Health Care, Human Resources, and Law

‘Op5’ studies physical, mental health of law enforcement officers

Robertson Research Institute and Mercy Health work with GRPD and Sheriff’s Department.

March 4, 2016
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Forty-five volunteers from the sheriff’s and police departments are participating in a health evaluation project at Robertson Research Institute in Grand Rapids. Courtesy Robertson Research Institute

The physical, emotional and mental health of the Grand Rapids men and women who hold the blue line is being measured.

Robertson Research Institute, the local research arm of Nevada-based Robertson Wellness, has partnered with Mercy Health to launch a new initiative with the Grand Rapids Police Department and the Kent Count Sheriff’s Department to improve the quality of life and long-term health of the area’s officers.

The new pilot program, called “Op5,” is part of Robertson’s Mission Protect initiative, which seeks to manage and study the health and performance of police.

“Our police officers undergo stress due to fatigue, shift work, job requirements and a form of PTSD that can affect health in an adverse way. Anyone in that environment will be predisposed to health and performance inhibitors,” said Joel Robertson, chairman of Robertson Research Institute, 35 Oakes St. SW, Grand Rapids.

“However, a police officer must perform at the highest level at all times and not have an off day. It is our duty as citizens that experience the freedom that our police officers have provided to us, to protect them as much as possible.”

Robertson Wellness is an applied behavioral medicine company that provides predictive, personalized precision medicine programs, said Marc Decker, president.

Robertson is running this project through its nonprofit Robertson Research Institute, so Robertson Wellness is the company that owns the technology, but Robertson Research Institute is providing the sponsorship — “paying half and Mercy Health is paying half,” he said.

“As a leading health care system, we work closely with and recognize the important role of police officers and first responders, and their health is vital to the care and protection of our community," said Roger Spoelman, president and CEO of Mercy Health West Michigan.

“Studies show these professionals have a disproportionate risk of heart disease, even compared with the population at large, which may be putting the community, their department’s interests and health care costs at risk. This is why Mercy Health is sponsoring this study; we want to do what we can to help improve the health and lives of our officers.”

Interest in the project came out of a mutual approach between Robertson and the police, Decker said. It started with former GRPD officer Jessica Payne, who is now a Robertson staff member and who has gone through all the certification and training to be a Robertson behavioral medicine specialist, he said. Payne’s husband is still on the force, Decker said, adding it was Payne’s experience that made her feel Robertson’s behavioral medicine and health approach is something the police need.

“(She) and her husband went out for beer with Joel and I, and they said, ‘We’ve got to take this to GRPD, with all the PTSD, personal high stress — everything going on and all the talk about ‘could an incident happen here that’s happened in Chicago or other places like Ferguson.’ There are underlying conversations of how could we prevent that from happening here,” Decker said.

“Jessica really drove the relationship, initially. We sat down with the chief of police (David Rahinsky), and he said, ‘This is a no-brainer. We have to do this.’”

The program with GRPD, which has 25 volunteer participants, began Feb. 16 and will conclude April 25. The program with Kent County Sheriff’s Department, which has 20 volunteer participants, began Feb. 20 and will conclude May 9.

The participants are made up of a range of positions, including police captains, lieutenants, sub-chiefs, correctional officers, detectives, SWAT, and officers with varying ranges of experience. Some have been in the system for 25 years and some have only been in for about one year, Decker said.

The police have been extremely receptive to the program, Decker said. He said at least one officer told him the police need this kind of support and health checkup.

“It wasn’t that difficult to come up with a volunteer list because of the stress they’re under. … They risk their lives every day, so they’re under enormous amounts of stress all the time,” he said.

Decker said the stresses police operate under are different than those faced by military personnel. Many soldiers do their stint in the armed services and then transition back to civilian life, he said.

“These officers live in that (danger) day in and day out their whole entire lives.”

Decker said Robertson’s program will perform an eight-week analysis of where the police officers are with their holistic health and what types of services they may need.

“We recognize that, in order to optimally serve this community, we need to invest in the health and wellness of our greatest asset, our employees,” said Rahinsky.

Decker said the institute’s goal is to help officers manage their stress better to prevent health risks and improve cognitive decision-making.

“They’ve got disproportionate health and personal risks. They’re overworked, there’s high stress, and they’re more predisposed to heart disease, heart attacks and diabetes, and they have a higher risk of those because of the environment in which they work,” Decker said.

If the program is successful, Decker said the institute would like to create a model that could be used by law enforcement agencies throughout the country.

“There are 900,000 sworn in officers in the U.S.,” he said, adding that studies show officers are often required to make one or two split-second decisions during each shift.

“If they’re not healthy, if their brain chemistry is out of whack, there are tendencies to overreact and make errors in decisions. And so if you look at it, with all these decisions, there’s only a handful of bad decisions being made, but the public seems to only look at that handful. Part of our goal is to enhance those decisions that are being made and to (prevent bad decisions.)”

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