The Incorporation of Occupational Therapy: One OT’s Corporate Career
By Ashley Opp
Photo at right: Tanya Lughermo merged an occupational therapy career with a corporate one, contributing to the health and wellness of thousands.
What place can the occupational therapy profession have in large corporations? Tanya Lughermo, MHA, OTR/L, associate manager of health and productivity services for Chevron, has carved out a unique niche in the corporate world that has far-reaching benefits for employees. Using her occupational therapy expertise, she serves Chevron’s 56,000 employees throughout 180 countries.
“Corporations are an arena that can provide a lot of exposure to occupational therapists. We have very special skills and we can be very successful at this type of work because of our training,” says Lughermo. She initially worked as a clinical occupational therapist and hospital manager, consulting to industries, and accepted a position at Chevron almost 8 years ago. She now manages the corporate health and productivity services group and is responsible for the strategic direction of health promotion and wellness for Chevron’s many companies worldwide. Her group provides wellness and injury prevention services to operating companies and their employees, selects medical providers, provides subject-matter expertise for health issues, and manages health-related projects and programs.
Promoting Health and Wellness
Health and wellness spans countless issues, and Lughermo’s work ranges from negotiating contracts to designing ergonomics and fitness-for-duty evaluations and programs. Lughermo is currently managing the development of a particularly large, enterprise-wide program to promote cardiovascular health and is perfectly situated to make a large impact on people’s health and well-being. “I have the opportunity to really help educate employees about their health. We have the ability to help them recognize their risks and to take personal responsibility,” Lughermo says.
Lughermo and her group designed and now manage Chevron’s preventive ergonomics program, which is particularly reflective of occupational therapy’s holistic approach.
“We offer employees a program where, through assessment, we determine who is at high risk for developing cumulative trauma and musculoskeletal injuries,” says Lughermo. The process involves workstation evaluation and a follow-up. If discomfort is not resolved, a clinical screening takes place. If the screening is negative, the worker moves on to job-specific conditioning; if it is positive, he or she is referred to workers’ compensation insurance for medical treatment.
As corporations try to cut health care costs, prevention is gaining popularity. “There’s increasing evidence documented in the literature [indicating] that focusing on prevention yields a higher return on investment compared with a medical management focus,” says Lughermo. Historically, she says, many programs have focused on disease management or on people at high risk for diseases.
Bolstered by the evidence, Lughermo has applied this shift toward preventive health care to the design of her programs. For example, in the cardiovascular health program, “the primary strategic goal is to keep the healthy people healthy. We’ll work with those who are high risk, but I want to make sure that I have programs in place for someone who has a low risk of, say, hypertension, to keep their blood pressure low.” Chevron plans to track and monitor results as it rolls out a cardiovascular health program later in 2007.
Outcomes are important, too. “We establish goals and metrics for our programs, and then we look at participation, outcomes, and satisfaction measurements,” Lughermo says. “Because of confidentiality, we can’t report on outcomes for individual employees, but we will report on aggregate outcomes over time.”
For example, in the ergonomics program, Lughermo’s group tracks the number of people whose discomfort was alleviated by participating and the stage at which it resolved, and correlates this information to the level of discomfort reported on entry into the program. They also gather information on those who are at high, medium, and low risk and track employee satisfaction with the program.
Incorporating Occupational Therapy
Lughermo believes that being an occupational therapist has contributed immensely to how she approaches her job. “Not everybody thinks as logically as an occupational therapist,” she says. “We look at the problem, set the goals, design the intervention, and track progress—this is what I do, day in and day out, with everything that I do. I [also] look at the psychosocial side of things and I try to incorporate that piece into as much of physical health as I can. A lot of what you do in wellness relates to behavior change, and there’s a huge psychological underpinning to behavior change and lifestyle choices.”
Lughermo’s passion for health and her occupational therapy expertise have engendered an impressive career that benefits thousands of people. “I get to design programs for 56,000 people and really can have an impact on people’s lives,” Lughermo says, and sums up her perspective concisely: “I just really enjoy that.”
Ashley Opp is Senior Staff Writer at AOTA.