The year 1981 saw President Reagan appoint the first woman to the Supreme Court, Indiana Jones and Chariots of Fire were atop the box office, and public health officials in Los Angeles reported the first cases of what would later be called Human Immunodeficiency Virus.

Concerning the latter, healthcare workers would soon need support and information to protect themselves from AIDS, and thankfully 1981 also marked the founding of the Association of Occupational Health Professionals in Healthcare (AOHP).

“Employee health — occupational health in healthcare— has had to grow and change as healthcare systems and delivery has grown and changed,” says Kim Stanchfield, RN, COHN-S, a member of the AOHP executive board the editor of its scholarly journal. “Add to [bloodborne pathogens] safe patient handling, emerging infections, essential immunization requirements as well as the multiple other responsibilities of today’s healthcare workplace. The entire landscape has changed and our profession continues to embrace the challenges. Thirty years ago, employee health offered flu vaccine a couple days in the fall, a few employees took it and that was it for flu vaccine. Today, we conduct comprehensive mandatory influenza protection programs with multiple components.”

Indeed, as employee health is increasingly recognized as a critical component of patient safety, healthcare leaders and political powers realize the future of the system relies on the health of its workers.

“A key to the future is expanding the present to be better,” Stanchfield says. “Evidence-based practice should be based on statistical research as we work to eliminate sharps injuries and prevent patent handling injuries. Keeping our employees protected from communicable disease is a constant in employee health. This is accomplished by current and future immunization recommendations, state-of-the-art monitoring, and testing of personal protective equipment (PPE) and specialized education on safety training.”

The organization was founded as a local Association of Hospital Employee Health Professionals (AHEHP) in Northern California in 1981 in acknowledgement of the fact that healthcare workers face a unique set of hazards not encountered by workers at large. AHEHP was incorporated and became a national organization in 1983, and then became AOHP in 1994 to more accurately reflect the mission and vision of the organization, which actively champions safer workplaces and recognizes the relationship between healthy healthcare workers and optimal patient care.

“AOHP is the only national professional association dedicated exclusively to addressing the needs and concerns of occupational health professionals who work in healthcare settings,” says AOHP Executive President Mary Bliss, RN, COHN.

In a related development, the AOHP announced that one its Executive Board Members, MaryAnn Gruden, MSN, CRNP, NP-C, Cohn-S/CM has been appointed to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Board of Scientific Counselors. Her two-year term began Jan. 1, 2016. The NIOSH Board of Scientific Counselors includes 15 experts in fields related to occupational safety and health. These members, selected by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, advise the NIOSH director on occupational safety and health research and prevention programs. The board also provides advice on standards of scientific excellence, current needs in the field of occupational safety and health, and the applicability and dissemination of research findings. Gruden, a member of the editorial advisory board of Hospital Employee Heath, has more than 20 years of occupational health nursing experience in healthcare and is the manager of Employee Health Services for Allegheny Health Network (AHN) in Pittsburgh.

Editor’s note: AOHP will be observing its 35th anniversary throughout the year and is extending an open invitation for others to join the celebration during the 35th Annual AOHP National Conference, scheduled for September 7-10, 2016 at the Sheraton Myrtle Beach Convention Center Hotel in South Carolina. For more information about AOHP or how to register for the National Conference, contact AOHP Headquarters at 800-362-4347, or email info@aohp.orgmailto:info@aohp.org.