Friday, September 27, 2013

CoxHealth increases employee wellness efforts with renewed focus on employee tobacco use

For immediate release 
Sept. 27, 2013 

Joining a growing list of hospitals and health systems around the country, CoxHealth announced today it will become the first health system in the Ozarks to add nicotine screening to the list of tests potential employees must pass once an offer of employment has been made. 

The change, effective Thursday, Nov. 21, to coincide with the American Cancer Society’s annual Great American Smokeout event, is designed to further the organization’s efforts to provide a healthy, healing working environment. 

“Every year 443,000 Americans die due to smoking related illness,” said Steve Edwards, CoxHealth president and CEO. “We could no longer reconcile the fact that our mission is to improve the health of our community, and we were not taking an assertive stand against tobacco products.” 

In recent years the organization has taken several steps to help employees live healthier lives, from changing the menus in the cafeterias to offering walking clubs and a successful Wellness program. CoxHealth leaders say increasing their efforts to help employees stop using tobacco, and including nicotine testing as part of the organization’s required pre-employment testing, is the next logical step. 

Job applicants will be notified of the policy when they apply for a position. Those who do not pass the post-offer, pre-employment nicotine screening will be offered CoxHealth-sponsored tobacco cessation classes at no charge, and encouraged to reapply for employment with the organization once they have been tobacco-free for 90 days. 

“Tobacco is a deadly addictive poison that dismantles the lives of its victims and their families. We want our work force to be role models, to be leaders in a push inspiring our community to become a healthy place to live. We are taking a stand,” said Edwards. 

The hazards of tobacco use have been well-documented. Studies have shown that smoking reduces a woman’s life expectancy by 11 years and a man’s by 12, and costs companies more than $5800 a year per tobacco user in lost productivity, absenteeism and increased health plan expenses. With this policy change, CoxHealth joins Cleveland Clinic, Baylor Health Care System, the World Health Organization and more than 6,000 other organizations across the country who have made the decision to put health and wellness first. 

“Smoking is the worst self-inflicted damage a human being can do to themselves. As a cancer specialist, I see the devastating consequences of smoking on a daily basis, not only on the victims of this terrible habit but also their families and loved ones,” said Dr. Abe Abdalla, medical director of Oncology Services and Radiation Oncology for CoxHealth. “As health care providers we should lead by example. Our community expects us to take the lead on important issues like this one. I am very proud of CoxHealth for taking this crucial step and hope other health systems in the area – and in the entire country – follow suit.” 

Employees hired before Nov. 21, 2013, will be grandfathered in under the new policy, but are also encouraged to “kick the habit.” The organization will offer these employees and their health plan dependents free tobacco cessation classes, and waive the co-pay for Chantix, a prescription medication that helps individuals stop smoking. These resources will be available at no cost to current CoxHealth employees until Nov. 21. 

Said Edwards: “We are the only hospital in the state, to our knowledge, that will offer free smoking cessation to people who are offered a job and fail the tobacco screen, and then a chance to reapply in 90 days. We are resolute in fulfilling our mission.”