In 2001, Kim Preskitt may have been working as the financial manager at Flexdigital, a direct mail marketing company, but the occupational therapist in her was noticing the employees were setting themselves up for injuries. She saw employees improperly moving boxes, long computer use which could lead to carpal tunnel syndrome and standing for extensive periods of time with turning and twisting while working 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 employees to keep them safe.
“I told the owners if they hired me as a full-time occupational therapist, I could lower their insurance costs through decreased accidents, add health fitness wellness programs and decrease employee’s absentees,” said Preskitt, a 1996 graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s occupational therapy program.
Her new title became occupational therapy/health and safety director/finance manager. One 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. Preskitt even gets the employees motivated by encouraging walks and dancing while on the clock.
“The staff really likes it,” said Preskitt.
The UAB School of Health Professions noticed this trend emphasizing wellness and prevention in health care. 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.
“This certification positions PT’s and OT’s 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,” said Cecilia Graham, PT, Ph.D., program coordinator of the program. “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 or 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,” said Graham. “It also gives them immediate opportunities to apply the skills and knowledge in their clinical setting.”
Graham said students will walk away with skills in program development and marketing and a program ready for implementation. She said 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,” said Graham.
Preskitt believes therapists are a good choice for health and safety managers at any size company. She said 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 their proactive approach to efficiency and productivity via employee health and wellness,” said Preskitt. “This certification program will immediately qualify OT’s and PT’s for such opportunities.”
Preskitt said her company has seen a difference since she implemented her program.
“We’re seeing less stress and more production,” said Preskitt. “Our loss ratio has decreased from 11.49 to .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 Graduate School by 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.