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Fitness can be elusive goal for many healthcare providers

A “typical” day for many healthcare providers often involves long hours, little rest, quick meals and making decisions that can literally mean life or death. It can be physically, mentally and emotionally draining, leading to a loss of productivity at work and even impacting their home life.

“Healthcare workers give and give and give. They spend their day thinking about other’s health, and it often leaves little time to worry about themselves,” said Sheri Ezell, director of Forrest General Hospital’s INTERxVENT program. “They often put themselves last.”

House call

Carmen Polk is director of surgery at Women’s Hospital in Flowood, a position she has held for nearly three years. She has been with the River Oaks Health System for 12 years now. For her, coping with the stress is just part of the job.

“It’s a learned thing,” Polk said. “I tell my nurses that they have to learn to deal with it, and not take it home with them.”

Home is the primary place where Polk draws her strength. She gave credit to her husband, Randy, for his support on the home front, helping with the children and running the household when she is working. This support was evident recently when Polk broke her leg at work and faced a lengthy recovery period after her surgery.

“I get my support from family and church,” said Polk, who had just returned from a cruise she shared with Randy and her two children. “The hospital offers counseling to the staff. I don’t think many use it, but they might and just don’t tell me.”

Other healthcare providers aren’t as fortunate as Polk. In fact, the pressures of work can cause problems at home. Ezell said for her, one of the most rewarding aspects of her work at INTERxVENT is seeing the effect the program has on participants’ life away from Forrest General.

“We have employees who write stories, telling us of positive lifestyle changes,” she said. “They tell us that family life was difficult before. Now, they enjoy going home, enjoy time with their families, enjoy their community involvement. We even had one employee tell us that their seven-year-old child was now taking healthy snacks to school, and it’s rewarding to see that the program is not only helping employees, but their families, as well.”

Time out

Hank Boerner, director of North Mississippi Medical Center’s Wellness Centers in Tupelo, Pontotoc and Baldwyn, said he has found many at the hospital struggle to find time for a break. And too often when they do find that time, they do not use it to their full advantage.

“A lot of workers think if they could just get a little break, catch some rest, that they will be okay,” Boerner said. “But often they need exercise, too. Rest by itself is not enough. We encourage them to get some exercise in during those breaks.”

While most healthcare providers know what they need to do to stay fit, keeping focus on their health is often a challenge. Ezell said another reward she gets from her job is seeing the employees’ appreciation for the INTERxVENT program, which offers a relaxation lounge, tropical atrium, fitness room, cardio room, newly designed locker rooms, professional mentoring areas and more. Forrest General offers membership as an employee benefit — it is free to all of the workers.

“They simply love the program,” she said. “It is a covered benefit on the clock.”

She emphasized that while INTERxVENT offers state-of-the-art equipment and cutting-edge services, it is the basic things that can make a difference. “It can mean something as simple as making better choices at the Canteen,” she said. “Instead of grabbing a candy bar, maybe they get some peanut butter crackers or something that is healthier. It can be incremental and small. They don’t have to go to a gym for 45 minutes every day to get in better shape.”

Opening the doors

One of the advantages of in-hospital fitness programs is the wealth of resources they offer onsite. If the programs work for healthcare providers, they can also be effective for employees of other businesses.

North Mississippi Medical Center’s Wellness Centers have been around for nearly 20 years now. Offering essentially everything a full-service fitness center provides, the centers not only serve many of the hospital’s employees, it counts approximately 65 corporate members, businesses such as Cooper Tires and Action Industries.

Boerner currently serves as chair of the Medical Fitness Association, a national non-profit organization formed in 1991 to assist medically integrated health and fitness centers achieve their full potential. Boerner said membership in the association is growing, and sees a bright future and even more offerings from such programs in the future.

Forrest General bought the license for its INTERxVENT program only five years ago. The program has proven so successful with the hospital’s staff that Forrest General is considering offering it to area businesses. Ezell said at press time that the hospital was talking with several area businesses about the program, and, like Boerner, sees future growth for the program.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.


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