Program can help all to see value of wellness

Healthy workers can improve the health of a business, and more South Carolina employers need to cash in on it.

Nine large employers from the Lowcountry are trying to do that. More should follow.

They have joined the Working Well program that has been in place for more than a year in hospitals around South Carolina and North Carolina.

The program promotes three pillars to healthier employees:

  • Tobacco-free workers and workplaces.
  • Healthier food options and weight-management programs.
  • Access and opportunity for physical activity during the workday.
  • This can lead to a "culture of wellness." It is about the long haul, not the health fair. It incorporates employee wellness into the core values of a business.

    The new culture would be the result of a financial commitment to healthier employees -- and recognition of the high cost of doing nothing. It would recognize employees as the most valuable asset of a business.

    Working Well was initially funded by the Duke Endowment. It began with CEOs at 41 South Carolina hospitals working through the S.C. Hospital Association to put in writing a new commitment to wellness for more than 67,000 employees.

    The hospitals used a WorkHealthy America assessment to gauge their policies, working environments and benefits related to tobacco, nutrition and physical activity. Average grades in 2010 were B-, C and C-, respectively. In 2011, 32 percent of hospitals showed improvement in one area, and 19 percent of hospitals improved in two or more categories.

    Beaufort Memorial Hospital and Hilton Head Hospital were among nine selected to serve as advisers to the Working Well initiative and role models for other South Carolina Hospitals.

    With funding from the Healthy South Carolina Initiative, the program has now expanded beyond hospitals. In our area, it includes the school districts in Beaufort and Jasper counties, Jasper County government, town governments in Beaufort and Port Royal, Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health Services, the University of South Carolina Beaufort, CareCore National in Bluffton, and the New River Auto Mall.

    If all these employers make it a higher priority to reduce risks for preventable disease, society can see more than a reduction in absenteeism, improved worker productivity and lower costs for employers to do business.

    The change in attitude could address the high cost of health care that, through programs such as Medicaid, threatens to bankrupt governments. A simplistic way to look at is that America cannot afford its health care. Prevention -- and a culture of wellness -- have greater value than ever. Individuals, families, employers and governments all benefit from improved health.

    Everyone is talking about health care when the focus needs to be on health.

    Working Well turns attention to the value of a healthier work force. It offers guidance and accountability on the specifics it requires for employers to foster a healthier work force, and thereby healthier communities.

    The American Hospital Association, insurance providers and many others helped shape this call to action. The momentum in our community should be encouraged. Any sacrifices made for employee wellness should be accepted as a cultural norm, and sound investment.