South Florida Hospital News
Friday October 30, 2020
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August 2009 - Volume 6 - Issue 2
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Building Cost Effective Worksite Wellness Programs

Letís face it - healthcare in America is a mess. We spend more per capita on healthcare than any other industrialized nation yet Americans are suffering from more chronic diseases than our counterparts and life expectancy is actually dropping! Physicians are pressured to order tests or offer procedures that may not be necessary out of fear of being sued and insurance companies are denying these services as "unnecessary" to contain costs. As these market forces continue to collide, healthcare spending in the US topped $2.3 trillion last year Ė increasing 6.7% from the previous year . But are we healthier for it? Americans have come to expect the quick fixes to eliminate our high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes.

As healthcare premiums continue to climb, why then would employers even think of spending more on employee health to start worksite wellness programs for their employees? The answer is relatively simple Ö itís just hard to accept because we as Americans have become accustomed to treating illness rather than preventing it. 50 to 70% of all chronic diseases (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.) can be linked to unhealthy lifestyle choices. Said another way, chronic diseases can be prevented through a lifestyle of regular exercise, a heart healthy diet and not using tobacco products. Since we spend more time with our co-workers than we do with our families, would it not make sense to take advantage of the opportunity to promote health and wellness to your employees? If an employer can influence employees to adopt healthy lifestyles, then fewer employees will get sick creating fewer healthcare claims which would ultimately result in premiums which would not increase as quickly. If fewer employees are getting sick due to illness or disability, then they are spending more time at work Ė thereby increasing productivity and your bottom line!

Worksite wellness programs - especially those targeting the major health issues shared by your employees, can save anywhere from $2.00 to 6.00 for every dollar spent on the program. The best programs are those that are designed for two target groups: the employees that are already sick (to make them better) as well as those employees that are well (to keep them well and prevent illness down the road). Focusing on smoking cessation and weight reduction are two areas that typically reap the highest return on investment for wellness programs. Since it takes several years of unhealthy living to develop high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, employers should start employees on a road to fitness and healthy eating today. Heart disease, for example can be prevented, stopped and even reversed if the proper corrective steps are followed. Itís never too late to start.

Whether worksite wellness programs are sophisticated involving screenings, assessments, health coaching, smoking cessation, weight loss, fitness, etc. or quite simple with educational lunch and learns, free educational literature or "take the stairs" campaigns, there are always benefits to the effort. Ideally, you want to determine what areas of health your employees are most at risk and develop programs to specifically address those health issues. This is done through biometric screenings (blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose checks) and health risk appraisals (a survey that asks health and lifestyle questions). Florida Heart Research Institute provides these services and our group aggregate reports will help any organization quickly determine the areas of greatest health concerns so targeted campaigns to specifically combat those health issues can be developed.

The level of sophistication in programming is obviously a function of the budget allocated, but there are some simple low cost things that can be immediately implemented to get started: Join Welcoa, ensure senior management support, develop a wellness team, plan a budget, develop an action plan, collect baseline data and constantly evaluate and modify. If your budget allows, solicit the assistance of organizations like FHRI that will help you craft your own customized wellness programs. Wellness providers are all different - some will offer full blown programs where they provide everything from soup to nuts for one price while others provide services a la carte. Itís important to select a service provider that shares your vision and values.

If you think of your employees as your most valuable resource, then an employee wellness program should be a top priority to your organization. In addition to moving your employees toward a lifetime of good health and increased corporate productivity, these programs show employees that you care about them. They increase morale while also fostering loyalty to the organization. Compare your employee turnover rates before the program was started to after.

Tori Gabriel is Director of Education & Prevention, Florida Heart Research Institute. For information about the worksite wellness programs and services provided by Florida Heart Research Institute, e-mail tori@floridaheart.org or visit www.floridaheart.org.
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