Experiencing a heart attack is a frightening and life-changing event for anyone. For law enforcement officers, the risk of a cardiac event is significantly higher than for civilians, making the threat of a heart attack loom even greater.
Since police work often entails high levels of stress coupled with irregular work schedules, lack of consistent sleep and difficulty maintaining a healthy lifestyle, agencies are engaging in conversations around officer wellness with greater regularity.
Health initiatives are becoming increasingly common, with some departments zeroing in on everything they can do to specifically identify and reduce an officer’s risk of cardiac illness.
Many departments find the ideal solution is to engage in the flagship program offered by Sigma Tactical Wellness. By incorporating in-depth testing methods with personalized health plans, Sigma’s solution helps officers significantly reduce their risk of a cardiac event.
But what if, despite your best efforts, you do experience a heart attack? While you might be hospitalized and will need to take time off from work to recover, your agency as a whole will also be significantly impacted. Ultimately, the total cost of a heart attack is exponentially greater than many in law enforcement realize.
THE TIP OF THE EXPENSE ICEBERG
When considering the cost of a heart attack, medical bills are what typically first come to mind. It’s estimated the hospital expenses alone after a cardiac event will be more than $100,000, says Dr. Jon Sheinberg, a cardiologist and law enforcement officer who serves as chief medical officer at Sigma Tactical Wellness.
However, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) paints a very different picture. CALEA’s estimate of the cost of an in-service heart attack ranges between $450,000 and $750,000 per event.
When medical bills only make up a portion of that amount, how is the rest of the money accounted for? It’s not the individual officer who is responsible for that sum – it’s agencies who bear the brunt of the cost.
EVERYTHING ADDS UP
The expense of a heart attack extends well beyond hospital discharge, as an officer who experienced a cardiac event cannot instantly return to life as they knew it. Sheinberg says it’s common for an officer who had a heart attack to be at home recovering for at least one month before returning to work.
Even then, according to the American College of Occupational Environmental Medicine (ACOEM), anyone who has had a heart attack is placed on an antiplatelet agent – a medication that essentially causes people to bleed easier. The ACOEM suggests any officer who is on this type of medication shouldn’t be in a critical job function because if they get cut, they have a much higher rate of becoming incapacitated if they’re bleeding.
“Let’s say a patrol officer has a heart attack and has a stent put in,” said Sheinberg. “That person, for at least a year, is put on dual antiplatelet therapy, which means aspirin and another medicine that reduces clotting. Now that person is vulnerable and potentially has to have a change in his or her job function.”
Small agencies may not be able to move the officer to an administrative role, and he or she may, at great risk, be put right back on patrol. Larger departments that could have accommodated the change years ago will likely have a much harder time doing so now due to staffing challenges.
“Every single department is hurting for personnel and we don’t have the ability right now to keep these people in non-critical job functions,” said Sheinberg. “Here in Austin, we’re pulling detectives who haven’t been on patrol in 20 years and putting them back on the street. One officer, who is potentially at risk, can’t really be moved, so the backfill of that is expensive. Most of the time, it’s not possible.”
The cost of backfill, overtime and even the potential for early retirement for the affected officer all contribute to CALEA’s cost estimate. For agencies operating with shrinking ranks and too-small budgets, just one cardiac event can be devastating.
REDUCING COSTS THROUGH PREVENTION
No magic pill will completely eliminate an officer’s risk of a heart attack, but through proactive risk analysis and personalized prevention plans, the chance of a cardiac event can be significantly reduced.
The Sigma program differs from other medical screenings by combining a range of tests, including an active electrocardiogram, a cardiometabolic stress test and an advanced lipid panel, with several in-depth consultations, allowing officers to gain a better understanding of how they can reduce their risk of cardiac illness.
More than 7,500 law enforcement officers have participated in the Sigma program and seen firsthand how they can improve their health and wellness.
“In 2022 we screened a major metropolitan agency in Texas, and what we learned was the people who went through our program had a 74% reduction in cardiovascular insurance claims,” said Sheinberg.
The program also aided in reducing musculoskeletal claims, like torn rotator cuffs or pulled hamstrings, by 62.5%. Sheinberg believes that is a direct reflection of weight reduction based on Sigma’s metabolic testing and weight program.
“We know our program reduces costs from an insurance point of view, so really it’s a return on your investment,” he said. “Your agency pays a set amount to engage with our company and not only do we keep your officers alive, but we reduce overall costs.”
HIDDEN BENEFITS OF THE PROGRAM
In many instances, the thought of yet another expense is too difficult for agencies to tackle. However, departments struggling to fill vacant positions can use salary savings to invest in the Sigma program.
“There’s a great opportunity for chiefs and departments to recognize while they have a surplus of dollars due to an industry-wide staffing shortage. Programs like Sigma can be a valuable tool for the people you do have, who are likely tired of working short and subject to long periods of overtime,” said Craig Bettis, Sigma’s director of development. “You want to keep the staff you have healthy because any loss of one person puts you further down in resource power.”
Keeping officers healthy, both physically and mentally, has been shown to reduce the frequency of sick leave and short-term disability claims, resulting in higher job satisfaction and less turnover. The initiation of a wellness program like Sigma can not only be a successful retention tool but a valuable recruitment tool for any organization.
Bettis, a retired police commander, says agencies that engage in the Sigma program exhibit the fastest change in culture he’s ever seen.
“This was instant – for the first time people were paying attention to their health,” he said. “They were talking amongst one another about making positive changes in their lifestyles. All of a sudden, energy drinks were gone from briefings and they’re asking to have cooktops put in the kitchen so they can cook food. Yearly anonymous surveys given to staff asked what’s the one thing that keeps officers at their agency. A top result mentioned was the Sigma program.”
Visit Sigma Tactical Wellness for more information.