Creating a Culture of Health

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Nurses, like everyone else, are subject to health problems. In fact, they may be more prone to health problems, given their long hours, shift work, odd eating patterns and high stress levels. According to an article from Nurse.com, many healthcare institutions are searching for ways to improve the health of their employees, not just because they care about the well-being of their staff members, but also because it makes financial sense to do so.

It has been estimated that spending just one dollar on wellness programs can translate into savings of two dollars in absentee costs and three dollars in medical expenses. While the costs savings are important, healthcare institutions state that a more important goal is at stake- setting a good example for the public. Last year, The American Hospital Association encouraged hospitals to become leaders in creating a “culture of health”, which could be developed for employees and eventually introduced to the public at large.

How can we begin to create this healthy culture? The first step is to gather data and identify the most common health problems plaguing employees, such as obesity, smoking, diabetes, hypertension or a sedentary life style, then develop programs targeting the health needs identified. Participation can be voluntary, although some institutions have made involvement in health programs mandatory for workers covered under employer health insurance. Some charge non-participants more for their insurance premiums. This has raised a flurry of negative response from certain parties, such as unions, citing privacy issues and financial penalties as reasons why nurses should not be forced to participate in employee health programs.

Obviously, it is far better if employees engage in these programs because they want to, rather than because they are compelled to. Many institutions offer incentives to employees who participate in their healthy living programs, such as:

– less-expensive health insurance

– free gym memberships

– free annual health risk assessments

– online activities that encourage healthy behaviors

– free diabetes medications and supplies (in return for employee requirements to attend appointments, monitor their blood sugar, take their medications as ordered and exercise)

– on-campus Weight Watchers program

– outdoor fitness courses

– healthier food options

– dedicated “nap” areas for shift workers

– free smoking cessation programs and supports

The suggestions above have been shown to be successful, offering a return on investment within several years, reducing absenteeism and decreasing the number of insurance claims filed.

Nurses are role models for others in the community. By focusing on hospital employees and showing that they can successfully meet many of their fitness goals, healthy living programs are more apt to succeed in the community. In other words, nurses and other healthcare employees can be the guinea pigs for programs that can eventually be rolled out to entire communities. Other employers in the community may follow suit when they realize the financial benefits that can be realized by investing in employee health and wellness- a win-win situation not just for nurses but for the public they serve.

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