TRIPLER ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Hawaii - Members of the Department of Occupational Health, here, traveled to the Big Island May 7-11 to provide medical assessments for government employees working there.

The biannual trip sends three staff members from TAMC to Kilauea Military Camp, 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 pre-screening, 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, tobacco use, 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 their cholesterol testing, lipid profile and check for diabetes. We check to make sure their blood pressure is within normal limits."

The second step in the process is administered by George Alba, clinical nurse, who performs an initial screening, reviewing results of lab tests and highlighting any changes in the job description that require further testing or examination.

"These government positions are those that are required by law for yearly physicals," Alba said. "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.

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. 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 speak offline only, the overall consensus was that occupational health staff traveling to the Big Island saved them time away from the job and the government money. With 157 government employees the cost of sending them for temporary duty (TDY) would be high.

"Our biggest value is that we go out into what we call the 'white space", where we provide preventive services," Alba said. "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. It is the most cost effective and convenient way for all involved."

Page last updated Fri May 25th, 2012 at 00:00