Mariner Wellness in the Inland Marine Industry

Phil Schifflin – Director, Center for Mariner Advocacy

SCI Chaplains regularly interact with mariners in the inland marine industry. Through these interactions, it became clear that mariner wellness was an issue impacting many of these mariners. In order to help address this issue, SCI hosted a roundtable in Paducah, KY in July of 2021. Over twenty people attended, representing a broad cross-section of the inland marine industry, medical professionals, and government regulators.

Those in attendance heard from researchers about studies highlighting the importance and complexity of the mariner wellness issue. Many of the company representatives in the room discussed various initiatives they had attempted in order to help address mariners’ physical wellness concerns. These included prepared menus that ensured calories were appropriate and the meals nutritious, purchase of exercise equipment, financial incentives based on healthier lifestyle choices, etc. While some of the programs had some marginal benefits, for the most part, the representatives did not feel that the initiatives had significantly improved mariner wellness.

At the conclusion of the one day meeting, the group decided the issues surrounding mariner wellness warranted additional work and decided to create a steering committee to look at ways to better address them.

I was asked to help facilitate the establishment of the steering committee and its work going forward. I reached out to several leaders in the industry and ultimately identified three individuals passionate about the mariner wellness issue who were willing to serve on the steering committee. I also reached out to a medical professional who was very familiar with the inland marine industry. The steering committee was established with these four individuals.

The committee has been meeting regularly, usually once a month, for over a year now and have identified several areas of concern regarding mariner wellness. The consensus agrees that there are a wide range of both physical and mental wellness issues that are worthy of additional efforts. The group also discussed how poor mental health likely contributed to poor physical health and that the reciprocal was likely true, too. Recognizing that they could not simultaneously attempt to address all the identified challenges, the committee needed to hone in on the best place to focus their immediate attention.

After some deliberation, the steering committee decided to focus their initial efforts on mental health issues. They came to this decision due to the fact the past efforts had been focused primarily on physical wellness; as such, they decided to focus on an area that had not had much attention in the past.

Some early discussions focused around the Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) and the mental health care that these programs provided. The representatives noted that what the various EAP programs offered in the way of mental health care varied based on both quality of care and responsiveness of the care. The group would like to identify those EAPs that are best positioned to help mariners address mental health concerns. In the interim, the group recommends companies review what services their EAPs are providing, and if they are not satisfied, look to replace their EAP with one that will better meet their mariners’ needs.

Ultimately, the group designated four areas of concern regarding mental health that needed their initial attention: 1) Improved mental health screening tools to better identify mariners in need of assistance; 2) Better guidance to Inland Marine HR professionals on how to manage mental health concerns with their mariners; 3) Work to address licensing challenges for mental healthcare professionals that serve mariners; 4) Guidance on how best to manage the “return to work” process after a mariner has recovered from a mental health crisis.

The steering group is establishing workgroups to more extensively address each of these four issues. The first work group is presently being established to work on improving mental health screening tools. If you are interested in participating in any of the four proposed work groups, please get in contact me at [email protected].