October 6, 2008

OH Hospitals Named Fit-Friendly Companies

By Colter, Tiffany

Many adults spend a majority of their time doing fairly sedentary tasks. As the days begin to get shorter in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan, even the health conscious can find it difficult to get in a walk, and the availability of healthy foods on the run are few.

An inactive lifestyle with unhealthy eating can lead to a number of problems. The American Heart Association has introduced a program in an attempt to offset these issues in the workplace. The Fit- Friendly Companies Program was started to recognize companies that meet criteria to help improve the health of employees.

"Adding these activities offer many benefits to their employees, which results in benefits to the company as a whole," stated Sonya Thomas, communications director of the American Heart Association, greater Toledo metro market. "These benefits include increased productivity and lower healthcare costs among other benefits."

There are two levels to the program: gold and platinum. According to Thomas, companies must implement at least six activities in the physical activity area, at least two from the nutrition area, and at least one from the "culture" area to receive recognition. These are not one-time events; rather, initiatives must be in place for at least 30 days prior to the application deadline.

The American Heart Association offers a range of benefits to companies that qualify for this recognition, including materials to promote the company's wellness program and newsletter templates to help distribute information to employees. Once a company has reached and maintained the gold achievement level, it can do additional activities to reach the platinum level.

In Ohio, 31 hospitals were recently recognized as gold level Fit- Friendly Companies. Among those recognized was Flower Hospital, a member of the ProMedica Health System. According to Thomas, Flower was also one of only a few hospitals in northwest Ohio to receive this recognition.

According to Mary Beth Knake, director, Flower Hospital human resources, the recognition was a result of programs that had already been implemented at Flower Hospital.

"I heard about the recognition program through The Ohio Hospital Association. . . I filled out the application and applied." Knake stated. She added that Flower Hospital's program began in 2004 when it asked for a grant in response to employee requests for recreation items. "We put together a walking program with pedometers. The goal was to get 10,000 steps a day."

With that initiative, employees purchased the pedometers but were refunded if they maintained 10,000 steps a day for three months. This particular program has since ended, but other programs have continued. Flower Hospital has a wellness bulletin board and motivational posters that encourage people to take the steps. Additionally, walking trails are mapped on the campus.

It has also implemented a Scale Down program in the company. The Scale Down program offers weekly classes with an emphasis on physical activity and long-term lifestyle changes, directed by health educators to achieve moderate weight loss using meal replacements. The at-home program - a separate option - uses the same moderate weight-loss diet with brief weekly visits by a health educator for increased accountability.

While Flower Hospital doesn't have 100% participation, it is seeing long-term commitment in some employees.. Knake explained, "Betty Cordrey felt so much better walking that she has continued to use the steps every day. like she did with the pedometer. We showcased her to the company."

One draw to the program, beyond the health benefits, is the simplicity of the program, according to Flower Hospital. "We found we were already doing many of the things required and others were simple changes that don't cost anything [to implement]," Knake stated.

"We really want companies to think creatively about ways to improve the health of their employees." Thomas added. "That is why we recognize them with these awards and highlight these companies with other recognition as well."

To receive recognition, a company must have a minimum of 25 employees, increase healthy eating options at work, and promote a wellness culture.

Copyright Telex Communications, Inc. Sep 2008

(c) 2008 Toledo Business Journal. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.