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Companies hope investment in employees pays off

July 29, 2012
By AMANDA METZGER , The Leader Herald

At Townsend Leather in Johnstown, employees can choose from a fleet of bicycles to take an energizing ride on their lunch breaks.

St. Mary's Hospital employees can receive up to a $150 reimbursement for health club memberships.

A number of local businesses take advantage of Nathan Littauer Hospital's HealthLink Littauer Worksite Wellness programs that offer health screenings or wellness education programs on site.

Article Photos

A few members of the St. Mary’s Hospital Healthy Living Committee meet together at the hospital Friday. From left are Thomas J. Puszkarczuk, clinical exercise physiologist, Kelly Flewelling, human resource specialist, David Fariello, RN and employee health/safe patient handling supervisor and Andrea Rogers, RN and cardiac rehab nurse.

These are just a few examples of wellness initiatives local companies are adding to their employee benefits as investments in a healthy and happy workforce.

"It's certainly a valuable thing when you take the initiative and try to teach employees about healthy lifestyles, and then engage them in doing the proper things to prevent illnesses and maintain their health," said Mark Kilmer, interim president of the Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

Kilmer, citing a recent survey by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, said such programs can cut back on companies' health care costs.

According to the survey, companies are recognizing between a $1 and $3 decrease in their overall health care costs for every $1 they spend on wellness initiatives, Kilmer said.

According to the same survey, about 70 percent of employers nationwide offer a wellness initiative.

Kilmer, also the chief instructor and director of the KaiDoSan Sport Karate school, said he always encourages people in his classes to check with their company or health insurance provider to see if there are health-insurance discounts or other benefits available for participating in a structured physical activity.

At Townsend, employees participate in various community walks after work hours, but they also have the opportunity during the work day to take steps to stay fit.

"We've always been proponents of having healthy employees at Townsend," said Tricia Martin, senior vice president of administration and finance.

Martin said the company's employees have a bike-share program that offers employees a chance to take out a bike during lunch time, and they also engage in "The Biggest Loser" competitions for weight-loss motivation.

These programs also seem to offer employees a sense of community, Martin said.

"We provide that community family support that a lot of people are looking for. [It] is number one on their list in today's world. Just having those extra activities and relationship-building goes a long way," Martin said.

Townsend is in the process of developing a full-rounded wellness program for its approximately 140-member workforce.

The company two months ago began working with health insurance provider MVP.

Townsend is in the research and development stage in working on a wellness program now, Martin said.

A survey was recently distributed to employees to determine their interests, Martin said.

"We got together with MVP two months ago. They walked us through the wellness program, and they actually will provide the survey for us to interpret the data. It's very simple. If people participate in the survey, we enter them into a raffle for prizes," Martin said.

In addition, she said the company is looking at healthy vending-machine offerings like a refrigerated vending machine that dispenses salads and vegetable snacks. She said the prices are reasonable, "so it seems to be a win-win."

"We're really excited about it and happy to be focusing on improving our partners' well-being," Martin said. "The happier they are, the better they'll feel and work."

At St. Mary's Hospital, employees in 2008 from different departments joined to establish the Healthy Living Committee, which meets monthly. A survey is distributed annually to employees to determine what wellness programming they'd like.

"It's about work-life-balance," said Kelly Flewelling, human resource specialist.

Programs range from nutrition education or smoking cessation to stress management and safety education and training.

The hospital offers an employee assistance program to help manage both a careers and homelives.

The hospital also offers health fairs for its workforce in which employees can check out different gyms and get other information.

Employees are eligible for a reimbursement equal to one-half of the cost of an annual membership at a health club.

Employees can attend Lunch and Learn Sessions in the cafeteria, with topics chosen based on associate surveys and data collected from health-risk assessments.

Flewelling said the hospital also tries to stock its vending machines with 25 percent healthy options, and the hospital cafe offers healthy options as well.

Joe Leone, food service and nutrition manager at the cafeteria, said anyone eating at the cafe can view the nutrition analysis of menu items, and low-calorie heart healthy entree options are available.

For employers looking to initiate wellness programming for employees, Martin from Townsend suggested they look around their own community.

"I would say use your resources," she said. "Use the community around you. There's a lot that's offered out there you might not know about until you start calling around."

Martin said Townsend is hoping to partner with Nathan Littauer's HealthLink to offer wellness programming.

Sue Cridland, director of community education for HealthLink Littauer, said employers choose a variety of services from HealthLink.

It can be as simple as requesting pamphlets and literature on certain topics, to bringing mobile health-screening equipment to the worksite, or hosting an educational program for the employees.

She said the costs for programs depend on a number of variables, and sometimes businesses pay for it while other times health insurance companies or employees and the businesses share costs.

"If an employee were coming to a scheduled community program as a way to get health insurance points for a rebate or bonus there would be no additional cost other than what a general community member would pay. What we offer for the community is basically free or low cost," she said in an email to The Leader-Herald.

Cridland said insurance providers often offer premium reductions or other incentives for employees who take advantage of certain health screenings or take wellness classes.

Within the hospital, a grassroots employees committee comes together to plan events that incorporate fitness and wellness.

"They have a lot of great ideas," she said, including a Zumba event in May.

 
 

 

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