February 26, 2010
By Myke Folger
Employer Achievement in Wellness Programs
Since its inception in 2006, the employee wellness program
has become a symbol of an emerging new culture in American businesses. At
United General Hospital, the wellness program has become a source of real
improvement, where participating employees eat better, show less stress and
reduce their cholesterol levels.
Even United General’s CEO, Greg Reed, is doing better.
“I may not have changed eating at my desk, but I’m more
consistent with exercise in the evenings,” Reed says. Since enrolling in the
hospital’s nutrition and exercise programs, he’s knocked off 10 pounds and has
kept them off.
|Greg Reed not only helped launch United General
Hospital’s wellness program, he’s also a beneficiary.
In 2004, United General, nestled in the foothills of the
Cascades in the small Skagit County town of Sedro-Woolley, severed its
relationship with the larger Skagit Valley Hospital in nearby Mount Vernon.
Thus began a culture change, one that helped the hospital reconnect with its
“That was a big turning point for us,” says Valerie
Stafford, United General’s director of communications. “When the two hospitals
were affiliated, services here closed and were moved to the larger hospital. So
when we went independent, we had to re-establish those services and an identity
of our own.”
Mark Pearson, director of United General’s fitness center,
got to work, conjuring up the Wellness 360 program that would strengthen
employee health profiles. Programs included health coaching, on-site fitness,
tobacco cessation, stress management, yoga classes and nutrition education.
Pearson also started a weight-loss challenge akin to the popular TV show “The
Biggest Loser.” Competitors in 2007 lost a combined 300 pounds, and then did it
again in 2008. In 2009, Pearson started “The Amazing Race” program, modeled
after the TV show, which had employees going on six separate hikes for a
combined 4,500 miles.
Pearson also enrolled United General in the Washington
Health Foundation’s Governor’s Health Bowl, a six-week program that logs the
miles employees hike, run or bike. Among the participating businesses
throughout the state, United General won, with 186 employees (roughly 50
percent of the hospital’s staff) logging a combined 50,659 miles. Then they won
it in 2006 as well.
That zest for health is also visible to potential employees.
When the hospital was looking for a new director in the emergency room, the
preferred candidate was on the fence about taking the job. But learning about
the “The Amazing Race” challenges and other components of Wellness 360 won her
Wellness 360 uses a comprehensive screening system for all
participants. From each profile, United General can measure an employee’s rate
of success. Since 2006, employee nutrition has improved by 15 percent, cancer
risk has been reduced by 5 percent, and stress management, safety, blood
pressure and cholesterol have each improved by 5 percent.
Perhaps the greatest shift at United General has been
cultural. “There is a spirit that we’re a smaller hospital and that we have to
pull together to make it work,” Stafford explains. “A lot of people thought
that when we ended the affiliation, we wouldn’t survive and we took these jobs
knowing [the hospital] might not survive financially. But we have.”
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