Residents at Creston’s Swan Valley Lodge need safer smoking area

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To the Editor:

(Open letter to Interior Health Authority president and CEO Chris Mazurkewich)

I am very concerned by the way the Interior Health Authority policy prohibiting smoking on IHA property is impacting a small number of long-term residents at Swan Valley Lodge.

Generally speaking, it’s a policy that I can wholeheartedly support. I am a lifelong non-smoker bothered by the smoke and tobacco residue evident on the clothing, hair, and breath of smokers. So it is beyond ironic that I should be writing in support of smoking residents at Swan Valley Lodge. I am doing so as the almost daily visitor of an elderly resident. I am writing because the current situation is one that I feel strongly about. I do not feel the reluctance to speak out about this issue that has been expressed by some of the smokers. They feel, as do I, that they are being treated as second-class citizens. Likewise, I am not an IHA employee, some of whom have expressed verbal support for the smokers but don’t feel that they can put that support in writing.

It is heartbreaking for me, when I enter or exit SVL, to see the small number of smokers outside, all bundled up against the current cold wintry weather. It makes me angry that they aren’t provided a place to smoke, out of the elements, that’s conveniently and safely accessible. Repeated exposures to low temperatures and sometimes inclement conditions may be as harmful as exposure to burning tobacco itself.

I agree that employees and visitors at Creston Valley Hospital should be prohibited from smoking on hospital property. The hospital is a medical facility. I also agree that smoking patients who are expected to be short-stay residents should be made to smoke off the grounds, unless their conditions prevent smoking. Likewise, I agree that employees and visitors at Swan Valley Lodge should be required to abide by the IHA policy. However, I think that residents should be treated differently. My reasons are as follows:

•Unlike Creston Valley Hospital, Swan Valley Lodge is primarily a residence, not a medical facility. It is the residents’ home. I daresay, though, that it is one that none of them probably would’ve chosen as their long-term, and likely final, home. As nice a place as SVL is, and as competent, caring and compassionate as the care staff is, I doubt that residence at SVL has been any resident’s fervent goal. Instead, it is their default residence because their physical and/or mental health circumstances dictate that they live where round-the-clock personal care is available should it be needed.

•Smoking is an addictive behaviour that many people find difficult to overcome, despite numerous attempts. Other smokers enjoy, and choose to continue, smoking, in spite of their knowledge of its negative health effects. That is their right, as long as their smoking doesn’t impinge on the rights of other people in the vicinity.

•The public street closest to SVL is not level. It slopes down towards busy Highway 3. It is sufficiently sloped that the public sidewalk between it and SVL property could become a real safety hazard should the brakes on a resident’s wheelchair fail while he/she is on it in order to smoke off SVL property. Add in frosty, icy or snowy conditions, and one can easily see how dangerous it could be. Just getting to and from the sidewalk in such conditions is both difficult and hazardous.

Until a few months ago, resident smokers were permitted to smoke in an outdoor courtyard area away from public viewing, under a narrow covered portion between two residence wings. However, during warmer weather, some residents, whose windows opened into the courtyard, complained that cigarette smoke was drifting into their rooms. After that, the smokers were no longer permitted to smoke in the courtyard. I realize that smoking has become a taboo behaviour. However, I am asking that the leadership of IHA please provide a safe, easily accessed area, sheltered from all weather conditions, for the small number of resident smokers at Swan Valley Lodge.

Elaine Breeden

Creston