BROOKSVILLE — One year after launching a drive to make local medical facilities even healthier by banning tobacco use on their premises, community health officials are declaring the program a success.
"It's been very positive here, both for our associates (employees) and the community," said Robin Schneider, marketing director at Brooksville Regional Hospital.
The Citrus-Hernando Tobacco Free Community Initiative began 2009 by invoking no-smoking edicts on local hospitals. That applies to both employees as well as visitors and patients, meaning no quick trips to the parking lot or even behind closed doors of their on-site vehicles for a tobacco fix.
Officials noted that there has been a learning curve, as expected, for people used to being able to smoke at designated areas at the various campuses.
"We have had isolated incidents when we had to remind (people) of the initiative," said Rich Linkul, director of marketing at Oak Hill Hospital, adding that most of the time, it has been visitors who were unaware of the smoking ban.
"Security and associates just ask them not to smoke," he explained, adding that an offender is handed a card outlining the program.
If hospital employees observe an infringement, they are to ask the offender to desist or, if the employee is not comfortable doing so, is to pass on the information to their department superior or a security personnel, Linkul said.
He said that he's observed people smoking in their vehicles in the parking lot and, when advising them of the initiative, they've stubbed out their smoke.
At Brooksville Regional, Schneider said, "When we see someone who is smoking, we remind them that we are a tobacco-free facility and give them a little card and people are wonderfully cooperative for the most part."
Linkul and Schneider said physicians are helping their cause, prescribing nicotine replacements, such as patches and chewing gums, for patients who have made known their tobacco habit.
In the last year, the hospitals have ratcheted up their smoking cessation programs, both for employees and the public. "The classes keep going up," said Schneider. Concurred Linkul, "At least 10 to 12 per class. They were quite successful."
In addition, Oak Hill Hospital has put out literature on smoking cessation suggestions for its employees, held a one-day health fair that brought in an acupuncturist, a hypnotist and pharmaceutical specialists to detail kick-the-habit opportunities.
"Many of our employees were grateful, and quit smoking," said Linkul.
Ann-Gayle Ellis, health and education manager at the Hernando County Health Department, said officials there are pleased with the hospitals' response to the initiative that the agency has facilitated.
While successful in its outreach aid, she noted, the health department has been unable to ban smoking at its own facilities. "We are not tobacco-free, I'm sorry to say," Ellis said.
The department's facilities, she explained, occupy leased spaces, so they are unable to place restrictions on outdoor areas, such as parking lots.
"It's kind of delicate" about enforcing "breathe easy zones," meaning the smoking areas are at a distance, Ellis added.
But the officials are adamant about the importance of leading the way on promoting healthier lifestyles.
"We're in health care,'' Schneider said. "We should be preventative. We want our community to be healthy."
Beth Gray can be contacted at email@example.com.