Monday, May 14, 2012

Hospital’s Weighty Hiring Policy No Longer Excludes the Obese

Should medical centers be able to refuse to hire nurses and physicians who are overweight?

At least one hospital thought so, but it recently changed its mind.

Citizens’ Medical Center in Victoria, Texas (approximately a two-hour drive southeast of San Antonio), issued a hiring policy in 2011 which declared that overweight health care professionals need not apply.

The hospital defined overweight as someone who has a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or greater – for instance, a person who is 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 210 pounds, or someone who is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 245 pounds.

The Texas Tribune reported that an employment lawyer has told the Victoria hospital that its hiring policy isn’t against the law.

“Only the state of Michigan and six U.S. cities — including San Francisco and Washington, D.C. — ban discrimination against the overweight in hiring,” he said. Texas hospitals cannot discriminate against employees because of their race, age or religion, “but being overweight is not a protected category.”

The hospital’s CEO, David Brown, weighed in recently about some of the reasons behind the original policy.

The majority of our patients are over 65,” he told the Texas Tribune, “and they have expectations that cannot be ignored in terms of personal appearance. We have the ability as an employer to characterize our process and to have a policy that says what’s best for our business and for our patients.”

Then in April of this year, he contacted the Obesity Action Network to tell them about the change in policy.

Perhaps the hospital’s change of heart was based on negative feedback they had received or the intense discussion their policy had sparked. .

Some points of the debate:

·        How do you define obesity? [BMI isn’t everything.]
·        If a hospital can decide not to hire smokers, can’t it also eliminate overweight people from the pool of prospective employees?
·        Being overweight increases the risk of health problems and the cost of medical care, so shouldn’t employers have the right to keep their health insurance premiums as low as possible?
·        Some define obesity as a disability. If this is true, isn’t discriminating against overweight employee-candidates in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act?
·        Does a BMI greater than 35 interfere with a nurse doing his/her job well?

The debate has engendered a lot of online discussion among the general public and their providers

While some nurses agree with the original policy, others are standing up for their overweight nursing colleagues and what they contribute to the profession. And some are wondering how far employers plan to take these policies now that smoking and weight are two issues that can keep a nurse from being hired.  Might high cholesterol and hypertension be the next exclusionary factors?
Physicians, also affected by the policy, are joining the debate.

What do you think?  Should hospitals have the right to refuse to hire overweight health care professionals?

Should health care professionals be required to set a good example for patients? Or can they still be effective with “Do as I say, not as I do” advice?

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