Daily Editors' Notes

Time for a fire UNDER these caregivers

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Elizabeth Newman, McKnight's Senior Editor
Elizabeth Newman, McKnight's Senior Editor
When I embarked upon the working world, it was no surprise to discover that a fair amount of newspaper reporters smoked like chimneys. It was, however, a shock to later work on the grounds of a hospital campus and see laudable healthcare professionals — people who were saving lives! — light up.

While physicians and registered nurses have made progress in curbing the rates of smoking (many by not ever starting), LPNs and respiratory therapists — you know, the people who help other people breathe —  still have high rates, according to a “Nicotine and Tobacco Research” article titled “Are Health Care Providers Still Smoking?” 

So what is making the LPNs inhale? Among all professions, researchers say that one of the biggest reasons smokers say they can't/won't stop is because smoking relieves their stress, or because they worry about cravings.

That logic got a nail in its coffin last week, with the release of a University of Wisconsin Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention study published in “Annals of Behavioral Medicine." What the researchers found is that, after a year, formers smokers had fewer days with stressful events, less restlessness and anger/irritability and sizeable reductions in cravings. The study, with close to 600 smoking participants, was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health and Wisconsin Partnership Program.

“Smokers worry that they'll quit and never feel the same again,” said lead author Tanya R. Schlam, Ph.D. “They worry they'll never feel as relaxed, and that's not what they found at all. They have much less craving than when they were smoking regularly.”

Schlam also points out that baby steps — making your car smoke free, or reducing the amount you smoke — can help you achieve progress toward quitting. But if you are in charge of a hospital or continuing care retirement community, it's time to take a good look at why you are not a smoke-free campus.

The rationale is that you believe that since smoking isn't illegal, it's unreasonable to take that away as an employee benefit. Or you fear smokers will go to another job, or end up hiding in stairwells, or going to their cars to “relieve their stress.”

Which is a little bit like saying you're going to allow employees to have unprotected sex in the cafeteria, because it's legal and otherwise where else would they go? 

But aside from the ethical question of whether healthcare professionals should be treating patients and residents while smelling of smoke, the bigger issue, in my opinion, is that employees who smoke cost money.

Accuse me of being part of a “nanny state” as much as you like. But it's only a matter of time until your employees will question why a healthcare campus — and its accompanying insurance — are condoning such a costly activity. I also would not hesitate to demand a new LPN or nurse for a loved one or myself, if the person who entered the room reeked of smoke.

Once you make the decision to ban smoking, I doubt you would get much pushback, especially if you offer employee cessation benefits or other types of support. Tips from the University of Wisconsin on how to get there can be found here.

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editor's Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor on Monday and Friday; Staff Writer Tim Mullaney on Tuesday, Editor James M. Berklan on Wednesday and Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman on Thursday.

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