09/22/11 — Health Department will get new flooring

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Health Department will get new flooring

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 22, 2011 1:46 PM

The Wayne County manager told the Board of Health Wednesday he would prefer not to sink too much money into the nearly 100-year-old former county hospital building in anticipation of its future move into a new facility, but, in the meantime, offered a few changes and recommendations, including a $100,000 pledge to replace flooring in some areas.

His appearance came on the heels of concerns raised at the board's August meeting, citing "deplorable" carpeting in several areas of the Health Department and other housekeeping concerns and potential health hazards throughout the aging building.

Board members had earlier received an e-mail containing photos and allegations of possible infection control risks, specifically insects in bathroom stalls, an undetermined odor in the elevator and worn out and stained carpeting in the clinic areas.

County Manager Lee Smith showed up at this month's board meeting, accompanied by nearly a dozen members of the county's "facilities team," which services the Health Department building and grounds.

They represent a group of employees, he said, who work in the 52 county buildings from Fremont to Mount Olive, Smith said.

"They have the tough job," he said. "They do a great job. In looking at buildings and facilities, facilities as much as IT, or information technology, touches everybody."

With a number of buildings across the county upwards of 90 years old, Smith drew upon a popular old phrase to illustrate his dilemma.

"It's tough to make a purse out of a sow's ear," he said. "We do the best we can, that's what we're trying to do."

County commissioners, he said, have been studying new facilities versus renovating the existing ones.

"We have come over and we have made one visit (to the Health Department) as a group and we have made multiple visits after hours, on weekends, because we wanted to see what it felt like, to tell what's needed in the building," he said.

Smith offered a few changes and recommendations, some to be implemented by the county, some from the Health Department side.

One proposal is to change staffing times and patterns of the maintenance crew to better accommodate clinic schedules. The county manager said efforts will be made to get the building "as clean as possible," taking into consideration times when the building is heavily occupied and clinics are busiest, and shifting cleaning staff around accordingly.

"It's going to take time, it's going to take training, but these folks that stood up before you have accepted that," he said.

That is not to say that all the housekeeping concerns will be easily remedied.

"When you're talking about 90-year-old facilities," he said, "there's some things, you're not going to disinfect it and you're not going to clean it."

Smith said the county will designate $100,000 to "re-floor some areas" later this fall, which he explained as replacing some of the carpeting in question with an unspecified but easier-to-clean material. The solution will not be perfect, he pointed out, but should satisfy safety requirements.

He also mentioned a general policy that will be rolled out in the coming weeks at all county buildings, eliminating small refrigerators and personal coffee pots, in favor of having a more centralized break area for workers.

Other recommendations included reducing potential "fire hazard" situations in hallways where records have been stacked, scheduling more frequent inspections at the Health Department and a stronger commitment to cleaning. He also encouraged better communication bet-ween administrators and the facilities team, ensuring concerns don't fall through the cracks.

Smith said he had already ordered testing of the Health Department building and four or five others, for air quality, mold, etc.

In the interim, he said the dip in the economy provides an opportunity to figure out ways to do more with less.

"When things get lean, particularly in private business and government, people get real creative and start doing things differently," he said.

He cited as one example the commissioners' purchase of the former Sportsman's World building on Ash Street, the future home of Services on Aging. While no date for occupancy has been finalized, the property will increase the size of the senior center.

The same scenario could play out for a property on William Street, slated to be the new home for the Health Department and Department of Social Services, Smith said. And while a target date for the move has not been settled upon, the county manager said he is keenly aware that taxpayers would strongly frown upon investing too much money in the existing property if a new building is forthcoming.

The commission is expected to discuss its new capital plan during the next few weeks, Smith said, and in the meantime asked for the cooperation of the health department and DSS.