World Day of the Sick, which occurs annually on February 11, is a day of observance — an intentional day of increased awareness and tangible support — for those who are sick, injured or suffering, and for their caregivers. Are you suffering now? Do you care for someone who is suffering? What if your department went out of its way to see to your needs and hand-deliver support to you wherever you are — at your home or even at your work desk?
Inspired by the good works of the Order of Malta Western Association, police psychologists creatively tailored and applied World Day of the Sick to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). Their efforts can serve as a model for how to enhance care and support of law enforcement employees around the world, even during a pandemic. This successful program can be duplicated in your area. For that, consider doing the following.
“I tweaked my back again on that takedown.”
“I need six White Claws to fall asleep.”
“I am angry all the time.”
“I am in a sexless marriage.”
“My father is a drunk — demonic, not happy, mean, mean drunk.”
“We had another employee COVID death this week.”
Solicit employee feedback
Ask sworn and civilian personnel what would interest, entice and even compel them to attend on their day off. This increases creative engagement, preemptively problem-solves and allows you to learn true preferences. LAPD South Bureau police psychologists, for example, asked all bureau personnel working in a 48-hour period what would really compel them to drive to work and participate in the World Day of the Sick, even if it landed on a scheduled RDO.
Identify feedback themes
Sort employee feedback data into quantitative and qualitative themes. The big benefit of in-person verbal feedback (as opposed to online surveys) is the promise of quality, depth and richness in the findings. In LAPD South Bureau, for example, there is an ongoing challenge to innovate because officers want interesting and engaging programming with dynamic movement and hands-on learning. They want a personal focus. They want space and flexibility to connect with each other; otherwise, the demands of modern policing (e.g., COMPSTAT, efficiency, compressed work schedules) can leave them feeling isolated and disconnected. Personal and social needs matter. Smaller training groups with convenient and comfortable training locations and convenient training times more consistent with their work assignments make a difference in receptivity and level of engagement.
Be original and intentional
Meet employees where they are (as opposed to, perhaps, where you want them to be). Give them what they need in always new and innovative ways. Make it cool. Appeal to the senses. Have fun with it. The day should be abuzz with excitement and possibility.
Implement tailored programs
Pre-pandemic programming included high-tech gadgets and wizardry delivered to the detectives at their desks. NormaTec Compression Boots rejuvenated detectives’ sore muscles and boosted circulation. Localized cryotherapy targeted specific muscle areas or spasms with temperatures from 20 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This flushed the tissue of fluid and waste rapidly, reduced inflammation, improved range of motion and afforded a massive return of regenerative blood supply. Theragun percussive therapy, which is like a jackhammer for the muscles, provided deep muscle massage treatment for tension and soreness relief. Tactical stretch sessions increased mindfulness and cultivated a greater sense of calm. Employees moved better and felt better. Body fat testing combined with individualized nutritional consultations allowed personnel to devise a precise plan for muscle gain and fat loss in specific areas. Blood pressure screenings alone saved two officer lives that day.
Other enchantments included drumming (yes, banging on drums!) to neutralize stress, release negative feelings, boost immune systems, increase connection with others, and increase mental clarity and creativity. Police chaplains blessed the badges, provided one-on-one spiritual discernment and anointed the sick. As a result, some personnel reported reactivating their faith-based coping strategies to reduce stress. Perhaps most noteworthy, officers who had been shot in combat (during military deployments and/or LAPD patrol work) publicly shared their harrowing personal stories, the physical and psychological costs, and how healing had taken place for each of them.
During the pandemic, World Day of the Sick was characterized by virtual hands-on psychological skills trainings with feedback and coaching. This allowed even homebound sick/IOD officers to cultivate lower emotional arousal and decrease pain. All trainings began with a mindfulness exercise to increase control of one’s mind and reduce suffering. Pain management workshops included psychoeducation in emotional arousal and its relationship with stress. Employees also learned about gate control theory (including how to identify the physical, cognitive, emotional, activity and social factors that open the pain gate to the mind, and those same factors that close the pain gate). Psychological strategies taught included diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, visualization/imagery training, monitoring automatic thoughts, time-based pacing, pleasant activity scheduling, radical acceptance, value-directed behavior, anger management, sleep hygiene, relapse prevention and flare-up planning, and how to increase one’s support system (even if one is quarantined).
Technological strategies shared included apps (e.g., Meditation Studio, Calm), meditation headbands (e.g., MUSE 2), biofeedback, TENS and virtual reality. Pro bono relaxation CDs were then mailed to all personnel who attended the trainings so that they had yet another tool available at their immediate disposal.
Evaluate the program
Ask personnel what was helpful and how to make it even better the following year, and then continue learning and improving. LAPD outcomes included officers scheduling follow-up appointments with IOD doctors, requesting pain management therapists, seeking enhanced body work (such as chiropractic care and deep percussion massagers) and offering unsolicited that they would seek out department police psychologists in the future if they needed help. It’s true: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”