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VOL. 6 | NO. 31 | Saturday, July 27, 2013

Culture of Health

Company wellness programs get employees on right track

By Michael Waddell

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Local businesses are encouraging employees to get up, get out and get moving by offering wellness programs and financial incentives.

YMCA employees Jerry Cato and Brenna Walker use flexibility stretching stations at the Fogelman Y Downtown. The organization offers employees quarterly and annual incentives to exercise, a growing trend among companies that are emphasizing wellness. 

(Lance Murphey)

Companies including Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell and Berkowitz PC and the YMCA of Memphis & the Mid-South have signed on for new initiatives like the Memphis Business Group on Health’s (MBGH) CEO Culture of Health program and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Healthy Worksite Program, with an end goal of helping employees become more active and ultimately lowering health insurance costs.

According to a recent MBGH report, medical costs decrease approximately $3.27 for each dollar invested in wellness, and work absenteeism costs fall by about $2.73 for each dollar spent.

MBGH is a nonprofit organization that brings employers together so they can learn from one another, while also providing them with the tools to manage the cost and quality of health benefits.

“We recommend that companies create and sustain a culture of health within their organization, and that culture should be built upon valuing the health of their employees both for their quality of life and for their productivity,” said Christie Travis, MBGH chief executive officer. “We also strive to represent the collective voice of employers with hospitals, health plans and physicians, so that when their employees do need to interact with the health care system they are getting high quality, safe and affordable care.”

MBGH is working closely with Memphis Tomorrow and Healthy Memphis Common Table on a new program called the CEO Culture of Health initiative, which is in support of the Healthy Shelby plan.

“We ask that each company select a national recognition program that they will use as a road map for the programs and initiatives that they need to offer at their worksite as well as through their benefit design,” Travis said. “We also ask that they adopt one healthy eating or physical activity policy at their worksite.”

Early adopters of the CEO Culture of Health include: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; Shelby County Government; The University of Memphis; Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp.; Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare; Medtronic Inc.; The Regional Medical Center at Memphis; Church Health Center; and Baker Donelson, which has focused heavily on its wellness program since last summer.

The law firm, which employs 260 people at its Downtown Memphis office and 1,260 people company-wide, implemented an incentive program last year that gives a credit of up to $300 in insurance premiums back to employees that meet certain criteria.

“Our CEO Ben Adams has really been a champion of our program overall, and that goes a long way towards getting people involved,” said Alan McKiernon, human resources manager at the firm’s Downtown office.

Baker Donelson employees are asked to commit to a physical activity policy and get annual health screenings. The firm works with wellness vendor Pravat Healthcare Solutions, and aggregate data from health screenings help to see what areas are most urgent health concerns.

“That helps us craft wellness programs that are more geared to our needs, and ultimately it encourages healthier behavior and drops our medical costs,” McKiernon said.

Map routes and mileage markers are posted on the firm’s intranet to encourage walking near each of the company’s 17 offices in seven states, and employees can also access information about local fitness club membership options.

“We even put signs up outside of all of our stairwell doors to prompt people to utilize the stairwells and increase their physical activity by not taking the elevator. It encourages them to walk instead of ride,” McKiernon said.

Another fun activity the firm just implemented is a “Recess at Work” day, once per month on a Friday.

“We set aside an hour for people to get out from behind their desks and interact with each other, and most importantly, do something physically active,” McKiernon said.

In June and July the firm visited Envision Gym for a game of dodge ball and tug-of-war matches, and an upcoming “Recess at Work” session could include a kick ball game at AutoZone Park.

This year YMCA of Memphis & the Mid-South was selected as one of 11 Shelby County employers to take part in the National Healthy Worksite Program (NHWP) initiative, an evidenced-based program of the CDC that includes health screenings, health assessments, health information, health and safety programs, as well as ongoing onsite support and health coaching.

“What we know from countless research studies is that healthier employees are more productive, absent less, have fewer workers compensation claims and have less impact on health insurance cost,” said Shauna Bateman, YMCA corporate relationship director. “As a small- to mid-size employer, we have not had the capacity to study these issues specifically within our workforce. However, as a NHWP employer, we are looking forward to having more of this type of information specifically pertaining to the Y in the near future.”

YMCA employees are often allowed flex-time hours to exercise during the workday, and there are healthy vending options at all branches. All employees get a free Y membership, and there are onsite health screenings for members throughout the year.

The company provides quarterly incentives and a yearly monetary incentive for employees that complete physical activity benchmarks and complete a health screening.

While new rules also allow companies to impose penalties for unhealthy workers, most are choosing not to do so at this time.

“We are choosing at this time to encourage employees to make improvements to their individual health through positive incentives, encouragement and a workplace culture that supports health,” Bateman said.

The YMCA has also adopted Healthy Memphis Common Table’s suggested policies related to healthy meeting food, healthy vending and physical activity in the workplace.

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