Bridging the Gap: The Importance of Occupational Health in the Corrections Industry

In the high-stress environment of correctional facilities, staff health is paramount. Burnout, chronic diseases, and high turnover rates are pressing issues. Jim Alexander, VP of Operations at Work Health Solutions, delves into the crucial role of occupational health programs in the corrections industry. These programs help combat burnout, improve physical and mental health, and enhance staff retention. Jim's insights underscore the necessity of such programs, offering a comprehensive solution for the unique challenges in the corrections field. Discover how prioritizing staff health leads to a healthier, more productive, and effective correctional workforce.

Daily demands can be heavy in the correctional services field, putting staff health and well-being under immense strain. As staff burnout, chronic illness, and early retirement rise, it’s crucial to understand the importance of occupational health for the corrections industry.

Work Health Solutions (WHS) recently sat down with Jim Alexander, a seasoned correctional service professional and VP of Operations for Work Health Solutions, to discuss the impact of occupational health programs and strategies in the corrections sector.

Interview with Jim Alexander

WHS: Jim, with your wealth of experience in the field, can you tell us why the issue of occupational health is particularly crucial in correctional facilities?

Alexander: Absolutely. The correctional environment is inherently stressful. Our officers face risky situations, unpredictable inmate behavior, and a consistently high-pressure work environment. These can lead to burnout, physical injury, psychological distress, and other health issues, including chronic diseases like hypertension and obesity.

WHS: You mentioned burnout. Can you expand on the common causes of this in the corrections field?

Alexander: Staff shortages are a significant contributor, often leading to overtime and longer shifts, which can cause physical and mental exhaustion. The tense environment and potential for violent confrontations can also contribute to psychological burnout.

WHS: What are some consequences of burnout and these other health issues in correctional facilities?

Alexander: Burnout can lead to increased absenteeism, reduced productivity, and high turnover rates, all of which impact the effectiveness of correctional operations. It also increases health care costs and workers’ compensation claims, placing an additional financial burden on these institutions.

WHS: How can occupational health programs help alleviate these issues?

Alexander: Implementing wellness programs to improve employees’ physical, mental, and social well-being can prevent burnout, reduce health-related absenteeism, and increase productivity. Additionally, they can enhance employee morale, job satisfaction, and overall quality of life, which in turn helps with staff retention.

WHS: How can these programs improve staff retention in correctional facilities?

Alexander: Staff retention is a major challenge in corrections. The stressful nature of the job can lead to high turnover rates. Occupational health programs offer support and resources for employees to manage stress and improve overall health, making the workplace more appealing and supportive and improving retention.

WHS: What are the characteristics of an effective occupational health program in correctional facilities?

Alexander: A comprehensive occupational health program should include physical wellness support, mental health resources, and educational components for chronic disease management. Other important elements are stress management and resiliency training, nutritional guidance, and physical fitness programs. Also, it’s essential that such programs are ongoing and flexible, tailored to the unique needs of correctional staff.

WHS: Could you give an example of an occupational health initiative that has been particularly successful?

Alexander: Absolutely. One notable success story comes from a partnership with the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS). They opened an employee wellness center, offering a place for staff to work out, relieve stress, and build camaraderie. Since the implementation, NDCS has noticed a significant increase in staff morale and retention.

A Necessary Addition

After gaining insightful perspectives from our conversation with Jim Alexander, it becomes clear that occupational health programs are not merely a beneficial addition but a necessity within correctional facilities. The insights provided by Jim help us understand the critical role these programs can play in addressing the unique challenges in the corrections field.

Now, let’s delve deeper into the challenges and benefits of occupational health programs for the corrections industry. We must understand how they can promote a more productive and more effective workforce.

Challenges Facing the Corrections Industry

A recent article featured in Corrections Today, published in January/February 2023, thoroughly examined various issues pertinent to recruiting and retaining staff in correctional facilities. The article illuminated the challenges correctional facility staff confront, such as high-stress levels, physical injury risk, and exposure to infectious diseases. These factors contribute to one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses among all occupations.

One revelation was from a study conducted with the Oregon Department of Corrections. This study revealed that many staff were obese or suffering from hypertension, high cholesterol, and high triglycerides. Many staff members were unaware of their heightened risk of developing these health conditions. Such health concerns keep qualified and experienced individuals from considering careers in correctional institutions.

The article underscored the importance of retaining experienced staff to operate correctional facilities successfully. Yet the industry struggles with high turnover rates, resulting in significant costs. It’s stated that replacing one employee can cost around 50-60% of that employee’s annual salary, highlighting the financial impact of high turnover.

Implementing employee wellness programs, such as those mentioned by Jim Alexander, has been suggested to counteract this. Such programs can improve employee retention. Additionally, they decrease healthcare costs, enhance productivity, reduce absenteeism, and boost commitment among staff.

Benefits of Occupational Health Programs for the Corrections Industry

Research has consistently shown that a healthy workforce is a more productive workforce. A well-implemented occupational health program can lead to reduced absenteeism and increased productivity. These programs can help staff deal with stress more effectively, resulting in less burnout and lower turnover rates. This reduces the costs associated with staff replacement, which can be substantial.

Occupational health programs in the correctional setting can also be a valuable recruitment tool. Offering a comprehensive wellness program sends a clear message to potential employees that their health and well-being are valued. This can make the difference in attracting good candidates to the corrections field, which traditionally sees high levels of burnout.

Finally, a healthier workforce creates a safer, more effective facility. Corrections officers in good physical and mental health can handle the job’s daily demands better. This makes the entire facility run more effectively.

Working with Work Health Solutions

As experts in the field of occupational health, Work Health Solutions offers comprehensive programs tailored to the correctional industry’s unique needs. Our programs are designed to improve physical and mental health. We focus on prevention, early detection, and effective management of health issues.

Working with WHS, correctional facilities can expect reduced health-related absenteeism, improved staff morale and retention, and a more productive workforce. As we work together to prioritize the health and well-being of your staff, we create a positive impact that extends beyond the individual and benefits the entire institution.

Don’t let the health and well-being of your staff be an afterthought. Invest in their health today for a more productive, effective correctional facility tomorrow. Contact us today to learn how Work Health Solutions can help your correctional facility.

Work Health Solutions

Work Health Solutions

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Dr. Michael Tenison

A series of notable accomplishments distinguish Dr. Michael Tenison’s career in medical operations and healthcare management:

  • Successfully led medical operations at a national healthcare provider, focusing on optimizing healthcare delivery and patient outcomes.
  • Oversaw the regional medical practices in key markets like Oregon and Northern California, ensuring consistent, quality medical care and service delivery.
  • Demonstrated exceptional leadership in building and mentoring a large medical provider team, enhancing team performance and patient care standards.
  • Implemented strategic company policies and protocols, significantly improving center efficiency, clinical quality, and patient experiences.
  • Played a pivotal role in financial planning and identifying growth opportunities for healthcare services, contributing to the organization’s overall success.
  • Served as a primary point of contact for regional employer clients and insurance companies, fostering strong relationships and effective communication.
  • Maintained high medical care and case management standards through diligent supervision, chart audits, and performance metric analysis.

Dr. Matt Feeley

Dr. Matt Feeley is a renowned figure in military aviation medicine, with a robust background in occupational and environmental medicine from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

  • Former Naval Flight Surgeon, exemplifying his expertise in aerospace medicine and commitment to military health.
  • Served with distinction at NSA Bahrain and HSM-37, earning the COMPACFLT Flight Surgeon of the Year award for exceptional medical service.
  • Supported U.S. Marines VMFA-323 aboard the USS Nimitz, MACG-38, and VMU-3, demonstrating versatility and leadership in diverse medical environments.
  • Broad interests and significant contributions in global health, corporate medicine, and aerospace medicine, highlighting his multidisciplinary approach.
  • Proven track record as a dynamic leader, well-equipped to face the challenges in a fractional medical directorship role with innovative solutions.

Dr. Glen Cheng

A physician-attorney with a dedication to healthcare innovation, informatics, and digital health.

  • Currently spearheads employee health protection and promotion within the VA Pittsburgh Health Care System.
  • Trained in residency at Harvard, achieving board certification as a physician; also a licensed patent attorney with experience as FDA regulatory counsel.
  • Co-founded Acceleromics, a consulting firm providing clinical and regulatory guidance to digital health startups.

Erin Davis

 Chief Clinical Officer at Work Health Solutions, certified in Adult-Gerontology (AGNP-C) and Athletic Training (ATC).

  • Oversees clinical operations and ensures high clinical standards across the company’s national field staff.
  • Former Manager of Clinic Operations and Occupational Health Nurse Practitioner at Stanford University Occupational Health Center (SUOHC).
  • Specialized in treating occupational injuries and illnesses, and provided medical surveillance and travel medicine consults at Stanford and SLAC National Accelerator Lab.
  • Dedicated to sports and occupational injury treatment and prevention.
  • Assistant Clinical Faculty at UCSF, mentoring students in clinical rotations within the Adult Gerontology and Occupational and Environmental Health Program.
  • Holds leadership roles as Treasurer and President Elect of the California El Camino Real Association of Occupational Health Nurses (CECRAOHN), affiliated with the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN).

Dr. Robert Goldsmith

Expert in benefits design and onsite innovation with specialization in the pharmaceutical industry.

  • Previous role as Executive Director for Employee Health at Novartis Services, Inc., leading health services and clinical support.
  • Instrumental in creating an integrated healthcare system at Novartis.
  • Former private practice in internal medicine in Stamford, Connecticut, and Medical Director consultant for GTE Corporation.
  • Transitioned to GE as a Global Medical Director in 2000.
  • Holds a medical degree from Albert Einstein College, an MPH from the University of Connecticut, and completed training at Greenwich Hospital and Yale-New Haven Medical Center.
  • Assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at the Vagelos School of Medicine, Columbia University.
  • Serves as a team physician for high school athletes in Stamford.
  • Published works on occupational health risks, primary prevention, and exercise-induced asthma.