Healthy Employees; Healthy Companies

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More companies than ever before are implementing employee health and wellness programs to control rising health care costs. According to the American Heart Association, businesses lose $32 billion annually in health care costs due to premature illness associated with high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. A whopping 70 percent of health care costs in the United States are preventable.

And while a company’s financial health is vital to its success, the bottom line is that when a company invests in its most valuable asset—its employees—everyone wins. Healthy employees are happy employees, and happy employees are more productive.

Medtronic, with 37,000 employees globally and 8,000 in Minnesota alone, expects to invest $15-20 million in the next 10 years encouraging employees to adopt healthier lifestyles.

They were one of the first large companies to offer consumer-driven health plans as an alternative to traditional health care plans, they provide a number of health and wellness resources, including free workplace wellness screenings for employees and their spouses, and in September 2006, they launched a comprehensive wellness program that provides employees with heart risks access to personal health coaches.

Medtronic employee Lora Severn lost 127 pounds through the comprehensive wellness program.

“I find this program to be very helpful because it makes me accountable for what I’m doing and what I’ve done,” she comments.

When she first started at Medtronic, she took two kinds of diabetes medication and needed three shots of insulin every day. After months of working with her health coach and changing her diet and exercise habits, her doctor gave her the thrilling news that she no longer has diabetes.

In addition to offering personal health coaches, Medtronic promotes physical health through on-site fitness centers, off-campus fitness center discounts, and outside walking paths. They added low-fat items to their vending machines, and introduced healthy meal options in the cafeteria.

“We’re creating a workplace that’s not a barrier to good health, but a catalyst,” explains David Ness, Medtronic vice president of global rewards.

At Federal Foam Technologies, Inc., a small company headquartered in New Richmond, Wis., insured employees have the option to receive annual physical exams, health risk assessments (complete with a confidential report card stating current health conditions and lifestyle change suggestions), and cancer screenings. The company provides partial health club reimbursements, a $5 weekly reduction in medical premiums to non-smokers, and encourages participation in the association’s Start! Walking Program, with pedometers and walking trackers provided.

“Employees form walking groups and challenge other walking groups within the company,” says Doug Pepin, director of human resources. Federal Foam then provides token prizes to the winning team.

Locally, Medtronic and Allina Hospitals and Clinics join national Start! sponsors’ Subway Restaurants, Healthy Choice and AstraZeneca to support the Twin Cities 2007 Start! Heart Walk at Harriet Island on Saturday, April 28.

Whatever the size of the company—from international corporations to local mom-and-pop shops—worksite wellness is health care reform that really does work. The prevention of just one heart attack justifies the investment of an entire year’s cost for an employee wellness program.

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