Walla Walla's two hospitals are snuffing out smoking on their campuses.
Providence St. Mary Medical Center and Walla Walla General Hospital will go tobacco-free starting Jan. 1. That means no tobacco use of any kind will be permitted at the properties, according to a joint announcement.
The hospitals join a majority of medical facilities across the country that have instituted smoke-free or tobacco-free regulations on their campuses.
Starting at the beginning of the year, tobacco use will not be allowed by anyone -- patients, visitors, staff, volunteers, vendors or physicians -- on any part of the hospital properties -- parking lots, clinics or outbuildings. At St. Mary, the new policy also applies to the Billing Center and Herring Guest House.
The switch is intended to encourage and promote healthy lifestyles -- an initiative for which healthcare providers should be responsible, officials said. It is also intended to help protect the health of staff and visitors who do not use tobacco.
"We recognize that this will be difficult for some individuals, but the reality is that tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States," said Dr. Timothy Davidson, a pulmonologist and the medical director at St. Mary. "In our own community, people are dying unnecessarily because of tobacco. People are getting sick. The cost in lives and in dollars is simply unacceptable."
Dr. Stan Ledington, Walla Walla General's director of Imaging, Rehabilitation and Wellness Services, said other health-care providers and businesses are invited to join in the tobacco-free efforts too.
According to the announcement, the Joint Commission, a national agency that accredits hospitals, believes all hospitals will eventually institute full or partial bans.
Nearly 55 percent of hospitals had already gone smoke-free or were preparing to, according to a survey in late 2009.
Another 11 percent had banned smoking, except for patients under specific conditions.
St. Mary and Walla Walla General will offer nicotine replacement products for hospitalized patients. Help with smoking cessation will be available for employees who want to stop.
"By taking this bold step, Providence St. Mary Medical Center and Walla Walla General Hospital will improve the quality and length of life of their patients and their staff," said Harvey Crowder, public health administrator for the Walla Walla County Health Department. "These two fine hospitals are helping our community improve quality of life for our citizens."