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Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany

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Occupational health staff provides critical support service for base work force

By Art Powell | | March 11, 2010

Hundreds of civilian workers at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany depend on the Division of Occupational Health to determine if they are physically qualified to perform their job.

The Occupational Health Division, part of the Department of Occupational Medicine, Naval Branch Health Clinic Albany, monitors the health of employees who require certain physical qualifications for their job.

“We take care of all of the civilian employees on the installation who are required to be monitored to ensure they are physically qualified to perform their job,” said Betty Ritchie, manager, Occupational Health Division, NBHC, Albany. “We provide pre-employment health screening for job candidates who need it, and monitor other workers, as needed, while they work here.”

The Occupational Health facilities at the clinic are also equipped to provide basic medical care for workers injured on the job.

“I treat them if I can, they get referred only if it’s something we can’t handle here,” Ritchie said. “If it’s minor lacerations, I’ll suture them here. We try to do as much as we can here at the clinic before we send a patient off-base for medical care.”

In addition to providing emergency medical care, the Occupational Health Clinic staff provides what are called surveillance examinations.

“Anyone who works on the installation and needs a surveillance examination of any kind comes through this department,” explained Ritchie, a nationally certified physician’s assistant who was the first physician’s assistant trained in the Army. “We monitor not only Public Safety Department personnel, but others such as fork lift operators.”

A physician’s assistant practices medicine under the supervision of physicians and surgeons.

Their work takes them outside the clinic facility to determine if there are problems at the work stations they visit.

“We visit work stations to ensure the noise levels aren’t being exceeded, that employees are wearing required protective equipment, and wearing it correctly,” Ritchie said.

Workers at Maintenance Center Albany are provided with a surveillance examination if their supervisor decides it is needed.

“If there is a lot of noise in a work section, their command may decide those workers’ hearing needs to be monitored, so we do a hearing conservation procedure,” Ritchie said.

While occupational health staffers visit the maintenance center, so do industrial hygiene staffers from the Department of Occupational Medicine.

“They check those things they are responsible for and also provide surveillance exams from the industrial hygiene side. We all work together to ensure workers have a safe environment, and that we are preserving their health as best we can,” said Ritchie, whose office processes approximately 450-500 surveillance exams per year, plus any injury cases which occur.

For those individuals who fall short of meeting physical standards for their job, or show a loss in an area that is required for their job, the occupational health staff has procedures to follow.

“If we find that a worker has a decline in some of their abilities or qualification standards, such as hearing or vision, we get into qualifying, disqualifying or limiting their work activities,” said Rhonda Howard, occupational health nurse. “For instance, if there is a vision question, we send a worker to get glasses and then check them to determine if they can see well enough to perform their job.”

A worker’s supervisor is notified of any issues that arise from a surveillance examination or testing so appropriate action can be taken by the supervisor and human resources officer. But for most workers, their surveillance examinations are routine.

“I come in for a surveillance examination yearly, and other tests require me to come in more often,” said Kenneth Hitt, supervisor, Central Repair Service, MCA, as he progressed through a series of occupational health tests at the facility at the clinic.

“When we find any asbestos, I’m on the removal team, so I’m monitored for that. They monitor us pretty well here and keep up with what’s going on, and they do a good job of it.”

All active-duty military personnel receive an annual hearing screening and workers in areas which contain hazardous materials such as paint vapors are closely monitored.

The occupational health staff works with both base and Marine Corps Logistics Command risk management offices to ensure workers have safe workplaces and are physically qualified for the work they perform.

“We see employees from both sides of the house, so our office has someone who attends the monthly health briefing in order to monitor injuries and illness,” said Ritchie, who worked for four years at the surgeon general’s office at the Pentagon.

Maintenance Center Albany, with hundreds of employees, has an on-site facility to provide immediate health care in the event of an accident at the facility.

“I provide first aid assessment of an injury, should one occur here, and refer the individual according to their needs,” said Joy Parramore, occupational health registered nurse, Occupational Health Div. “We also provide blood pressure screening for workers here and overall health promotion activities to promote their good health.”

The clinic, located in the MCA main lobby, Building 2200, opened Sept. 17, 2009, and represents a new level of medical support for workers there.

Overall, the occupational health services offered at MCLB Albany span the base.

“The responsibility that we carry in the occupational health area is huge,” said Cmdr. Chidi U. Ekenna-Kulu, officer-in-charge, Naval Branch Health Clinic, Albany.

“It goes across the activities population. The training that our staff is required to maintain is very detailed and they must frequently attend professional education,” she said. The occupational health program administered through the Naval Branch Health Clinic Albany is overseen by the Occupational Health Department at Naval Hospital Jacksonville, Fla.