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Health@Work gives lift to area businesses

June 30, 2003|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

Work-related injuries can be costly in many ways, including the cost of treatment and rehabilitation, time off from work and managers scrambling to cover the duties of the absent worker.

Examinations, therapy and workers' compensation forms also can complicate the process.

Now the Washington County Health System is trying to make maintaining workers' health a little easier by combining several services at a new one-stop occupational health center just south of Hagerstown on Downsville Pike.

"I don't personally know of any other facility like this" in the region, said Dr. Gaylen Johnson, medical director for Health@Work. Open since April, Health@Work provides local businesses with everything from pre-employment screening to counseling services to rehabilitation therapy for injured workers.

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"Our goal is to do our job really well," said Johnson, a former NASA physician. "Companies want everybody healthy and working."

Health@Work combines several formerly separate health services, including Antietam Occupational Medicine, Behavioral Health Services' employee assistance program and Industrial Rehabilitation. Some 800 area businesses use the center, according to Health@Work Manager Lenora Barnhart.

"We perform some type of service for every major business in Washington County," Barnhart said.

On one side of the building - a former Moose lodge that has undergone extensive rehabilitation itself - is an occupational therapy suite that allows recovering workers to build their endurance for everything from driving trucks to building walls.

It was designed by program manager Andre Bathalon, who has designed similar facilities in Quebec and Lima, Ohio. He said he got the idea after seeing a clinic in Arizona where patients had been building and demolishing a room to prepare themselves for returning to their construction jobs.

"I go around to businesses to see what their needs are," Bathalon said. "I have been to several to see what type of business they are."

About half the patients who come to the center have suffered back injuries, Bathalon said. Most of the rest are an assortment of sprains and strains.

Because the center's staff is specialized, they've been able to cut the time required for rehabilitation in many cases, Bathalon said.

"The average number of visits for back injuries is seven" at the center, he said. "The national average is 11.

"The staff is uniquely trained to address potential issues that distract the patient from the healing process."

Screening, testing and employment physicals occupy the other wing of the facility. Many industries are required to conduct periodic exams for their employees, and Health@Work provides specialty physicals for firefighters, pilots, truckers and other occupations.

"Businesses want to know that they're healthy," Barnhart said.

And if the workers can't get to the center, in many cases the center can get to them. For example, the staff will go to a work site to administer flu shots or conduct drug screenings, Barnhart said.

What the center doesn't do is treat serious injuries.

"Our rule of thumb is if you need an ambulance, don't come here," Barnhart said.

"If somebody's having trouble breathing or having chest pains, it can turn quickly bad," Johnson explained. But because the center takes care of so many other injuries, a byproduct is that it frees the staff at Washington County Hospital for more serious cases, he said.

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