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Disruptive workplace behavior can be tough to tackle

HATTIESBURG — Have you ever seen any of this kind of behavior from a colleague or co-worker?

• Inappropriate expressions of anger or resentment towards others.

• Recurrent conflict with others.v
• Difficulty with authority.

• Sexual comments/harassment.

• Belittling remarks near clients/staff.

• Being uncooperative, defiant and rigid when dealing with problems or responding to request for help.

A business can have a great deal invested in an employee whose behavior in the workforce is a problem. And particularly when the employee is a high-level professional such as a physician or attorney, there are large sums of time and money that have been invested in education and training.

“It is possible to take charge of disruptive workforce behavior, and rehabilitation is very important because of the investment businesses make in highly qualified professionals,” says Philip Hemphill, program director, Pine Grove’s Professional Enhancement Program (PEP), Hattiesburg. “If you could quantify what it costs to recruit someone into a position, it is better to have that person helped rather than hiring someone else. Plus people have a right to redemption in their world. Professionals are people, too.”

Pine Grove’s PEP is an integrated behavior health treatment service specifically designed to help professionals and those most important in their lives with interpersonal difficulties and vocational issues. The largest numbers of participants are from healthcare professions such as doctors and nurses, but other types of professionals such as attorneys, CEOs, college professors and ministers also seek PEP treatment.

The program attracts participants from around the country.
“After Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida, our next biggest referral source is the state of California,” Hemphill said. “We have had people from all over the country, as well as Canada. Part of the reason the program has a national reach is its availability. The program began in 2001 and there aren’t many programs like this in the country. The expertise and competence of the staff and reputation of Pine Grove across the country is another reason that the program has a national reach.”

It can be helpful for professionals to get away from home for treatment. Hemphill said it creates a little separate space allowing people some distance and the ability to reflect.

There are weekly family therapy sessions via a teleconference call, as well as family week that loved ones can participate in.

Some participants in the program have had alcohol, drug or other addition problems. Primary treatment is given for those issues before they enter the Pine Grove’s PEP.

“They have already had those issues addressed,” Hemphill said. “We will get people after that primary treatment when they still need some assistance with personality issues, with medication issues, vocational issues and/or leadership issues.”

In addition to those with addiction problems, another group of people treated at the center are those who have been disruptive in the workplace or their professional practice. They may be affecting the workplace environment by having had some kind of outburst, or they may be compromising the care of a patient.

Physicians, attorneys and other professionals who cause problems at the workplace could be in danger of losing their licenses if the offenses are serious enough.

Pine Grove works with licensing boards and professional assistance programs for physicians and attorneys.

“Licensing boards use programs like ours to help monitor and intervene unless the transgression is considerable,” Hemphill said. “We work closely with licensing boards and professional health programs around the country to coordinate the care for this person and maximize their ability to return to their practice. Hospitals or other employers have a great investment in getting that person rehabilitated and contained.”

In 2007, the accreditation committee for hospitals is looking at policies that hospitals have in place for dealing with disruptive physicians. Monitoring of those policies is being considered as part of the accreditation of a hospital.

Hemphill said the program provides a safe and secure environment where individuals work together under the supervision of professional, caring and experienced staff members to address and resolve problems in day-to-day living. Participants work together in developing and participating in a culture of respect, accountability, diversity and effective communication. There is an emphasis on boundaries, professionalism, teamwork and lifestyle balance.

In addition to the treatment received at Pine Grove, the program does ongoing monitoring that includes onsite meetings with relevant stakeholders in the hospital or law office. A reintegration plan is set up and monitored for a year to help provide support. The ongoing assessment and monitoring provides timely and relevant feedback to the individual and allows the organization or professional advocacy group to hold the individual accountable for his or her job performance and successful recovery.

“We have very specific detailed treatment plans that monitor the progress,” Hemphill said. “We see a tremendous amount of growth and effectiveness. We require 50% symptom reduction during the treatment as part of criteria for discharge.”

In working with professionals and working with personality disorders and addictive disorders, group therapy is considered the most responsive treatment. An individual is able to get feedback from multiple perspectives, and also integrate other people’s experiences into their own.
“We have different types of groups,” he said. “We have group therapy that is focused on addiction and recovery, if that is indicated for the person. We do group therapy that focuses on personality issues. And we have group therapy called expressive group, where the individuals go beyond talk therapy to an opportunity to utilize role play. We also have relaxation type therapies such as art therapy, music therapy and exercise. We have all of these other strategies to access a holistic approach for health as opposed to just doing individual therapy or medication management, which are all part of the intervention. We like to put them together.”

One thing relaxation therapies can do is bring people who are very accomplished in their fields back to being a beginner. You may have an accomplished surgeon who is playing ‘Mary had a little lamb,’ on a recorder in the music group.

Dr. Alexis Polles, medical director of the PEP, said they encourage and offer opportunities to stretch patients out of their usual comfort zone.

“We offer a ropes course and other recreational opportunities, allowing patients to express themselves in different ways,” Polles said. “We also offer music and art to give patients the opportunity to do something beautiful, even if it’s not perfect.”

How do relaxation therapies help? One of the primary causes of the problems to begin with is likely to be stress. Many professionals are under incredible stress in a society that is often adversarial and litigious. That can lead to higher rates of suicide, substance abuse and dependency and related problems than seen in the general public.

The purpose of the therapies such as exercise or music is to help patients reduce stress.

Participants focus on five core values during the treatment:

• Open, honest and direct lines of communication.

• Accountability to others and willingness to hold others accountable.

• Respect for self and others.

• Inclusion of all members of the community.

• Responsibility for one’s choices.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

About Becky Gillette

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