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Vol. LXI, No. 25
December 11, 2009

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Have a question about some aspect of working at NIH? You can post anonymous queries at (click on the Feedback icon) and we’ll try to provide answers.

Feedback: In walking from the Clinical Center to the Children’s Inn with a child, I passed a smoker who was sitting on the stairs that lead away from the front of the Clinical Center. She had an employee badge on and was talking on a cell phone while smoking a cigarette. I had no choice but to pass her with my child, and asked her to stop smoking since it isn’t allowed on campus. She was not very nice about it and did not stop smoking. I looked down on the stairs and noticed cigarette butts everywhere from others before her who had obviously used this convenient place to smoke. I am wondering if anyone at NIH has any concern about this continued smoking and exposure of children who are staying at the Children’s Inn to second-hand smoke as they walk back and forth to appointments. From what I can tell, there is no enforcement of the policy. How depressing that a place concerned with health, and with a “smoke-free campus” policy, does not even provide a smoke-free environment for sick children.

Smokers can reap many health benefits by quitting. NIH’ers who quit help eliminate exposure to second-hand smoke and, by not smoking, reinforce the message that NIH is a tobacco-free campus.
Smokers can reap many health benefits by quitting. NIH’ers who quit help eliminate exposure to second-hand smoke and, by not smoking, reinforce the message that NIH is a tobacco-free campus.

Response from the Clinical Center and the Office of Research Services: On the 1-year anniversary of the NIH taking its own best advice by becoming tobacco-free, the Clinical Center reminded everyone who works within their facility of the important role each individual plays in compliance with this policy.

When the policy is violated, we first and foremost harm our patients. But it is not just about compliance, it is the right thing to do because: smokers can reap the health benefits of quitting, smokers who quit help eliminate exposures to second-hand smoke and all of us are representatives of NIH. To see people smoking on campus creates the wrong impression. In addition to the reminder, steps have been taken to clean up the areas in question and to provide for regular monitoring of the areas to ensure that they do not become unsightly.

Feedback: My concern has to do with quality of employee fitness facilities on the NIH campus. NIH-funded research helped to establish the link between obesity and rising health care costs. One would think NIH would strive to be a model for promoting employee fitness yet our fitness facilities have not been upgraded in decades. The center on the B4 level of Bldg. 31 is much appreciated by those who use it but it’s cramped and unappealing due to its small size and location in a sub-basement. The T-39 trailer has windows but it’s an aging, creaking temporary structure that has seen better days. The gymnasium in Bldg. 10 was recently closed. As a leader in fostering a healthier nation, should not NIH be a leader in fostering fitness on its main campus?

Response: The Office of Research Services and the Office of Research Facilities are currently reviewing the fitness and wellness facility situation at NIH. There has been much emphasis placed on a healthier federal workforce in current and past administrations and both ORS and ORF support these initiatives. To work towards that goal, it is imperative that NIH does all that it can to try and increase wellness and fitness opportunities for employees, while acknowledging that this is not the core mission.

The reality is that we are significantly handicapped by lack of available space (and, unfortunately, funds) to significantly increase the size of our fitness centers on campus or build new permanent fitness facilities. Nevertheless, ORS is working with ORF to identify workable interim solutions that will enhance the fitness programs on the Bethesda campus until a longer-term solution can be put in place. For example, we are studying the potential of an outdoor sport court that would provide opportunities for accommodating a number of recreational activities.

Furthermore, we are working towards establishing overall wellness and fitness policies that, in the future, we hope will increase funding opportunities and lead to expanded services and even partnering with and assisting the research community.

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