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$1 Million Grant to UB from Senator Rath Will Support Innovative Worksite Wellness Programs

UB School of Public Health and Health Professions to manage initiative

By Lois Baker

Release Date: May 21, 2004

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A $1 million grant to the School of Public Health and Health Professions at the University at Buffalo, made possible by State Sen. Mary Lou Rath, will be used to kick-start an innovative initiative to improve the health and wellness of workers in Western New York.

The initiative, called Western New York Wellness Works, is a pilot program conceived by Rath to allow employers and employees to share in the "wellness dividend."

The program, announced today by Rath at a press conference at UB, will provide matching funds to companies in the region selected to participate based on their plans for employee wellness programs. The goal of the initiative is to document the premise that making healthy choices can improve the lives of workers, decrease their need to use health-care services and increase productivity.

"By bringing together New York State, the University at Buffalo and the Buffalo-Niagara private sector, the Western New York Wellness Works Initiative has become one of the first partnerships of its type in the country," Rath noted.

"The data we gather today through these efforts," she added, "will drive future public policy, which will create solutions that will decrease the chances of acquiring disease and proactively reduce the skyrocketing price of health care.

"It is my great hope that the Wellness Works initiative will become a sustainable and innovative way to enhance Western New Yorker's health and well being, while at the same time improving the private sector's productivity."

UB President John B. Simpson said "the Western New York Wellness Works program is an outstanding initiative, and one that I believe will be of great benefit to our region. Senator Mary Lou Rath has my gratitude for her tireless advocacy on its behalf and for her longstanding friendship and support for the University at Buffalo.

"Western New York Wellness Works is an excellent demonstration of UB's ability to apply not only our scholarly expertise and research resources on behalf of our local communities, but perhaps most importantly, to apply our deep and abiding commitment to the public good," Simpson added.

"On behalf of the UB community," he noted, "I also extend my thanks to the community members who comprise the board of directors of Western New York Wellness Works for their leadership in the program. We at UB are pleased to be able to share in the excitement and promise of this wonderful initiative, and we look forward to a healthier, stronger Western New York."

The UB School of Public Health and Health Professions, in conjunction with a community-based board of directors, will set program parameters and develop a request for proposals that will be adjudicated by outside reviewers, disseminate it to any interested Western New York company and make the final program selections. It also will collect baseline and outcome measures from the various programs and maintain a database to provide direction for future health interventions and research.

"This is a very important project and one that exemplifies a critical aspect of the mission of our school, which is to provide support to the Western New York health communities and the community at large," said Maurizio Trevisan, M.D., professor and interim dean of the School of Public Health and Health Professions. "The school is very excited about providing administrative and scientific leadership for this comprehensive, innovative and much needed program."

Joan M. Dorn, UB associate professor of social and preventive medicine, will direct the program.

Members of the board of directors of Western New York Wellness Works represent a broad spectrum of community interests. The board members are: Alphonso O'Neil-White, CEO of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Western New York; Fred Cohen, senior vice president and general counsel, Independent Health; Mary Lee Campbell-Wisley, regional president, Univera Health Care; Anthony Billittier, Erie County Health Commissioner; Peter Ostrow, Ph.D., UB associate professor of pathology and neurology, and Sal Page, associate commissioner, New York State Health Department.

Also, David Smith, president, National Fuel Distribution Corp.; Paul Macielak, president, New York Health Plan Association; Thomas Kucharski, president and CEO, Buffalo Niagara Enterprise; Brian Perry, executive vice president and executive vice chair, Perry's Ice Cream; Paul Stasiak, president, Niagara Frontier Auto Dealers Association; Gordon Cumming, director of associate services, Rich Products Corp.; Kevin Donovan, U.A.W. Region 9 area director; Dennis Kerl, human resource manager, Quebecor World Buffalo; Tom Haney, Village Glen Tennis & Fitness Club, and Sharon Rich, chief of staff for Sen. Rath.

Employers' programs could target concerns such as smoking cessation, weight control, nutritional health, physical activity, blood pressure and heart disease, and screenings to address prevention and early detection of breast, cervical and prostate cancer, cholesterol, and osteoporosis. Two overarching criteria for programs to qualify are they must be voluntary and must have the full commitment of management. Worksite wellness programs proposed for matching funding are expected to become self-sustaining.