Helping the Healers: Oklahoma Employers Offer Wellness Programs for Health Care Professionals

Article excerpt

Physicians, nurses and other direct-care staff members are not immune from unhealthy factors like obesity and smoking.

But they see patients every day who are hospitalized for conditions that are exacerbated or brought on by poor lifestyle choices.

Do health care workers bear an additional responsibility to model the behavior they're asking of their patients? If a diabetic hears a directive of healthy living delivered by a physician who is obese, is that message diluted?

Health care professionals answer those questions in different ways, but increasingly, hospitals and other medical facilities are offering wellness programs aimed at their own employees.

"To me, we should set that bar a little higher for ourselves," said Pam Troup, executive director of HealthFirst Operations, which oversees wellness at St. Anthony Hospital and its facilities. "There are many people in health care who, unfortunately, smoke, are overweight and don't eat right or exercise - just like everybody else. But we see what happens when people don't follow good health habits, and a lot of people in the hospital today are smokers and are overweight. We see the toll it takes on people."

Hospital wellness programs are similar to those offered at companies in other industries because the root issue is no different: finding out what it takes to change someone's behavior. But hospitals are often among the biggest employers in a city and stand to reach a lot of people with incentives to get healthier.

St. Anthony has long offered a cardiovascular evaluation for employees for a minimal co-pay, and in the last eight years, its employee wellness committee has created different competitions and incentives, such as a free pedometer for people who walk a certain number of steps or gift cards and iPods for those who get the requisite number of points for eating well and exercising, Troup said.

More recently, it has begun offering discounts in the cafeteria for employees who choose the wellness menu, and its meals are spotlighted in a weekly newsletter. But it's rare that a hospital will switch to a completely healthy menu in its cafeteria, she said.

"You have to serve what sells - it's a business like anything else," Troup said. "So you'll see unhealthy food in hospital cafeterias and you wonder why, but it's a business."

St. Anthony also began paying half the membership dues at the YMCA for employees and their families, a factor that led to the opening of a YMCA in the Plaza Court in Midtown, Troup said.

Wellness also has received extra attention at OU Physicians, part of the College of Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City. …