WVU Hospitals policy paved way for campus-wide ban
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – This August, West Virginia University students returned to a new, tobacco-free campus. It’s been nearly four years since WVU Hospitals enacted its own pioneering tobacco-free policy, and images of visitors, staff and patients smoking outside the entrance to WVU Healthcare’s flagship Ruby Memorial Hospital have faded from memory.
“As the state’s number one hospital and leading healthcare institution, we felt it was our duty to lead by strong example,” Bruce McClymonds, president and CEO of WVU Hospitals, said. “In addition, anyone visiting any of our facilities is now avoiding secondhand smoke, which is cleaner and safer for everyone.”
WVUH, University Health Associates, WVU Health Sciences, Monongalia General Hospital and HealthSouth MountainView met for six months, and collaborated on plans to go tobacco-free. On Nov. 19, 2009, the day of the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, the policies went into effect at each entity except Health Sciences, which needed approval of the WVU Board of Governors.
The new WVUH and UHA rules barred the use of all tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes and all forms of smokeless tobacco. The ban applied not only to the grounds of Ruby Memorial Hospital and the Physician Office Center, but to the parking lots, sidewalks, roads and green spaces, and all WVUH and UHA satellite locations, as well.
Tobacco-free Committee co-chair Dave Harshbarger oversees The Wellness Program of the WVU Health Sciences Campus, which serves WVU Healthcare and the Health Sciences Center by providing programs to help employees make healthier lifestyle choices. “Our policy really has removed the hazard of secondhand smoke from endangering nonsmokers,” Harshbarger explained. “There are still violations, but they are minor.”
The following spring, the WVU Board of Governors made it possible for WVU’s Heath Sciences campus to follow its neighbors in adopting its own tobacco-free policy, creating a comprehensive tobacco-free zone. WVU Health Sciences Chancellor Christopher C. Colenda, M.D., M.P.H., expressed deep thanks to the Board of Governors for its vote to support the new initiative.
“Eliminating the use of tobacco and the exposure of our employees, students and visitors to secondhand smoke isn’t just the popular thing to do,” Dr. Colenda said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
The rest of WVU’s campus has been tobacco free since July. WVUH security manager Dan Harris, Harshbarger’s committee co-chair, admitted maintaining tobacco free grounds can be challenging, but watching people adopt new attitudes and behaviors has been very rewarding.
“Since the start of the new policy, changes can be seen everywhere among our patients, visitors and staff,” Harris said. “Those changes range from a reduced number of people smoking on campus to people having expanded opportunities to quit tobacco.”
The policy’s success has depended in part upon peer enforcement. Harshbarger noted that it is the duty of all WVUH employees to protect others from secondhand smoke.
“While security is called in for those who will not comply, keeping our campus tobacco free is ultimately everyone’s responsibility,” he said.
The Wellness Program can connect WVU Healthcare and WVU employees and students with a variety of tobacco-cessation resources and programs to suit individual needs. A self-administered online program can help tobacco users quit at their own pace, and WVU Healthcare employees have prescription drug and nicotine replacement therapy options available to them at reduced cost.
To learn more about available tobacco cessation programs, visit The Wellness Program online at www.hsc.wvu.edu/Wellness/Programs-and-Classes/Tobacco-Cessation/Default.aspx.