Entire DSS campus now tobacco free

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 26, 2011

By Karissa Minn
The Rowan County Board of Social Services approved a ban on tobacco on its campus Tuesday, but it still has a few more hurdles to clear before it takes effect.
County Health Director Leonard Wood spoke to the board about the proposed policy. It must be approved by the boards of social services and health, as well as the county commissioners.
Wood said he and Social Services Director Sandra Wilkes are in “total agreement that we need a tobacco-free campus, as health services and human services agencies combined.”
Wood said smoking was banned from the health department’s buildings and within 50 feet of the main entrances in 2006, but posted signs are often ignored.
“Some members of the public come to our agencies and continue to smoke outside our doors and throw their cigarettes down outside our doors,” Wood said. “We also have issues with staff who continue to smoke.”
He said since 2006, the number of smokers in the health department went down from six or seven to just two, and a campus-wide ban could lower that even more.
“If this is approved, one thing that should be looked at is offering smoking cessation classes through human resources,” Wood said.
Commissioner Carl Ford asked Wilkes how many DSS employees smoke, and she said 15 — just under 10 percent of the total number of employees.
“Those who responded to the topic have said, ‘This is going to help us to stop smoking. This is a real incentive for us,’ ” Wilkes said.
Ford then asked about the average wait time and visit time for clients, and Wilkes said for the past week it’s been about an hour.
“The schools have been tobacco free for a while, and people can go to ballgames that last three or four hours and make it,” Ford said.
Commissioner Jim Sides said he is glad assistance would be offered to employees, but he thinks the public will pose a larger enforcement problem than employees.
“I think we need some big signs that would make them understand that not just within 50 feet of the building, but all of it is a smoke-free area,” Sides said.
Lillian Morgan, the board chair, said she is concerned about enforcement, too.
“Looking at the draft policy, enforcement for staff would be a reprimand in accordance with personnel policies,” Morgan said, “but that’s not applicable to visitors and clients.”
Wood said it would be up to the staff to let them know that smoking isn’t allowed anywhere on the campus.
“It’s a challenge,” Wood said. “It has been for four years. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t adopt the policy.”
Wilkes said she is in full agreement with the proposed changes.
“It creates a healthier, safer and environmentally nicer facility for people to come to,” Wilkes said.
The board unanimously passed the amended policy. The Rowan County Board of Health will consider it at its Feb. 8 meeting, and then the policy will come before the Board of Commissioners. If approved, it would go into effect July 1.
Before then, Wood said, it needs to be made clear how the policy applies to cars in the parking lot.
Ford said cars are personal property, and Wood responded that those cars would be sitting on public property, so the boards need to decide how to deal with that.
In addition to Ford, Morgan and Sides, other board members in attendance Tuesday were John Blair and Ruth Kennerly.

In other business
The Board of Social Services also:
• Heard from Commissioner Carl Ford about his visit to the North Carolina Association of Social Services. He said he is impressed that the Rowan County Board of Social Services is much more involved with its community than those in many other counties.
“They asked a question about what you or your boards are doing to reach out to the community,”?Ford said. “When I told them about One Church One Child, the food drive, the Christmas party and the roundtables, jaws were dropping further and further.”
• Heard about the upcoming Feb. 4 One Church One Child meeting, where Ernest Kirchin will speak about prescription drug abuse.
The meeting will be held from noon until 2 p.m. at Main Street United Methodist Church. After Kirchin’s presentation, the advisory board will have its quarterly meeting while church coordinators, pastors and guests take a tour of the assistance center.
• Introduced its new safety officer, Michael Buchanan, who joined the staff on Jan. 3. His position was created to “ensure a safe environment for both employees and visitors to DSS,”?which includes helping to enforce the department’s tobacco policy.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.