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Nicotine banned for new hires at hospital

CHARLESTON -- If you're looking for a job at Coles County hospital, you might want to put down that cigarette first.
CHARLESTON -- If you're looking for a job at Coles County hospital, you might want to put down that cigarette first. Starting July 1, Sarah Bush Lincoln Hospital will screen prospective employees for nicotine. Users won't be hired.

Current employees are exempt from the new rule, but they are encouraged to quit using tobacco. It's all part of the hospital's push for employees to live the healthy lifestyle it promotes.

Smoking is already banned everywhere on the hospital's campus, but if you want to work at Sarah Bush Lincoln, you'll have to stop using tobacco for good.

"You would go through a pre-employment physical. Part of that pre-employment physical is to be tested for nicotine," said Dr. Bernie Ranchero, Health and Wellness Director. "It goes down to really promoting a healthy organization, healthy communities, and being a role model to our patients."

When it comes to the dangers of smoking, the writing is on the wall. Which is why Dr. Ranchero feels keeping it away from the hospital isn't enough.

"When you go and meet with someone and they're a smoker, can you smell it on them? Absolutely. Is it dangerous? Yes. Is it dangerous for infants, is it dangerous for our patients? Yes," he said.

"The smell when they come in, you can smell it on them," said customer service specialist Connie Thomas.

She would know the smell. Thomas was a smoker for 20 years until the hospital's wellness program helped her quit seven months ago.

"It's really helped my lungs a lot, and I don't get out of breath when I walk so it's really helped."

New hires struggling to the kick the habit can get the same support as Thomas.

"If they want to participate in our nicotine-free program they can. They can meet with our counselor. So there's options that you can do to become healthy."

The hospital does an annual wellness check for all of its employees. Testing those hired after July 1 for nicotine will become part of that process. Methodist Hospital in Peoria enacted a similar rule two years ago.
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