New UAB program trains OTs and PTs in promoting wellness and healthy behaviors

Online graduate certificate program aims to decrease injury and boost productivity at work.

In 2001, Kim Preskitt was working as the financial manager at Flexdigital, a direct-mail marketing company. But it was her training in occupational therapy that prepared her to notice one area that was having a major impact on the bottom line: The employees of the firm were setting themselves up for injuries.

ot-pt_sPreskitt looked around and saw employees improperly lifting and moving boxes. She noticed extended computer use, which can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, and she saw employees standing for extensive periods of time while turning and twisting at the machines. Ten percent of the staff already had some sort of disability prior to their employment with Flexdigital. Preskitt saw an opportunity to work closely with the staff and the company to create a safer environment.

“I told the owners if they added ‘occupational therapist’ to my job responsibilities, I could lower their insurance costs through decreased accidents, add health and fitness wellness programs and decrease employee absenteeism,” says Preskitt, a 1996 graduate of the occupational therapy program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Preskitt got her wish and a new title: occupational therapy/health and safety director/finance manager. Her goal was to facilitate a safe and healthy work environment through motivation, education and preventive body mechanics while producing savings at the same time for the company. She quickly saw a decrease in accident occurrences and she works to keep employees motivated by encouraging walks and dancing while on the clock.

“The staff really likes it,” says Preskitt.

In January 2013, the School of Health Professions will begin offering a graduate certificate in Health Focused Patient/Client Management for Physical and Occupational Therapists to emphasize wellness and prevention in health care.

The UAB School of Health Professions thinks efforts like this are a good idea as well. That is why in January 2013, the school will begin offering a graduate certificate in Health Focused Patient/Client Management for Physical and Occupational Therapists to emphasize wellness and prevention in health care.

“This certification positions PTs and OTs to add vitality to their practice by integrating concepts of health promotion and wellness into everyday clinical activities and developing clinical and community programs in these areas,” says program coordinator Cecilia Graham, PT, Ph.D. “The certificate will emphasize PT and OT roles in the promotion of healthy behaviors related to physical activity/fitness, nutrition optimization, weight management, smoking cessation, alcohol moderation, sleep health and stress management. Promoting healthy behaviors in these areas is particularly important in persons with disabilities.”

Since the program is geared toward working clinicians and educators, the classes are offered online. There are five required courses and students will take one course per semester.

“The format allows flexibility for workers to continue to practice full-time,” says Graham. “It also gives them immediate opportunities to apply the skills and knowledge in their clinical setting.”

Graham says students will walk away with skills in program development and marketing and have a program ready for implementation. She says employers will benefit, too.

“These programs can result in improved patient outcomes, improved patient satisfaction, enhanced value to the clinical services provided and potential new revenue streams,” says Graham.

Preskitt believes therapists are a good choice for health and safety managers at companies of any size. She says employee health and wellness is critical for prevention of injuries, missed work and general fatigue, all of which result in less productivity and increase costs to the employer.

“Companies seeking such a professional need a way to know that the applicants are well qualified to accomplish a proactive approach to efficiency and productivity via employee health and wellness,” says Preskitt. “This certification program should help immediately qualify OTs and PTs for such opportunities.”

Preskitt says her company has seen a difference since she implemented her program.

“We’re seeing less stress and more production,” says Preskitt. “Our loss ratio has decreased from 11.49 to 0.55 in the past 10 years. Our payroll has doubled since 2002, but our insurance premiums have decreased by 30 percent overall.”

SHP is now accepting applications for the certificate program through the UAB Graduate School until Dec. 15, 2012. Admissions requirements include completion of a degree in physical or occupational therapy and proof of current licensure in the U.S. or foreign equivalent.

For more information about the program, visit www.uab.edu/ptotcert or contact Graham at (205) 934-5949 or cgraham@uab.edu.

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