The use of tobacco products at Kentucky River Community Care clinics, including the one at Mayking, will be restricted after April 1.
KRCC CEO Mary Meade- McKenzie says the issue is personal. Having grown up surrounded by smokers and having children who are pre-asthmatic, she has seen firsthand what smoking can do to a person’s health and quality of life, as well as how it affects those people who do not smoke – the family members, caregivers, and children of smokers, who often suffer lung damage and health complications from secondhand smoke.
And now, Meade-McKenzie believes her company should join other notobacco initiatives in the Kentucky River region.
“Almost 25 percent of the adult population in the United States is living with a mental illness or substance use disorder, yet those same adults smoke almost 40 percent of the cigarettes. That is a significant disparity,” said Meade-McKenzie, now entering her second year as leader of the region’s largest community mental health center.
“This is a disproportionate use for a very vulnerable population, and it’s the population we serve,” she said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are 443,000 deaths per year from smoking. Almost half of those deaths are people with mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders.
“It’s unfair for these individuals to seek services from us to help them with behavioral and mental health and addiction issues only to have them die from something that we don’t address,” Meade-McKenzie said.
In January, Meade-McKenzie secured unanimous board support from the Kentucky River Community Care, Inc. (KRCC) Board of Directors to make all of the company’s campuses tobacco-free.
The initiative, called “KRCC & Me – Going Tobacco Free,” has a target implementation date of April 1, Meade-McKenzie noted.
“It’s not going to be a heavy- handed effort in the sense that we won’t be telling people they cannot smoke,” she said, adding that the policy will affect both clients and staff.
“The point is that we want to make the tools, resources, and nicotine replacement therapies available to those people who’ve never really had them so that we can help them quit,” Meade-McKenzie said.
The policy does not eliminate smoking from KRCC campuses, but it does push designated smoking areas to the farthest edges of the company’s property at every office, she said.
The policy also restricts the use of tobacco products such as cigars, smokeless tobacco, and e-cigarettes on KRCC campuses.
“This is an addiction issue, so that’s why we’re treating it,” Meade-McKenzie said.
“We have an obligation to the population we serve to look out for their best interests, sometimes in situations where they’re not in a state of mind to look out for their own best interests. We are and will continue to be an agency of hope,” she concluded.
For more information about KRCC’s new tobaccofree policy, call KRCC’s Crisis and Information Hotline at 1-800-262-7491.