Starting Feb. 1, 2012, Geisinger Medical Center stopped hiring job applicants who use tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars and chewing or smokeless tobacco.
Geisinger Medical Center, located in Danville, Pa., provides care to over two million residents in 38 counties of central and northeastern Pennsylvania. It was recently named one of the Top 100 Hospitals in the country and has been designated a magnet hospital by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Its physicians have been listed in The Best Doctors in America.
The Geisinger campus includes the main medical center along with Janet Weis Children’s Hospital, Geisinger Woodbine Lane, Geisinger-Knapper Clinic, HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital, Henry Hood Center for Health Research, Sigfried and Janet Weis Center for Research, and House of Care.
The medical center is the base of the Geisinger Health System, founded in 1915. The system includes the hospital in Danville, Geisinger: Wyoming Valley Medical Center, in the Wilkes-Barre area, Geisinger: South Wilkes-Barre Hospital, in downtown Wilkes-Barre, and Geisinger: Marworth Hospital in Waverly, Pa. It also consists of clinics across Pennsylvania, located in Altoona, Bellefonte, State College, DuBois, Lock Haven, Bloomsburg, Mifflin, Moosic, Dunmore, Hazleton, Mountaintop, Scranton, Lewistown, Milton, Sunbury, Frackville, Pottsville, Selinsgrove and more.
According to the Geisinger Health System’s website, “We have recruited top physicians from across the county to join our experts in virtually every medical field, all working to provide you with the most experienced, most compassionate care. Geisinger also offers some of the most advanced technology in the country: a Level I Trauma Center, a 5-helicopter LifeFlight program and clinical research facilities.”
Geisinger banned smoking on all of its properties in 2007. The addition of a non-nicotine hiring policy is furthering that health-awareness stance.
“During the hiring process, all applicants — including those seeking full- and part-time positions, flex, volunteers and students enrolled in Geisinger-based schools — will be tested for nicotine as part of the routine drug screening. The test will include screening for cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, snuff, nicotine patches, nicotine gum and cigars. The test only detects active nicotine users, not those exposed to second-hand smoke,” according to the Dec. 28, 2011 press release.
As reported by USA Today, “Each year, smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke causes 443,000 premature deaths and costs the nation $193 billion in health bills and lost productivity.” The hope and idea is that this policy will reduce health care costs and decrease absenteeism among Geisinger’s 15,000 employees. Geisinger insists that they are not denying smokers their right to tobacco products but rather just choosing not to hire them.
However, critics of the policy believe that it may not save the medical center any money and is discriminating against potential employees. The District of Columbia and 29 states have passed laws that protect smokers, but Pennsylvania has not.
While federal and most state laws prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, age, handicap and religion, the practice of not hiring individuals addicted to or using nicotine is not considered discrimination legally. Federal laws don’t recognize smokers as a protected class, but many Americans do and have subsequently been outraged by Geisinger’s new guideline. Along with other medical facilities, Ephrata Community Hospital in Ephrata, Pa., also has such a policy, which they implemented July 1, 2011.
After a new employee is hired, Geisinger Health System will rely on the honor system, not periodic nicotine testing, to ensure that their employees do not smoke. Applicants who are rejected because of a positive test for nicotine use are welcome to reapply in six months if they become nicotine-free and will be provided with a list of smoking cessation resources.
Sandy Spayd, director of health promotion at Elizabethtown College, said, “I believe there are a growing number of companies going totally smoke free. Since [Geisinger] has had its site smoke free since 2007, it seems reasonable that they would move to this next step to support a healthy environment. The important part is that Geisinger offer resources to those who are denied employment because of using tobacco and giving them another opportunity to reapply. I believe they are making a very strong statement about the risks of tobacco use.”
Geisinger’s press release also stated that current employees of its system aren’t affected by this new policy, but those employees that use nicotine are encouraged to use the tobacco cessation programs that Geisinger’s Employee Wellness program offers.