Institute Urges Employer Health Programs to Engage Communities
By Jeff Rowe
We reported recently on the increasing dividends, in health terms, being realized via employee wellness programs. A new report from the Vitality Institute suggests its time for employers to go even further by extending their healthcare focus to the communities in which their businesses are located.
Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the report, entitled Beyond the Four Walls: Why Community Is Critical to Workforce Health, uses health data from 3100 U.S. counties to demonstrate linkages between workforce and community health. It also discusses strategies of cross-sector collaboration between employers and community groups and provides guidelines for employer-community partnerships to promote health within and beyond the workplace.
The health data reviewed included metrics such as the prevalence of smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, diabetes and death due to cardiovascular disease. Moreover, to understand existing employer-community partnerships for health promotion, the researchers interviewed representatives of 33 employers from a range of sectors, including finance and insurance, healthcare and social assistance, manufacturing, retail and real estate development. Stakeholders from 38 community groups, including government, nonprofit and private foundations, were interviewed as well.
At the core of the report lies the contention that both individual and workforce health are products of a health ecosystem shaped by structural, community, institutional/ organizational, interpersonal and individual factors. Given that reality, the report contends, efforts focused solely on workplace health promotion and/or increased health care cost sharing with employees are insufficient to address the broader, community-based drivers that influence employees individual behaviors outside the workplace.
Among the recommendations, the report encourages, among other things, employers to extend their corporate health strategies to the community, using local data to drive decisions, while also suggesting that employers should engage in strategic philanthropy and use market-driven solutions to create shared value and address health disparities. Conversely, communities should also step up their efforts to engage employers beyond the workplace with the overall goal of improving population health.
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