Healthyliving

The long-awaited Workforce Wellness initiative is
underway within the New Jersey Department of
Corrections.

The initiative is intended to promote whole-person wellness and will be available to custody
and civilian staff throughout the NJDOC.

“Wellness includes mental health, workplace
health,” Director of Mental Health and Addictions
Dr. Herbert Kaldany, who is the chairperson of
the initiative, said. “Financial health. Spiritual
health. We really want to be diverse in different
categories of wellness.”

Although it’s still in the preliminary stage, the
program will be rolling out new components on a
monthly basis.

Kaldany said that the program is needed to
respond to the emotional and physical stresses
first responders face.

“We consider all of our employees to be first
responders,” Kaldany said. “Being a responder
has certain stresses and difficulties that we are
trying to address.”

Fitness stations at the NJDOC facilities will be
equipped with an informational kiosk, workout
equipment, and literature and information on
health-related issues, healthy food options and
various topics. At the fitness stations, links and
important telephone numbers will be available.

Vendors’ staff are also welcomed to use these
services. The pilot sites are Central Office
headquarters and South Woods State Prison.

A Workforce Wellness Committee Chairperson
will be designated to lead the local Workforce
Wellness Committee at each location.

The initiative centers around six
pillars of health: occupational,
physical, social, intellectual, spiritual
and emotional.

The emotional pillar carries a stigma
that makes discussing it extremely
difficult for some people.

“We hope we can decrease the
stigma by raising awareness and
collaboration among the entire
workforce,” Kaldany said.

The physical pillar will include
monthly health awareness topics
and screenings, nutritional
counseling and discounted gym
memberships.

The intellectual pillar is designed to broaden
intellectual depth by encouraging the workforce
to seek training and higher education
opportunities.

As for the social component, it will include
volunteer opportunities and positive community
contributions.

Peer specialist and resiliency training will start
this summer and continue on an ongoing basis.
Director of Correctional Sta” Training Academy
Aaron Erven indicated that the peer resiliency
program will be available for every member of
the Department.

“Mental wellness is part of our mission here,”

Erven said. “We are bringing it to the forefront so
that civilian and uniform staff can speak about the
issues that are there.”

The peer specialists will be developed through
resiliency training, which will be open to all
uniformed and civilian staff, regardless of rank or
title.

Resiliency trainers will educate employees on the
warning signs that could lead to a potential crisis.
“The training will help make the staff better rounded, so that we will be able to help each
other,” Erven said.

According to the American Addiction Centers,
a national study concluded that suicide among
correctional officers was 39 percent higher than
other professions.

Acting Commissioner Marcus O. Hicks, Esq., is
working on ways to help employees de-stress
in order to avoid bigger mental health problems
down the road.

“The well-being of our officers, as well as our
civilian staff , is one of my main priorities,” Hicks
said, “which is why I implemented a six-person
Workforce Wellness Taskforce to successfully
provide employees with the resources they need
to address the incredibly difficult mental and
physical aspects of the
job.”

The program has been in
the planning stages since
August 2018 and was
ultimately approved by
Hicks in January 2019.

Garden State Youth
Correctional Facility
Administrator Tracey
Shimonis-Kaminski said
if anyone should fall on
hard times, the wellness
initiative will officer support without judgment.

“The Department’s wellness initiative is twofold:
both proactive and reactive,” Shimonis-Kaminski
said. “We hope by implementing the proactive
awareness and reduction of stigma associated
with mental health, we reduce the need.”

For many, opening up about deep-rooted and
often private issues is awkward.

“The most difficult part is getting people to open
up,” Shimonis-Kaminski said. “It is a process, and
confidentiality is a huge part of the process.”

Kaldany agreed that changing a culture could
take years. The wellness services will also be
available to the families of the employees.

“The families often see problems in the
employees that they can’t see in themselves,”
Kaldany said.

The Workforce Wellness Taskforce committees
will consist of six or seven employees in 14
locations, each of the 13 prisons, plus Central
Office. The composition of the committees will
reflect the cultural diversity of the staff.

The initiative has a chaplaincy component,
which will require chaplain training and the
recruitment of volunteers. A Prison Chaplaincy
Program will also start this summer.

“We wanted to create many different
options,” Kaldany said. “Some people are not
comfortable speaking with a peer. Some are
comfortable speaking with a chaplain.”

In addition, all employees working in New
Jersey can access the Employee Advisory
Services — the EAS officers counseling services
free of charge.

The Cop2Cop suicide helpline already exists.
The Department will create a specific referral
help-line for those working in correctional
settings so they can speak to a fellow
correctional police officer.

“The Executive Staff has made a commitment
to investing in the overall wellness of
the staff, both in the immediate and long
term, targeting both physiological and
psychological health,” Shimonis-Kaminski
said.

Shaheed M. Morris is a former television and newspaper journalist. He currently works in the public information office for the New Jersey Department of Corrections.

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