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Allegheny Health Network to ban smoking on its grounds starting Jan. 1

| Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, 10:57 p.m.
Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
Chad Taylor, 30, a nurse at Forbes Regional Hospital smoke a cigarette outside of Allegheny General Hospital on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. The hospital will be instituting a smoking ban on its property beginning Jan. 1. Taylor was attending a conference at the hospital and supports the ban. 'It's a good thing,' he said. He hopes that such rules will help him quit smoking.
Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
Judy Kennedy, 54, of Forest Hills smokes a cigarette in the designated smoking area at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. The hospital will be instituting a smoking ban on its property beginning Jan. 1. Kennedy, whose daughter has been a patient in the hospital for three weeks, finds smoking to be a release from stress.

The seven hospitals of Alle­gheny Health Network will join more than 3,600 health care facilities nationwide that have moved to eliminate all smoking from their grounds, the North Side-based hospital system confirmed on Monday.

Starting on Jan. 1, no workers, visitors or patients at any AHN facility will be allowed to use any tobacco products on company property, spokesman Dan Laurent said. He said the change will toughen long-standing prohibitions on smoking inside the hospitals by nixing outdoor smoking areas, too.

“I think as a health care provider, it's important for us to project a healthy image in our community and promote healthy lifestyles. We believe this is consistent with that mission,” Laurent said.

He said the move stems from a company effort to spread best practices across the AHN system, formed and operated by Downtown-based insurer Highmark Inc. He said the policy change isn't a response to rival UPMC, the Downtown-based health care system that tightened its own smoking rules this summer.

AHN's new rules offer more wiggle room than UPMC's, allowing workers to smoke off hospital grounds during the workday. That flexibility and free smoking cessation courses provided by AHN aren't enough to calm some workers and visitors upset by the policy switch. Employees learned about it on July 17.

“Maybe I might be snapping a little more,” said Kathleen Henderson, 61, of Brighton Heights, a technician who has worked at Allegheny General for 10 years.

She's smoked longer — more than 30 years by her count — and has no plans to quit, though she expects the new rules will force her to smoke less often during work.

“Sometimes you need that break, just to come out here,” Henderson said during a smoke break on Monday. “I've got to get my body used to not wanting nicotine at certain times.”

Laurent declined to say how employees might be punished for not following the rule.

UPMC and Greensburg-based Excela Health banned all smoking on their properties in 2007. UPMC went a step further last month, when it forbade workers from smoking at any point during their shifts, including breaks taken off UPMC property.

UPMC, which employs about 62,000, said about 9.8 percent of its workers called themselves smokers as of December. That represents a drop of at least 1.4 percent from the prior year, before UPMC announced the policy.

Two AHN facilities, Jefferson Hospital in Jefferson Hills and Saint Vincent Hospital in Erie, prohibit smoking on the grounds. The ban will extend to Allegheny General Hospital in the North Side, West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield and three others. AHN employs 17,000 people.

Judy Kennedy, 54, of Forest Hills quit smoking 31 years ago but started again this summer when doctors found three tumors in her 21-year-old daughter. She started smoking to cope with the stress, sometimes venturing outside Allegheny General for 3 a.m. cigarette breaks while her daughter rests inside.

“Not being able to relieve that stress would add more stress,” Kennedy said.

Advocates for the restrictions said the changes follow evolving social norms. Surveys show more than half of hospitals nationwide have such rules, said Bronson Frick, associate director at the California-based Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights.

He said cigarette smoke infiltrating hospitals from outdoors became a problem, among other health concerns.

“Now, it's more a question of why some hospitals don't have a smoke-free policy,” Frick said.

Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or asmeltz@tribweb.com.

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