Taking the Heat at Springfield

July 07, 1993

In government bureaucracies, flexibility and common sense are not qualities held in high esteem. Following rules to the letter, no matter how nonsensical, usually takes precedence. That is why Dave Wilmouth now runs the risk of being suspended from his job at the Springfield Hospital Center in western Carroll County.

Mr. Wilmouth, a direct-care worker, is assigned to one of three wards in the McKeldin Building, a brick structure that houses 70 patients but doesn't have any air conditioning. Even before the oppressive heat of the past few days, temperatures in the building regularly topped 95 degrees in recent weeks. In one area of the McKeldin Building, the shower room, the temperature sometimes hovers near 100 degrees.

The hospital's dress code requires men to wear trousers, but on a particularly scorching day last month, Mr. Wilmouth came to work in shorts. The shorts were neatly hemmed, baggy blue jeans that were cut about three inches below his knees. Mr. Wilmouth received a reprimand from his supervisor and a warning that if he wore shorts again, he would be suspended. His attire has been closely monitored since.

Ironically, if Mr. Wilmouth were Ms. Wilmouth, shorts would be considered appropriate dress. Women can wear shorts and tank tops and still comply with the hospital's dress code. Mr. Wilmouth has asked that men be allowed the same privileges when the temperature reaches sweltering levels.

The higher-ups in the state health department, engaging in quintessential bureaucratic buck-passing, avoided taking a position on this issue, claiming the question of wearing shorts has never come up before. Actually, they say, the dress standard is Springfield's responsibility.

Customary of bureaucracies, a committee at Springfield exists to handle and resolve employee complaints. Unfortunately for Mr. Wilmouth, its next scheduled meeting is set for July 15, and it probably will take more than a month or two before the proper meetings and consultations are held and requisite memos and reports are issued.

In other words, by the time a decision is made on whether male employees can wear shorts, there may be a nip in the air, perhaps even frost on the pumpkins.

And poor Mr. Wilmouth will be more interested in dressing in wool pants and insulated boots than shorts.

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