Natchez Regional to make entire campus smoke free

Published 1:27 am Sunday, October 28, 2007

NATCHEZ — Beth Mason has been smoking her whole life. Time after time, she put off quitting.

But when her employer recently declared they would soon be completely smoke-free, she had just one thought.

“Good,” she said. “Maybe it will help me quit smoking.”

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Mason works as a nursing supervisor at Natchez Regional Medical Center.

Recently, the hospital announced they would be a smoke-free campus starting Jan. 1. That means out the front door, parking lots, sidewalks — everywhere. Hospital administrators hope to make their campus a healthier environment for employees and patients alike.

Mason saw it as an opportunity.

“I’m a 30-year smoker,” she said. “I’ve been in the medical field for all my life, and my father was a doctor. I knew it was bad for you, it’s just so addictive.”

When the hospital offered to help its employees by providing free counseling and aids for quitting, Mason jumped at the chance.

With a prescription aid and support from fellow employees and a counselor, she followed through.

It isn’t easy, she said. But it’s worth it.

“I’d still like to go snorkeling and snow-skiing,” she said. “I want to continue to be able to do those things. This put it to me.”

Mason set a quit date of Oct. 15.

“But Oct. 14, I ran out of cigarettes, and I said, ‘I’m not going to spend another dime on them,’” she said. “I don’t think I could have done it on my own. I’ve been talking to myself about quitting for about a year. This opportunity came up, and I grabbed it.”

For Marketing Director Kay Ketchings, the process of a healthier workplace has been longer.

“We started back in May, presenting it to the board, and we got their approval,” Ketchings said. “We did a rough survey of employees and found we’re actually at the national average for workplaces at 26 percent of employees who smoke.”

After that, Ketchings said, the hospital partnered with Blue Cross Blue Shield, which paid for the smoking cessation programs.

Making the hospital smoke-free was important for the health of employees, patients and visitors, she said.

“We’re a healthcare facility,” she said. “It’s the right thing to do. It’s our job to promote good health. Our employees, visitors and patients don’t need to be exposed to secondhand smoke.”

The hospital has posted signs and printed materials for physicians’ offices to alert patients to the policy change.

“We don’t want it to be a surprise for them,” Ketchings said.

It’s Employee Health Coordinator Kim McDaniel’s job to provide support for employees who want to quit.

She’s even made up “emergency packs,” filled with candy and chewing gum to help with the cravings.

McDaniel said she has had positive feedback from most employees.

“I’ve talked to several people who have quit, and they’re so proud of themselves,” she said. “They’re so excited they’re smoke-free now.”

Those bags have saved Mason more than once, she said.

“I’ve been to her office multiple times,” Mason said with a laugh. “She’s real nice and always offered to help.”

Mason said she thought the idea of a smoke-free environment would improve the health of everyone who came to the hospital.

“It’s really positive,” she said. “It’s for the health of the community working here and for the health of the patients, too.”