Come Jan. 1, WellSpan Health will no longer hire smokers.
Starting next year, the urine samples that WellSpan job applicants provide for drug-testing will also be tested for nicotine and tobacco. The healthcare system will not hire individuals who test positive for more than a secondhand amount of either substance — unless they are on a program to quit, said Bob Batory, chief human resources officer for WellSpan.
WellSpan employs more than 11,000 people across more than 100 facilities in the region, including York Hospital.
The change makes WellSpan the latest in a line of healthcare systems statewide to make its hiring process nicotine- and tobacco-free. Geisinger and the University of Pennsylvania health systems do not hire nicotine- and tobacco-users and Lancaster General Health also adopted the policy last year.
"We believe that we should be taking a leadership role, as a health organization, in trying to curb the use of tobacco in our communities," Batory said. "It's fundamentally part of our mission."
Ephrata Community Hospital in Lancaster County has done nicotine- and tobacco-free hiring since 2011. When it became part of WellSpan in 2013, the larger health system started to consider adopting the policy, Batory said.
A controversial move: But a trend of health-care providers refusing to hire smokers has drawn attention from worker's rights groups, which consider the policies intrusive.
Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute, said nicotine- and tobacco-free hiring is purely a marketing tactic hospitals use to polish their image.
"As a healthcare consumer, it makes me nervous," Maltby said. "If I'm getting heart surgery, I want the best doctor doing it. I don't want to die on a table because the hospital wouldn't hire the best possible surgeon because he smoked."
More than half of all states have "smoker protection laws" that offer legal protection to individuals who smoke on their own property and time, but Pennsylvania is not one of them.
Batory said the policy will not apply to current employees or new employees that haven't been alerted to the change. While WellSpan may perform drug tests on employees with probable cause, Batory said he does not envision this being done for nicotine and tobacco.
More than one in five adults in York and Adams counties self-identified as regular smokers in the 2012 Community Health Needs Assessment.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18 percent of American adults smoke. That's down from almost 21 percent in 2005, but smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, according to the institute's website.
Batory said WellSpan is not looking to crack down on other unhealthy lifestyle choices, because such policies could land the employer in a legal grey area.
A spokesman for Memorial Hospital said he did not know enough about the hiring policy to comment on Monday.
— Reach Michael Tabb at email@example.com.