Hospital campus eyes smoking ban |

Hospital campus eyes smoking ban

A no-smoking sign is posted outside the Aspen Valley Hospital.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

A tobacco- and smoke-free Aspen Valley Hospital campus is on track to take effect Sept. 1, but advocates of the new policy are getting pushback from the head of the local homeless shelter.

On Tuesday, Pitkin County Health and Human Services will brief county commissioners on the plan, which would cover the main hospital building as well as the Health and Human Services building, Whitcomb Terrace for senior housing and other properties.

Tuesday’s briefing comes a year after Health and Human Services began researching the possibility of making the entire Aspen Valley Hospital campus — which includes nearby buildings as well as the Basalt After Hours Medical Core clinic and Snowmass Clinic — devoid of tobacco use.

On June 1, Health and Human Services will make its announcement about the intentions to go tobacco-free, along with rolling out smoking cessation programs and posting signs about the policy change.

Smoking currently is allowed outside of the hospital’s east entrance as well as outside of the Health and Human Services building, which houses the Aspen Day Center for homeless people, the detox center and Mind Springs Health, a program for substance abusers.

“For us, in terms of the area right around the hospital, we would prefer not to have smoking,” said Ginny Dyche, head of community relations for Aspen Valley Hospital.

The hospital also owns the Health and Human Services building.

“Our goal is to create a healthy environment,” said Nan Sundeen, the county’s head of Health and Human Services.

But Vince Savage, who runs the year-round Day Center and Aspen Homeless Shelter, which is open about four months a year, said proponents of the tobacco-free zone have a shortsighted outlook. He argued that such a policy could exacerbate problems for the people who use the Day Center and homeless shelter, as many are tobacco users. Many of them smoke cigarettes, but their problems are much greater than tobacco use, said Savage, who does not smoke. A tobacco-free zone could ward off users of the Day Center, he said. That’s because some users of the Day Center spent upward of eight hours there in one stay, which is an unrealistic amount of time for tobacco addicts to refrain from use. Day Center users do their laundry there, eat meals and do other indoor activities. A number of them go outside for a smoke.

“The problem is a little deeper than it appears,” he said. “This is idealistic and a naive idea about the purity of health and what that means versus what is compassion for people who have an addiction. The issue is not about ‘should people smoke?’ The issue is do you use a carrot or do you use a stick to try to get people healthy?”

Savage said about 20 folks use the Day Center daily.

“I’m not sure this is a compassionate approach for people who have a lot of problems in their life,” he said. “It’s not intentionally (not) compassionate, it’s naive.”

The Pitkin County Jail also bans smoking, but Savage said the Day Center shouldn’t have the same policy.

“Our people are coming there for services,” he said. “I’m sure with incarceration, you give up a lot of rights.”

Savage also said there’s nothing in the Day Center’s lease agreement that prohibits smoking.

He said a designated smoking area on the hospital grounds is a suitable compromise.

Sundeen, however, said that’s not a possibility with the new plan.

“That’s not going to happen,” she said.

A memo to the county commissioners, which outlines the tobacco-free policy, addresses the Day Center’s concerns.

“They have voiced concerns that their clientele may be nervous about coming to the building to seek services (and some may choose not to come) if we implement the policy, given that the Day Center guest tend to stay for 4 to 9 hours. In our research it appears that the may be more anxiety about going smoke/tobacco free before the implementation that is actually realized after implementation.”

Savage likened the new policy to “legislating people to death.”

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