Stanford appoints full-time doctor for work-related injuries

L.A. Cicero OHC

Along with two examination/treatment rooms, the Occupational Health Center contains basic equipment found in a general practitioner’s office. The center is located within the Environmental Safety Facility, at 480 Oak Road.

Dr. Patrick O'Callahan

Dr. Patrick O'Callahan

Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) has announced the appointment of Dr. Patrick O'Callahan as Stanford's first full-time physician devoted to treating workplace injuries and illnesses. Having a dedicated doctor on staff ensures that acute care will be available onsite immediately when employees hurt themselves at work.

O'Callahan's arrival last month also brings attention to EH&S's Occupational Health Center, which opened quietly in 2007 with a consulting doctor serving as its part-time director. Although housed in a back room of the Environmental Safety Facility on Oak Road, the center is equipped with all the basic equipment found in a general practitioner's office.

Located in Room B15, the center has two examination/treatment rooms, electrocardiograms, a hearing-test booth and a nook for blood draws and other minor lab work. Along with O'Callahan as its director, the center will be staffed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. by occupational health nurse Jamie Boseman and administrative associate Lily Hunter.

Previously, employees in need of immediate care for work-related injuries were told to go to an occupational clinic in Redwood City contracted by Stanford. Sending such cases off campus has been the norm since the start of the decade, when the Palo Alto Medical Foundation stopped offering occupational healthcare services and switched to internal medicine.

"This is really a first for Stanford to be able to provide this service onsite, and I think it's going to benefit the employees substantially and it's going to benefit the university substantially," said Larry Gibbs, associate vice provost for EH&S. "I've been working for about 12 years to get a program for Stanford employee healthcare available on site."

In addition to immediate trauma care, the center is now primed to do even more "medical surveillance," a common preventive service wherein those working in a laboratory with animals or with certain potentially hazardous materials are monitored to limit harmful exposures. Medical surveillance is one of the center's main services, monitoring about 1,000 interactions per year, according to Gibbs.

The center also will improve the university's response in workers' compensation cases by providing continuity of care, from treatment when the injury first occurs through follow-up. True continuity, Gibbs said, starts with prevention, which is especially important when it comes to work-related injuries that can be avoided altogether or significantly mitigated with early intervention.

The two most frequent occupational injuries at Stanford are sprains and strains, such as lower-back pain induced by improper lifting or bad sitting posture, and repetitive strain injuries from prolonged typing or other highly repetitive tasks. EH&S ergonomist Mike Fonda will work closely with the center to help identify and prevent those types of conditions before they require serious—and costly—medical care.

Gibbs said workers' compensation cases cost Stanford about $3 million a year and estimated that the center could see around 3,000 visits for work-related injuries and illnesses in 2009. The center works closely with Risk Management, an office within the university's Business Affairs division, as well as the School of Medicine—O'Callahan's actual employer.

O'Callahan came to Stanford from the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, where he provided on-site occupational health services as a contract physician to more than 5,000 employees and 3,000 contractors in Groton, Conn. There, he developed medical surveillance programs for individuals working with various biological and chemical agents.

O'Callahan had been at Pfizer since 2006, and he is now in the process of earning a master's degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University. His experience as a staff physician and medical director at hospitals and other organizations dates back to 1996, and he is certified by the American Board of Family Physicians.

As medical director of Stanford's Occupational Health Center, O'Callahan will oversee its on-site staff and services and provide case-by-case risk assessment, consultation, recommendations and follow-up for work-related injuries and exposures. More information is online at http://suohc.stanford.edu.