Smoking areas are being slowly phased out at St. Catherine Hospital this year, leading up to the implementation of the campus’ tobacco- and smoking-free policy in November.

St. Catherine currently does not allow smoking or the use of tobacco products inside its buildings or within 30 feet of their entrances and there are several designated spots for tobacco use, including a handful of covered benches called smoke “shacks” or “huts,” said Scott Taylor, CEO of the hospital. Soon, that will change.

Starting May 31, the hospital began slowly removing the shacks, donating them to Finney County Transit. The next one will be removed on Aug. 30. On Nov. 21, the same day as the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, an annual event encouraging people to quit smoking, St. Catherine will join most of Kansas’ 125 hospitals in banning the use of tobacco products anywhere on its campus, including Heartland Cancer Center and Plaza Medical Center.

The Centura-owned and St. Catherine-managed Bob Wilson Memorial Grant County Hospital in Ulysses is already tobacco-free.

“It’s been on our to-do list for quite some time and it’s just come to the point where I feel like it’s appropriate timing,” Taylor said. “We want to create a healthy environment for all of our patients on a number of behaviors ... So, the next step in providing and leading toward a healthy environment would be a smoke-free campus.”

The change is being carried out over the course of several months by design in order to give employees plenty of notice, Taylor said. Employees were notified of the upcoming policy change several months ago. So far, it has only received positive feedback, he said.

St. Catherine currently does not hire new employees who use tobacco, said Donna Gerstner of LiveWell Finney County Health Coalition, an arm of St. Catherine focused in part on community disease prevention. Over the years, the number of employees who smoke has gone down as workers have retired or left the hospital, she said.

Now, the hospital is ready to move forward with a change LiveWell has campaigned for for years, she said.

“A hospital needs to promote health. And what (St. Catherine staff) want to do is create a healthier environment for everyone who visits the campus by eliminating secondhand smoke. It shows their commitment to improve health in our community,” Gerstner said.

Gerstener worked with LiveWell in recent years to raise the purchasing age for tobacco products to 21 in Garden City, Holcomb and Finney County. She said she hoped the change at St. Catherine will inspire other local businesses to follow suit with anti-tobacco practices.

The policy does not ask or require anything of current employees that smoke, but the transition process is an opportunity to quit, Gerstner said. The hospital will offer cessation classes to the public over the coming months.

“When they put that (anti-tobacco policy) in place at the school system, a lot of teachers that used to smoke quit smoking. And we hope that’s what’s going to happen here. But, it may not,” Gerstner said.

 

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.