Medical assessments save government vital time, money by going to work areas
Tripler Army Medical Center Public Affairs
HONOLULU — Members of the Department of Occupational Health traveled to the Big Island, recently, to provide medical assessments for government employees working there.
The biannual trip sends three staff members from TAMC to Kilauea Military Camp, the Pohakuloa Training Area and the Hawaii Air National Guard heliport, where assessments are made to ensure employees are fit to perform the demands of their positions.
While each location brought different requirements due to positions held there, all those evaluated were sent for prescreening (to include lab work), based on job description, prior to their scheduled appointment.
“Once they arrive for their appointment, I check their vital signs and do a quick medical history, making sure nothing has changed, like medications, or if they have had an injury in the past year,” said Ginger Velarde, staff registered nurse.
“For the police officers and firefighters, we also provide cardiac assessment, which includes cholesterol testing, lipid profile and check for diabetes. We check to make sure their blood pressure is within normal limits,” Velarde added.
The second step in the process is administered by George Alba, clinical nurse, who performs an initial screening, reviews results of lab tests and highlights any changes in the job description that require further testing or examination.
“We review their job descriptions, their medical histories and ensure our physician knows of any changes prior to examination. This way, we keep those working here on the Big Island fit and healthy to perform their jobs,” Alba said.
One of the benefits of these visits is that conditions that need correcting are found. An even bigger benefit is the level of trust that has developed between the occupational health staff and the employees who are seen here.
“They come to us with their concerns, their worries that they are being exposed to something like jet fuel fumes without using a respirator, because they can smell the fumes,” said Dr. Clarissa Burkert, chief of Occupational Medicine.
“We arrange for the TAMC industrial hygienist to travel here to measure the concentration of the fumes that the workers are exposed to,” Burkert explained. “By taking measurements with monitoring devices placed on the concerned individuals, we can advise them whether they need respirators to prevent illness.”
The trickle-down effects of budget cuts are obvious in that some of those with previously specialized job tasks are now being asked to perform additional functions to cover for staff reductions. They then have to be evaluated for the increased range of exposures they now encounter.
While those receiving evaluations preferred to only speak offline, the consensus was that occupational health staff traveling to the Big Island saved time away from the job and government money. With 157 government employees the cost of sending them for temporary duty, or TDY, would be high.
“We go into the actual work areas, providing direct preventive maintenance and preventive education out into the community, where the patients are, where people live and work,” Alba said. “It is the most cost-effective and convenient way for all involved.”