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Hospitals, City Officials Talk About Plans For ‘Hit-Free Zones’

Lindsey Kilbride
Councilman Garrett Dennis leads a meeting with other council members, medical examiner's employees, and a Wolfson physician as they talk about "hit-free zones."

Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis said he wants to discourage violence on city properties by declaring them “Hit-Free zones.”

It’s a notion already adopted by many children’s hospitals, some entire counties and locally it’s  in the process of being implemented by the Medical Examiner’s and State Attorney’s offices.

Wolfson Children’s Hospital President Michael Aubin painted the following scenario: picture a parent with a child in surgery, and the parent’s other children are with them in the waiting room, just acting like kids. It’s a high-stress situation, he said.

“The tension it brings to them of kind of going over the edge happens sometimes,”Aubin said.

Now, Wolfson hospital employees are receiving training in how to intervene when they see escalating situations that might result in hitting.

“Not only would we want to create hit-free zones so people wouldn’t actually hit their children, but more importantly, how would we interact  with them and be able to educate  them on other options they have,” Aubin said.

Dennis’ resolution would put signs up declaring certain areas “hit free” while requiring the same employee training. And while Dennis said he’s not against spanking, he doesn’t want it done on city property. He doesn’t want adults hitting each other on city property either.

“It’s about having a non-violent society when it comes to city-owned property,” Dennis said.

It’s an idea Aubin said it reminds him of another campaign that people found odd at first: No Smoking.

“We would put signs up and people would ignore them. Or people would go up to them and say something and sometimes people would say ‘it’s none of your business,’ he said. “But you know, over time it eventually became ‘yes, these are places where you don’t smoke,’ and it spread to restaurants and other government buildings and everything else.”

He said it’s his hope the same thing happens with hit-free zones.

But when it comes to the city implementing this idea, Councilman Scott Wilson said while the concept is great, he’s concerned about city employee intervention escalating situations instead of diffusing them, especially in places like the tax collector's office, where people could be losing their homes. Tax Collector Michael Corrigan pointed out that scenario during a meeting about the bill Tuesday.

Aubin said Wolfson has the same concerns with its own employees and offered to share its training materials that guide people through when it is appropriate to intervene or call police -  and how to intervene.

Dennis told Wilson he’s open to tweaking the bill as it goes through the Council process.

Wolfson is in the training phase now and will be officially hit-free on April 5. In addition, all 40-plus Baptist health facilities will be putting up the signs and training staff.

Dennis is hoping city council will choose to do the same for all city properties.

Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.