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Digital toolkit aids healthy company cultures

Springfield companies look toward creating a healthy work culture, increasing productivity and saving money

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A new website is helping local companies of all shapes and sizes implement employee wellness programs, as a result of a recent collaboration between the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce and the business committee of the Springfield-Greene County-Health Department’s Healthy Living Alliance. The digital toolkit at HLAOzarks.com launched Sept. 7, during the chamber’s regular morning mixer, Good Morning, Springfield.

“One, we’re trying to address company leadership needs,” said Danny Perches, the chamber’s business assistance coordinator who helped lead the initiative.

According to the Build Wellness page of the new toolkit, assessing a company’s wellness is a way to understand what is done well and where opportunities for improvement exist. It also displays links to various workplace checklists and scorecards.

“We’re looking at organizations looking to start an initiative that have never had anything of the sort,” Perches said.

Further down the page, there’s a link to a Centers for Disease Control Workplace Health Model.

The page also provides information for companies that already have a program in place, but want to see what others are doing for comparison, Perches said.

A separate page, Policies & Programs, provides real examples by local companies such as Bass Pro Shops and Ozarks Technical Community College.

The city of Springfield, for instance, implements a policy in order to increase the availability of healthy foods inside of vending machines. A penalty of up to $500 is placed on vendors if the minimal level of healthy options is not met. Another by CoxHealth prevents the hiring of any tobacco users. Applicants are required to undergo pre-employment nicotine screenings.

Background
Perches spends much of his time outside the office, learning about the region’s business climate through the chamber’s business retention and expansion program.

It’s how he learned companies were motivated to make their life at work healthier in order to attract and retain employees, increase productivity and, ultimately, save money.

“Just to give you one example, there’s an approximate expense of $5,816 for each employee that smokes,” Perches said.

Additionally, companies may experience another $1,429 in health care costs if an employee is overweight, according to the HLA. Costs are a concern for many company leaders the business retention and expansion program meets with every year.

“Within the program, one of our goals is to meet with roughly 175 company CEOs,” Perches said. “At the end of the fourth quarter of last year, 40 percent of the companies we met with stressed either a need to start some sort of wellness initiative or enhance what they were actively doing. It was companies across all sectors – health care, manufacturing, remanufacturing and (information technology).”

The Springfield-Greene County Health Department recognized the employers’ needs, too. It had just received a $10,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to create a helpful resource, said Kathryn Wall, the Health Department’s public information administrator.

“We coordinated with them, because they were trying to provide a tool for the business community, and we knew exactly what the businesses had stressed they needed help with,” Perches said.

Program in play
A wellness program at Missouri State University has been in motion since roughly 1995 – though Coordinator of Employee Wellness Programs Ben Hunt, who also co-led the initiative to build the new site. Prior to this, he coordinated the city of Springfield’s wellness program.

The core of MSU’s wellness program focuses on behavior change, Hunt said.

“We believe that with the right education, motivation, skills, tools and social support, it can lead to changed behaviors in employees,” Hunt said. “Basically, once you encourage these changes, it tends to lead to lower health risks.

“When you’ve got lower risks, it leads to less chronic disease, and when you’ve got less chronic disease within an organization, it leads to fewer health care costs.”

Operating out of MSU’s Taylor Health and Wellness Center, the wellness program offers full-time employees, their spouses and their dependents free flu shots and discounts to the school’s Foster Recreation Center. They’re also offered free classes in yoga and tai chi and long-term fitness programs.

“We do have a program over the summer we offer. It’s just a two-month program, but we saw an improvement in body mass index in 7 percent of our participants,” Hunt said. “Total cholesterol levels improved by 4 percent.”

Improving BMIs and cholesterol levels help prevent chronic diseases, which could additionally result in longer lifespans in Greene County. From 2007-2011, seven of the 10 leading causes of death in the county resulted from chronic disease, according to the Springfield-Greene County Community Health Assessment. 

“There are basically three primary behaviors that led to these diseases. Those behaviors were a lack of exercise, eating poor diets and tobacco use,” Hunt said. “Those three things were primary cases of heart disease, cancer, lung diseases and diabetes.”

More recently, Missouri State has placed a focus on battling diabetes.

“Some of the more recent data show that, on average, a typical diabetic sees about $7,900 additional medical expenses each year directly due to Type 2 diabetes,” Hunt said.

Through another program called Prevent T-2, MSU employees can work yearlong to combat the onset of developing diabetes. The program is part of the CDC’s National Diabetes Prevention Program.

“We’re actually currently the only organization in southwest Missouri that’s recognized by the CDC to offer that program,” Hunt said. “It’s proven to reduce the onset of developing diabetes and pre-diabetic individuals by 58 percent.”

The program currently has 30 participants.

“Hopefully, we can reduce the onset of full diabetes in those individuals and for each one save $7,900,” Hunt said.

Saving thousands of dollars is an outstanding return on investment, Hunt said, when the school only invests roughly $75-$100 per year, per employee eligible for the program.
 
For perspective, Missouri State averages roughly 2,200 full-time employees, Hunt said, meaning the school invests $220,000 every year for its wellness programs, totally.
 
Perches, however, said the amount spent on wellness programs company to company varies.

“It’s going to be different for a manufacturing facility and what they provide for their employees than perhaps a retail or IT company,” he said. “That means costs can range all over the place. There’s not one specific program. It really can come in a variety of flavors is how I like to put it.”

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