It is a bit of an industry joke: Hospital employees are statistically among the most unhealthy Americans, particularly when it comes to cardiovascular health.
To combat this fact, Spartanburg (SC) Regional Healthcare System—designated as an ANCC Magnet Recognition Program® (MRP) organization in 2005—sought to improve the health of its 5,000 employees as it aimed to reduce the comparatively high rate of deaths from heart disease in the region—556 versus 536 per 100,000 nationwide.
And with planning and effort, it did. Spartanburg successfully inspired employees to exercise, helped employees lose 1,759 lb. collectively, and identified 250 employees with elevated systolic blood pressure, while simultaneously improving the overall health of its community and laying a blueprint for other hospitals to follow. This included the education of three OB/GYN groups, one family medicine group, the Spartanburg Regional Medical Center (SRMC) employee health department, and all of the medical residents who rotated through the chest pain department, as well as two employee wellness challenges and screenings.
SRMC is also part of the HeartCaring® Program, a Spirit of Women national campaign focusing on outreach and education of heart health issues.
"What we realized was that we needed to give this information out and take care of our own employees," says Mary Mathes, executive director of women and children's services at SRMC.
Mathes says there was an opportunity to set up an employee health program that could reach a large number of employees, and to do so in a gender-specific way—remarkably, more than 80% of Spartanburg's employees are women. Not only could the hospital target a massive percentage of its workforce, but it could also tap into behaviors female healthcare providers tend to exhibit.
"This information will not only go out to our female employees; they would take this information back to their homes," says Mathes.
This was a deliberate thought—organizers knew that women generally make the healthcare decisions for their families, "and so, if we could educate them, we knew this information would go into the home and into the community," says Mathes.
Why do nurses and other healthcare providers so often exhibit signs of poor health?
"I think healthcare providers in general put themselves last," says Mathes. "They work long shifts and then they have to multitask lives outside the job. We recognize that as the healthcare field."
Thus, Spartanburg's goal was to help its employees realize that their own health is just as important as the health of their patients.
As a member of the Spirit of Women Network, Spartanburg was provided a wealth of evidence-based information and materials that could be distributed to staff.
"All we had to do was find a vehicle to provide this information to our staff," says Mathes.
Every employee has an annual health evaluation at the hospital. Organizers realized that one place where every employee would eventually find themselves—and where they would be in the right frame of mind to think about their own health—was the waiting area for these evaluations.
"There was an opportunity there to provide educational materials, and then to have them meet face-to-face with a nurse practitioner," says Mathes.
J.T. Smith, RN, MSN, BC, CVN-1, chest pain center coordinator at Spartanburg, is in charge of education for clinical healthcare providers. Smith educated the nurse practitioners and physicians on the program.
"We found there was a knowledge deficit," says Smith. "When asked what they thought the No. 1 killer in women was, the majority said breast cancer, when it's heart disease."
With the nurse practitioner actively providing information and printed materials as takeaways in the waiting area, these annual evaluations became a good opportunity for staff outreach.
The importance of 'when'
To maximize the program's impact, SRMC implemented its outreach program early in the year.
"We did it at a strategic time of year," says Smith. "In January, everyone is motivated, ready to change their lifestyle. That's when we said, 'Let's look at your heart health.' And this leads into heart month [February], when we offer different venues for heart education."
SRMC is particularly interested in employee health—beyond evaluation, cholesterol screenings, and the like, the hospital also has a half-mile indoor walking track where staff members can squeeze in a workout during their lunch break. Because of the success of the indoor track, the facility has been able to rally support to get a larger outdoor track built as well.