Sheriff partners with TCRH to promote wellness

-A A +A

Julie Rippey, Provider Relations & Industry Lead for Twin County Regional Healthcare shares wellness information with members of the Grayson County Sheriff’s Office

This story and photos were shared with the Declaration by the Grayson County Sheriff’s Office

INDEPENDENCE — Beginning in January, Grayson County Sheriff Richard Vaughan implemented a physical fitness program for the department. Law enforcement recruits in Virginia have to complete a physical fitness examination prior to becoming certified officers, but are rarely tested later during their careers. Sheriff Vaughan says that his officers are now expected to maintain a certain level of fitness in order to be “fit for duty.”  
If you were to ask the sheriff why he is so passionate about fitness, his answer would include both professional and personal reasons. Last year, at age 46, Sheriff Vaughan was diagnosed with high blood pressure. He didn’t want to start taking the prescription medication due to the side effects, so he began investigating the causes of high blood pressure and ways he could treat it. He was pleased to learn that by losing some weight, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet could help him avoid the health risks associated with high blood pressure like heart attack, stroke, and even dementia.
According to a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, police officers in the United States face roughly 30 to 70 times higher risk of sudden cardiac death (SCD) when they’re involved in stressful situations—arresting suspects, altercations, or chases—than when they’re involved in routine or non-emergency activities. The study’s findings suggest the need for cardiovascular disease prevention efforts among law enforcement officers.
Another study conducted by the Law Enforcement Wellness Association (LEWA), shows that suicide, divorce and alcoholism rates are higher among law-enforcement personnel than current national averages. The lethal combination of monotonous shift work, sleep deprivation, high stress, poor diet and irregular exercise often results in early death.
A 40-year study of police-officer mortality rates at the University of Buffalo revealed that the average age of death for a law enforcement officer is 66; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s life expectancy for an average person is a full 10 years longer.
“Law enforcement is one of the most stressful careers out there, and I want to give my employees the tools they need to cope with stress and improve their overall health and wellness,” said Vaughan. Leading by example has always been his philosophy, so Vaughan changed his diet and started working out regularly with members of his staff.  
His efforts paid huge dividends. In 2017, Vaughan lost more than 35 pounds and got his blood pressure back into the normal range.
“I can run a six-minute mile, bench press 130 percent of my body weight, and I’ve never felt better,” Vaughan said. “I want each employee of the Grayson County Sheriff’s Office to be the best they can be, not only for themselves, but for their families and the communities they protect and serve.”   
Vaughan studied fitness standards for law enforcement officers across the country and learned that the Cooper Institute has not only established the benefit of regular physical activity, but also provides links between fitness and many chronic and potentially preventable illnesses. The Cooper Institute is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting life-long health and wellness worldwide through research and education.   
The sheriff implemented a comprehensive wellness program based on the institute’s research and partnered with Twin County Regional Healthcare (TCRH) to eliminate any barriers to the program.
In 2014, Twin County Regional Healthcare launched an employee wellness program, WorkPoint Wellness. This program partners with employers in the Twin Counties and surrounding areas to promote health and wellness in the workplace. Program director, Julie Rippey and Larissa Baker, RN, BSN work with business owners and Human Resource Directors to schedule on-site health events, health and wellness presentations and streamline communication between the business community and the hospital. Employees are given access to free health screenings and local doctors and nurses provide wellness classes.   
“We work to help our community connect with a primary care provider, and educate employees on the importance of having a PCP and receiving appropriate preventative health screenings. The WorkPoint Wellness program partners with area organizations that share our commitment to making our communities healthier,” said Rippey.
Caroline Jackson, RN, BSHS, Worksite and Community Health Promotion Program Director with the Virginia Department of Health’s Mount Rogers Health District and Sam Bartlett, Director of Police Fitness have brought additional expertise and value to TCRH’s partnership with the sheriff’s office. Officers are encouraged to set fitness goals and reevaluate them monthly when health care professionals come to the sheriff’s office to help track their progress. Each month, the health teams provide two or three nurses to conduct the screenings, review goals and present a health and wellness topic presentation.  
Sam Bartlett, Director of Police Fitness leads the group in inspirational presentations and resources to help officers realize the importance of staying “fit to serve.”
“We titled the 2018 Wellness Program with the Sheriff’s Office—Live Inspired in 2018 in conjunction with the mission of Police Fitness,” Rippey said.
“Police Fitness was founded as a non-profit to help law enforcement agencies establish a culture of well-being – physically, mentally emotionally, and spiritually. Officers would never go on patrol with a poorly maintained vehicle or a gun that would not fire properly. It is just as imperative that they do not ignore their most valuable weapons – their body and their brain,” said Bartlett.
Sheriff Vaughan also teamed with Core Health and Fitness, formerly Nautilus, to promote the department fitness program. The management at Core has given sheriff’s office personnel access to their fitness center, which includes free-weights and numerous exercise machines. Several officers have taken advantage of the opportunities the sheriff has provided, and the program is having a dramatic impact on their wellness. As a department, the officers have lost more than 200 pounds and several officers have even competed in obstacle course races.  
One such race, called the Spartan, included a 12-plus mile run and more than 30 obstacles. In another race, deputies ran 11 miles through the rocky mountainous terrain of Hanging Rock State Park, N.C.  
“You have to switch things up and make exercise fun to maintain interest and enthusiasm,” Vaughan said.  
The first round of physical fitness assessments were conducted in April to determine each officer’s ability to perform certain tasks based on established Cooper Institute standards. The first assessment provided a baseline for overall fitness that included; maximum bench press to measure upper body strength, one minute sit up test to measure trunk muscular endurance, 300 meter run, one minute push up test, and a 1.5 mile run to measure aerobic power.
“This program isn’t just something we should do, it is something we must do,” said Vaughan.
Law-enforcement agencies assume a certain degree of liability regarding fitness standards and programs. In 1988, the Washington (D.C.) Metro Police Department was found negligent for not having a fitness requirement. An officer, who had not undergone physical training for four years, was involved in a confrontation with a man wanted for armed robbery. The encounter turned deadly, and the robber’s family sued the department for lack of officer training, claiming that had the officer been fitter, he wouldn’t have needed to resort to his weapon. The department paid the family more than $425,000 in damages.
The physical fitness program has many residual benefits as well. Studies have shown that regular exercise can reduce injuries and workers compensation claims and even reduce sicknesses, which translates to lower health care cost.
“Physical Fitness if a force multiplier for Law Enforcement Officers tasked with keeping the public safe. It allows us to perform our duties more effectively, recover from injury quicker and absorb and handle the physical and emotional stress related to the job,” said Investigations Sgt. Brad Brown. “I have benefited greatly from the hands-on approach of the Wellness Program implemented at the Grayson County Sheriff’s Office. By working with the staff available to us through the program, I look forward to continuing to serve my community at the best of my ability.”
“After working as a deputy in Grayson County now for nearly 10 years, it has become easy to let fitness take a back seat. The implemented wellness program has given me the opportunity to access my personal well-being,” said Patrol Sgt. Doug Waller. “I hadn’t had a physical or blood work done in nearly 10 years and hadn’t been on a continual workout regiment in a few years. I have now lost around 15 pounds, and work out at least five days a week. It has helped in dealing with mental stress and with getting in better shape to perform duties that arise from time to time on patrol. It is easy for anyone to fall into a fitness rut, but as a deputy, we have to be ready at any time to perform to the best of our ability for our community.
“When you really think about all the statistics and research, this program makes perfect sense. I believe it is going to save the county money, improve the quality of life for our officers and improve the quality of service that we provide to our citizens. I wish we had implemented this a long time ago,” Vaughan said.