As hospitals shoo smokers away from vulnerable patients, workers in Boston’s medical city face a challenge: Where do you go to light up? For years, smokers in the Longwood Medical Area have sought refuge in a sliver of city parkland on Brookline Avenue.
But that may change: The city has discovered that Joslin Park has flown under the radar of a smoking ban that took effect nearly two years ago. The city is now considering posting no-smoking signs in the park, punishable by a $250 fine, according to Boston parks department spokesman Ryan Woods. Boston banned smoking in all public parks in December 2013.
Smoking in the public park at 10 Joslin Place is hard to miss: Streams of hospital workers and visitors light up there at all hours of the day. But Woods said the smoking has gone unnoticed because the city doesn’t maintain the park. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center does.
The hospital has installed cigarette butt receptacles throughout the park, but those don’t aim to endorse smoking, said hospital spokeswoman Jennifer Kritz — they aim to prevent fires. She said the hospital has not cracked down on smoking because it doesn’t have authority to do so.
The hospital has decked out the .31-acre park with seasonal hay bales and pumpkins and dispatched a caretaker to rake leaves and cigarette butts. But that doesn’t hide the fact that, as hospitals have banned smoking on their campuses, the park has become a veritable smoker’s den.
“It smells like an ashtray,” conceded Brandon Dumont, a hospital fire alarm inspector who stopped by one recent morning for a smoke break. But “if you’ve got to smoke, it’s the only place to do it.”
Pharmacist Michelle Zacchetti, the only person in the park who wasn’t smoking, said she tries to be understanding of smokers’ needs. If someone lit up next to her, “I would get up and move,” she said.
If you look past the smoke, the park has a large collection of wildlife and even fruit trees.
“You feel like you’re in the woods,” said Chris Amaral, who was taking a smoke break between visiting his sister at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Around him, sparrows chirped and rabbits darted through the bushes.
Kathie Paquet, of New Hampshire, discovered the park while visiting Beth Israel Deaconess for her husband’s surgery. She said the park is a welcome break from the waiting room.
Even if the no-smoking signs go up, it’s not clear whether smokers would comply. The park smoking ban is mainly enforced by peers, not by Boston police, Woods said. Smoking is technically banned on Boston Common, for instance, but lots of people light up there.
Woods said the city would focus on signage instead of punishment: “It’s not fair to go out and fine people without educating them.”
Hospital property up for grabs
A prime piece of real estate is for sale, opening the door for another medical tower to join the dense cluster of biomedical research in the heart of Longwood.
The property is a four-level parking garage owned by Boston Children’s Hospital and leased to Beth Israel Deaconess. When Children’s bought it a decade ago for $53 million, it came with a major asset: city approval to be converted into an 18-story lab tower. The proposed tower was originally meant to complement the Center for Life Science next door, a privately owned tower now brimming with biomed labs.
Children’s has decided not to build a tower there after all, according to Charles Weinstein, vice president for development. Instead, it aims to sell the lot to raise money for a $1.5 billion expansion and renovation, which includes adding hospital beds in Waltham and erecting an 11-story clinical building on its Longwood campus.
“Children’s has devoted its strategic growth to clinical, not research,” Weinstein said.
The lot at 340 Brookline Ave. went up for sale in August, according to broker Frank Nelson. Nelson, a longtime Longwood dealmaker, said he sent out word through his networks; he didn’t list the lot publicly or set an asking price.
Nelson has been meeting potential buyers on the roof of a nearby parking garage, selling them on the prime location tucked between Beth Israel Deaconess and Children’s Karp Family Research Laboratory. He said the lot is attracting interest not so much from other Longwood hospitals, but from local, regional and national investors that specialize in medical-academic real estate.
Flu-fighters get musical
Nurses don tutus. A security guard shakes it on the pavement. And if you watch closely, you might see CEO Kevin Tabb vogue. The performances by 125 staff at Beth Israel Deaconess appear in a new music video, “Flu Fighters Shake It Off,” offering a flu prevention message to the tune of Taylor Swift.
The hospital posted the video on social media last week and sent it out by email to 10,000 employees. So far, the message has gained over 27,000 YouTube views.
The Longwood hospital isn’t the first to enter this musical genre: It follows such hits as “Hit Me With The Flu Shot” by Alvarado Hospital in San Diego and “Beat the Flu,” a Michael Jackson parody by the Memorial Hospital of South Bend, Indiana.
Spokeswoman Jennifer Kritz said Beth Israel Deaconess hopes the dance moves will catch the attention of its staff and a broader web audience.
“We hope our video is the only thing ‘going viral’ this flu season,” she said.