NEWBURYPORT — A policy by Anna Jaques Hospital that eliminates smoking on its property is causing a slow burn among many of its residential neighbors.
A group known as the Anna Jaques Neighborhood Association recently submitted a petition with 114 signatures to hospital executives, requesting a meeting to discuss problems they say have arisen from this ban.
On Tuesday night, close to 50 homeowners met with hospital leaders to express concern that the anti-smoking policy is pushing smokers and "troublemakers" onto their streets.
Hospital President and CEO Delia O'Connor and other executives exchanged ideas with residents. She indicated her team will continue to listen to local concerns, but no changes in policy were announced.
"I was pleased they heard us and encouraged that the board might be informed, but I was disappointed that they seemed to deflect our major issues," said Phil Sayles, a local resident who organized the meeting, which was held in the cafeteria of the 123-bed hospital.
"We are concerned about public safety and home values, and at the least we want better communication and more discussions with executives."
He said no new meetings have been scheduled.
Anna Jaques prohibited smoking in the hospital several years ago. In mid-November, it announced that no smoking would be permitted anywhere on hospital property.
The nonprofit facility, nestled in a residential neighborhood, has been part of a national movement among health care institutions for a "no tolerance" program.
Executives several times insisted that patients trying to regain their health should not be exposed to noxious fumes.
Indeed, a smoking area on the grounds has been removed.
But residents said that the hospital is pushing its problems onto their streets.
Because employees, patients and guests have to leave the grounds, they tend to mill around or walk down nearby streets.
Residents complained that they drop butts and other debris in their yards.
Sayles added that on weekends, the emergency room gets unruly visitors. He said that some who arrive have been drinking, and their friends who accompany them loiter in the streets, smoking and socializing.
"There are about 40 youngsters in our area," said Sayles. "We are concerned about the behavior of those who wait outside the emergency room" for friends who might have been in altercations or OUI-related accidents.
O'Connor disagreed with some of the characterizations of ER visitors. And she stressed the hospital's key concern is the health of its patients, and the environment.
She made no concessions nor did she agree to a date for further meetings.
Byron Matthews, vice chairman of the hospital board, indicated that residents' concerns could be brought to the board.