Utah Valley Regional Medical Center and Orem Community Hospital have a prescription to ease pollution and traffic problems in Provo and Orem.

The hospitals will provide free Utah Transit Authority bus passes to all 2,300 employees at the first of the year, according to Jerry Sorensen, Southern Region director of public relations and advertising for Intermountain Health Care, which owns the hospitals. The passes will be good for unlimited use on any bus route - including those to Salt Lake City and area ski resorts. But the hospital hopes employees will use them in particular to travel back and forth between home and work."We have concluded an agreement with UTA to provide one-year passes for each employee free as part of their benefits," Sorensen said.

Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, with its Orem affiliate, is the first major company in Utah to give all its employees bus passes at no cost.

"It's a very enlightened program," said John Inglish, UTA assistant general manager. "It's the kind of thing we'd like to see a lot more of. It is a real foot in the door for more and more businesses to do this kind of thing."

Daron Cowley, spokesman for Orem Community Hospital, heard about a similar program offered by a hospital in Eugene, Ore., at a conference. He brought the idea back to Ken Walker, assistant administrator for human resources, and the two presented the idea to the hospital's administrative council. The council agreed to provide the benefit to employees.

While the medical center is the only business offering employees passes, four apartment complexes in Provo - Raintree, Carriage Cove, Crestwood and Branbury Park - provide residents with limited passes good for traveling back and forth to Brigham Young University. The program is so well-used that UTA is considering adding additional buses to the routes, said Kip Billings, UTA planner.

By providing employees with bus passes, the hospital hopes to alleviate parking problems and to "do our small part in trying to unclog highways and control pollution a little bit," Sorensen said.

The hospital distributed information about the new program to employees in their paychecks Thursday.

"I think it is a wonderful idea for several reasons," said Brenda Beckstrom, a nurse in quality assessment and the employee health coordinator. "During winter months when roads are hazardous, cutting down on traffic coming into and out of the hospital will be safer. . . . "