By Erin Rhoda
Businesses could help make their communities healthier, according to a recent national report but Maine is already leading the way.
Whether by partnering with local YMCAs and nonprofits to expand community health programs, creating healthier products, giving to charity, or volunteering time, expertise or resources, theprivate sector could play a much greater role in improving the health of current and future workers and potentially controlling health care costs.
A tailored approach to community health promotion can address the striking variability in disease burden at the county level, states the report by the Vitality Institute, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nations largest philanthropy dedicated to public health.
More than 90 percent of large companies offer employee-wellness benefits, but only 65 percent extend them to spouses or dependents, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported in 2013. Whats more, only a fraction do so for their local communities.
It might be unusual for employers to extend their internal employee wellness programs to the communities from which they hire, but the Vitality Institute report highlights two from Maine: Bath Iron Works and L.L. Bean.
The ship manufacturer joined with the Freeport retailer to offer diabetes prevention programs, originally for employees and dependents, to the community. With the help of local hospitals, BIW held three diabetes management classes for a total of 104 participants between May 2014 and February 2015. The goal was to change lifestyles and help people monitor their disease.
The two companies split the cost of $200 per participant with health care providers and paid to train the class instructors.
The first class of 11 participants lost weight and saw improved diabetes management scores. BIW estimates program participants will likely see their health care costs reduced by 60 percent over five years.
Manufacturing, transportation and warehousing, retail and public administration employers in particular could learn from BIW and L.L. Beans example. Theyre the sectors most likely to be located in counties with poor health and employ a less healthy workforce, according to the report, which analyzed health data such as obesity, smoking and cardiovascular disease rates across more than 3,100 U.S. counties and 21 major industries.
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