Promoting a healthy community, the Healthy Harvey Wellness team is focused on shaping good habits from the top down — implementing policies among county employees they hope will influence the overall health of Harvey County.
Doing so requires a buy in from all county employees, which is why the wellness team came before the county commission this week with a recommendation to amend the county's tobacco and nicotine policy.
Last year, in line with the goal of promoting tobacco-use cessation among county employees, the commission approved a policy that prevented the use of any tobacco product or electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS) — for all employees, clients, contractors and visitors — within the Harvey County Courthouse and all other county facilities and property, including vehicles, at any time. Usage would only be permitted in designated areas at least 20 feet outside building entrances, operable windows and ventilation systems of enclosed areas.
While adopting this policy, an exception was made in one area — the Harvey County Detention Center. Given the parameters of the job and working in confined quarters, as well as Sheriff Chad Gay just having taken office, it was agreed upon and approved to give detention center employees one year to adapt to the policy as Gay started to promote it among staff.
One year later, Gay, the wellness team and county administration are recommending that exception be removed.
"I'm certainly anti-tobacco. I think it's terrible," Gay said. "I've had conversations with those guys that it's going to be coming. It's going to be tough."
"I didn't support it (the policy) last year because of that exception," said commission chair Randy Hague.
Gay said there are about two workers per shift (out of four shifts, 12 hours each) at the detention center who are tobacco users, and there haven't been any issues in the past year, as those employees will routinely go outside and smoke/chew in the permitted areas. Commissioner Ron Krehbiel questioned if there were no problems, why did the policy need to be changed, though he was quick to note he was not advocating for tobacco use.
"I'm not promoting smoking or chewing, by no means," Krehbiel said.
Though Krehbiel had some questions, allowing the exception to continue raised even more issues in Hague's mind, given how the policy has been adopted and implemented in the rest of the county departments.
"It's a double standard, as far as I'm concerned," Hague said.
By a 2-1 vote, the commission approved the amendment eliminating the exception in the tobacco and nicotine policy for detention center employees.