The Massachusetts Hospital Association unabashedly announced this month that it will no longer hire tobacco users, sending a very public get-tough message that it hopes will resonate with other employers looking to reduce healthcare costs.
MHA President/CEO Lynn Nicholas says the trade group for more than 100 hospitals in the Bay State decided to go public with the ban—which takes effect Jan. 1—to raise awareness about the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the United States.
"We could have just implemented this policy and never said a word," Nicholas says. "I thought that by putting the example out there it would start a dialog."
Nicholas unapologetically concedes that the ban on hiring smokers follows an "all stick" and no carrot mantra because she believes sticks are more effective when it comes to discouraging smoking.
"We have had the carrots out there for years. I was in a debate with someone from the business community and they said it's all about carrots. Au contraire!" she adds. "What has caused people to quit smoking is public awareness, but more so the cost of smoking has gone way, way up, and the prohibitions on smoking on public places make it really hard to find a place other than your car. That is what has driven it. Those are all sticks."
Nicholas says MHA and its 45 employees also have an obligation to provide a high-profile role model for healthy living and to find way to reduce soaring healthcare costs.
"We are so proud in Massachusetts that we have enacted virtually universal coverage but that is costly and the pressure is now on to bring the cost of healthcare down," she says.
"This seemed to be obvious. There is such a cause and effect here. I'm in a position because of my leadership role working with hospitals to lead by example."