Wellness Programs Beneficial to Officers, Agency
The cumulative effects of physical and mental stress law enforcement officers experience during their careers could one day come back to bite them if they’re not careful.
That statement is not a revelation for many in policing, including Florence Police Chief Tom Grau.
“It’s no secret; heart attacks kill cops, and it’s something you think about,” Grau said.
Grau’s attitude toward officer wellness is progressive, and he wholeheartedly embraces the Florence wellness program.
Wellness programs are becoming popular for companies and government agencies, large and small, according to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (health.gov). According to the website, “… research continues to show that promoting healthy habits to employees – be it through intensive programs or structural and cultural support (e.g., an on-site gym and encouragement to use it during the lunch break) – is an effective way to benefit both employer and employee.”
As police chief, Grau said the well-being of his officers is a high priority, and to that end, he encourages participation in the wellness program. Florence’s offers the plan, which includes an in-house gym and medical care, for all of its employees, including police officers.
Gym and Care Here
“We have a gym downstairs,” Grau said. “We purchased equipment, and it’s nice. It’s something the police department has provided our employees to use.”
However, if the officer chooses to workout at an off-site gym, under the wellness program, they could be reimbursed a portion of the gym membership fee.
“I believe it’s up to $10 per month,” Patrol Capt. Greg Rehkamp said. “You just have to show (the city’s payroll department) the receipt, and your attendance record and the city will reimburse the officer.”
While many law enforcement agencies across the state offer gym benefits as part of their wellness program, Florence’s plan also features access to a Care Here clinic, which is located in the city’s government building, a few doors down from the police department.
“There is an on-site doctor, and if you participate in the health insurance, you can go there for treatment,” Grau said. “There is no copay or charge for prescriptions. Through the Care Here clinic, if an officer has something that may indicate high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, or a family history of those, (the clinic) offers a CT (computed tomography) scan of the heart, and it is free of charge. That is one thing I push for our officers, and I’ve had it done myself.”
The clinic has been a “win-win” for the police department, Grau stated.
“You can go to this clinic, and you can schedule a visit online, or you can call to set up an appointment,” he continued. “We all probably keep our general practitioner, but nine times out of 10, I’ll go to Care Here.”
As a bonus, officers’ families are eligible to use Care Here at no cost.
It is one thing to offer a plan, but it is quite another to get employees to take full advantage of it, Grau said.
“You can have a wellness plan, but if it’s not easy to access information and see any benefits, (employees) are not going to use it,” the chief said. “We have a great deal of stress related to the job, and we have issues just like anyone else, whether its financial, marital, physical or mental health. It’s important to cover the whole gamut.”
When those in leadership positions buy into the program and actively participates, it helps employees see the importance of maintaining their health, Grau said.
“There’s an old adage: ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink,” Grau began. “It goes back to us as leaders of the department showing that we have a general concern. It’s not, ‘Hey, we’re only doing this to help with (the city’s insurance premiums).’ You have to have a genuine concern … it is like a buy-in. I have to have a buy-in with my officers, and they have to understand and know that we are genuinely concerned with their well-being, and this is not just for show. In other words, if we’re not partaking in it, then why should they participate in it?”
The wellness program is not limited to a gym and health care, Grau said.
The wellness program includes lunch and learn sessions addressing a variety of topics, ranging from financial and spiritual needs to estate planning.
“They’ll bring somebody in about financial planning, and they have brought people in to talk about deferred comp,” Grau continued. “It’s a complete program.”
In the event an officer needs spiritual counseling, the chief has plenty of clergy members available.
“We’re tied in pretty close to the local churches,” he added. “We have some megachurches in town that we work special details with, and whom we partner with on a lot of things. We can reach out that way if we need somebody to help.
Florence recognizes the importance of being proactive in officer wellness.
“If something is going on in your life, whether it is physically or mentally, you’re going to be a less productive employee, especially with the stress that our officers are under,” he said.
A study by the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine supports Grau’s statement.
The study found employees who participated in a health-promotion program and improved their health care, or lifestyle regained an average of 10.3 hours in additional productivity annually. It saved their companies an average of $353 per person, per year in productivity costs compared to non-participants.
Wellness programs are a win-win for both the employee and the employer as it helps the officer maintain good health while keeping the agency’s insurance premiums down. However, most importantly, Grau said, the program should not be overly complicated.
“It has to be something that officers can see a benefit in, and not something that you have to jump through a bunch of hoops with,” he said.