For more than 80 years, the hospital that takes care of patients in Merced has been a bit ambivalent about smokers.
There's been no smoking inside Mercy Medical Center for many years, but outside the facility has been fair game. Smoking areas with chairs and tables sit near the cafeteria, and smokers have used the smoking facilities religiously through the years.
But with smoking more and more in the news, and most of that news not good, Mercy has taken the final step to make the entire Mercy campus -- including the main hospital, clinics, the Dominican Campus and the cancer center -- all tobacco/smoke-free environments beginning March 1. The new rules apply to employees, patients, visitors and physicians.
To get the word out, hospital employees have been putting up signs all over the hospital, as well as the nearby clinics, the cancer center on North G Street, and the educational center on 27th Street. The new hospital on North G Street will be completely smoke-free when it opens May 2.
That means no smoking in the parking lot, outside the cafeteria or anywhere else that Mercedians have used in the past to enjoy their tobacco products.
And especially no smoking in front of the emergency room, where people sit on planters and puff away at the present location.
"We've had the signs up for a while, warning people that this is coming on March 1," said Robert McLaughlin, spokesman for Mercy.
Although the new rules may make it hard for a lot of smokers, the hospital is trying to help its employees who still smoke.
"We will be offering no-cost smoking cessation programs to our staff," said Paul Feltz, director of staff development at Mercy.
But Feltz knows there will be problems. Patients who are used to smoking on campus, such as in their cars in the parking lot, will find that they are banned from using any tobacco product anywhere on the hospital grounds, including the parking lot.
"We will definitely let people know that there is no tobacco use on the property," Feltz said. "We've made it an expectation that it is the responsibility of all staff to educate the public on where they can go to use tobacco if they want to."
Patients in the hospital will find themselves with no place to go, but Feltz said medical staff has been working hard to make sure patients make the change as easily as possible.
"We'll face some challenges," Feltz said. "But we're just following in the steps of other hospitals in the state and nation. I think it will go all right."
"As a health care organization, we are committed to the health and safety of our employees, patients and doctors," McLaughlin said. "We have a responsibility to take a leadership role on this major health issue, and allowing patients to use tobacco products while in our care defeats this purpose."
Because the no-smoking rule means there will be no designated smoking outside any facilities, including off-campus areas such as the education campus near M Street, employees looking for a place to smoke will end up walking off the campus to find a place to light up.
McLaughlin said Mercy's decision to go tobacco-free is not an attempt to force anyone to quit using tobacco products:
"The tobacco-free initiative is a concrete way we can demonstrate our ongoing commitment to healthy living."
Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or email@example.com.