Scenery Park, Grays Woods, State College and Philipsburg.Officials at Mount Nittany Medical Center,
Centre County’s largest health care provider, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.Statewide, Geisinger has about 15,000 employees. Officials there said Pennsylvania is one of 20 states where non-nicotine hiring policies are legal.Other hospitals have implemented similar policies in recent years.The Cleveland Clinic, considered one of the top hospitals in the country, implemented a no-tobacco policy for new employees starting in
September 2007. Anyone who failed the test could reapply for a job after 90 days.Anna Jaques Hospital in Newburyport, Mass., implemented a similar policy in November 2010, telling employees who failed the urine-based test they could reapply in six months. Bon Secours Virginia Health System did the same in November 2011.Those hospitals don’t test all applicants — only those who receive job offers. That’s Geisinger’s plan, too.Before making the change, Geisinger officials discussed it with two other Pennsylvania health systems that implemented similar policies: St. Luke’s Hospital and
Health Network in the Lehigh Valley and Susquehanna Health System in the Williamsport area.“What we heard was it did not have a dramatic impact on the number of applicants, that overwhelmingly employees supported it, and the excitement died down after implementation,” Brayford said.Geisinger had about 22,630 unique applicants in 2011 and hired about 2,840 workers.Colleen Albright, the administrative director of human resources for Susquehanna
Health System, said in an email that the nicotine test costs less than $1 per person, and that fewer than five applicants have tested positive since the system’s policy took effect in January 2011.The St. Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau, Mo., has also had few applicants test positive for nicotine.“We’re very clear in the application about what our process is, and most people are honest,” Kreitzer said.
By Ed Mahon