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Creating healthier workplaces — and employees — catching on

More Mississippi employers are realizing that creating healthier workplaces is good for employees and for business. And that’s not just during prime cold and flu season, but year round in a state that leads the nation in the rate of chronic disease.

Victor D. Sutton has a Ph.D. in public policy with an emphasis in health policy and serves as director for the Office of Preventive Health with the Mississippi State Department of Health. He enjoys his job of working with the public and private sectors to help them understand that employee wellness can affect the bottom line.

“There have been a number of studies supporting that healthier employees leads to more productivity and fewer missed days,” he said. “The private sector is getting involved and seeing results.”

He says no matter the size of a business, it can benefit from investing in employee wellness. Representatives from Sutton’s office are available to do onsite surveys for businesses. The first order is to identify a health champion who has the backing of the organization.

“That’s a person we can work through to develop a work site wellness committee to pull in other individuals,” he said. “We suggest things pertaining to that site. It’s tailored to that site at that time. We ask what are the issues and the challenges, and there is no one size fits all.”

The suggestion may be as simple as e-mailing healthy tips or putting them in pay envelopes. Employees may start walking clubs at lunch or have brown bag lunches with healthcare speakers. Programs may be as elaborate as workout benches, walking tracks and bringing in professionals to conduct health screenings.

“Creating a healthy infrastructure is the goal, and helping employers get the most bang for their buck,” Sutton said. “We’re not talking about money. We’re talking about leadership and commitment, changing to a different culture. We want the leadership participating and showing the value of wellness.”

Employee health is not taken for granted at Mississippi Baptist Health Systems where screenings, a nutrition center and a health club are offered to employees and their spouses.

“Since we’re in the business of healthcare, we’re always doing seminars on wellness and other special things for employees,” said spokesman Robby Channell. “We encourage employees to go to the Baptist Health Flex at least eight times a month for discounted rates. If they go more than that, there’s another discount.”

Basically, everything the health care provider offers to the public is offered to employees, including screenings for heart, cancer and prostrate along with occupational therapy, weight management and free flu shots.

“We just did free mammograms and colonoscopy and prostrate screenings,” he said. “Since November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, we will have a seminar and blood glucose testing. On November 5, we’ll kick off the Heart Association’s Start Program for walking. We put it out there and encourage employees to attend and get involved.”

The Baptist campus, like many other hospitals in the state, is now smoke free. It also offers ongoing smoking cessation programs for employees.

Sam W. Cameron, president and CEO of the Mississippi Hospital Association, is pleased that hospital campuses across the state have joined together in an effort to become tobacco free.

“Mississippi hospitals are committed to the health and safety of our employees and patients,” he said. “We believe that we have a responsibility to take a leadership role on this major health issue.”

Sutton said the Department of Health has a plethora of ideas and encourages any employer to contact his office to help create healthier workplaces.

“Take Charge of Your Health is a program that’s an ongoing challenge,” he said. “A lot of it is making decisions, but awareness is the first step toward wellness and making good health decisions. We do a lot of promotion.”

He stressed that his office is available to serve as a resource to help employers. Various tool kits are also available.

Channell said Baptist Health Systems works with businesses, too, with a team going to work sites to conduct screenings, health fairs and “lunch and learn” seminars.

Some employers have begun annual employee wellness days with healthcare professionals coming in to do a number of health screenings.

“Folks may have blood pressure that’s through the roof and they didn’t know it. The screening will make them aware of it,” Sutton said. “It may be something like making the stairwells more attractive to encourage employees to take the stairs. Small modifications make a difference.”

The Office of Preventive Health has an initative with all state agencies around the state to develop wellness programs. The state is a large employer and the initiative is an opportunity to affect a lot of people.

For more information on creating a healthier workplace, visit www.HealthyMS.com/TakeCharge and www.HealthyMS.com/ph, or call the Department of Health at (601) 576-7667.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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