Kentucky Companies Using Wellness Programs for Competitive Edge

Residents of Kentucky have the second-highest rates of heart attacks in the country and the fifth-highest rates of diabetes. As health care costs continue to rise, educators, employers and health care professionals are searching for innovative approaches to creating a healthy work force.

"Health care costs pose a significant burden for Kentucky organizations and their employees, but the high medical costs are just the beginning," said Jennifer Swanberg, executive director of the Institute for Workplace Innovation (iwin) at the University of Kentucky. "Research states that an unhealthy work force is associated with increased disability and workers’ compensation costs, absenteeism, turnover, decreased productivity and disengagement due to stress or mental illness."

The institute recently released, "Creating Healthy Organizations: Promising Practices in Kentucky," which showcases the promising practices of 23 Kentucky organizations that contribute to a healthy work force.

"We heard from employers that they needed help in finding innovative, comprehensive ways to promote health and we knew there were great practices occurring right here in Kentucky," said Swanberg. "We wanted to create a tool for employers to look to when faced with changing organizational and employee behavior around health."

The extensive report, funded by NIOSH, CVS Caremark and iwin, presents a new, evidence-based "HealthIntegrated Model" that was developed by iwin and informed by a review of literature and in-depth interviews with employers featured in the report.

"Health and wellness programs cannot be isolated from the overall strategic business plan," Swanberg explained. "They must be integrated into the operations of the business to truly make an impact, and our new HealthIntegrated Model will provide employers with an approach to do this."

Aimee Hiller, vice president of administration at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, which was showcased in the report, said her organization applauds iwin.

"It's great to see case studies compiled into one report," Hiller said. "And, of course, we were thrilled to be highlighted. A report such as this would have helped our process tremendously."

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