13 WNY Organizations Win "Worksite Wellness" Grants

By Lois Baker

Release Date: May 6, 2005 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Thirteen companies and organizations located in Erie, Niagara and Chautauqua counties have been selected to receive grants to implement employee wellness programs through the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions' new $1 million Western New York Wellness Works initiative.

The funded programs will serve a total of 20,790 employees.

The recipients, selected from 26 applicants, were announced today (May 6) at the program's kick-off in the Lippschutz Conference Room in the Biomedical Education Building on the UB South (Main Street) Campus.

State Sen. Mary Lou Rath, who conceived the program to allow employers and employees to share in the "wellness dividend," funded the initiative. Joan M. Dorn, Ph.D., UB associate professor of social and preventive medicine, is principal investigator.

"With health-care costs steadily growing, Americans need to focus on their health before they get sick," said Rath. "The employers receiving Wellness Works grants understand that promoting wellness in the workplace makes for healthier and more productive employees, which is a great benefit to the company."

"We are very excited about this project," said Maurizio Trevisan, M.D., dean of the School of Public Health and Health Professions, "because it represents an important component of the school's academic mission. Our goal in this project and others is to conduct high-quality research on important health issues facing our community, find ways to solve these problems, and do it in partnership with local and state institutions and political and community leaders."

The project is comprehensive, not only in terms of the number and types of worksites and workers involved, Trevisan noted, but in the different approaches implemented in the various worksites, as well as the detailed evaluation involved.

"Through this evaluation component, we will be able to measure the real impact of the different programs on the health and wellness of the workers foremost, and on the financial impact of the projects on creating health-care savings and a healthier and more productive work force."

Dee W. Edington, Ph.D., professor in the University of Michigan's Division of Kinesiology and research scientist in the University's Health Behavior and Health Education Department, presented a keynote speech titled "The Economics of Employee Health Risks" following the announcement of grant winners. The lecture topic ties in closely with the research goal of the initiative.

Dorn said that for all of the projects, the assessment will focus on three different areas: the individual employee risk factors, a company's wellness-promotion environment and a company's health-care costs.

"We are hoping to answer the question, 'Does this type of program have an effect on employee wellness, and has it resulted in lower employee health-care costs?'' she said.

Participants will complete a questionnaire to determine their health risk factors at the beginning of each company's project. Several aspects of each company's on-site wellness environment also will be evaluated, including administrative support for wellness activities, access to healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity. In addition, researchers will analyze health-cost data from each company, including hospitalizations and physicians' visits, and costs of prescriptions and rehabilitation.

These assessments will be repeated at the end of the initiative. Each individual will receive a personalized wellness report, and the company will receive a general report on the health of its employees. In addition, researchers will provide companies with an assessment of improvements in their wellness environment and an analysis of the success of each project in slowing the rise of health insurance premiums.

The final data will be compared to an international data base maintained by the University of Michigan.

Grant applicants submitted to the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions plans and a budget for their proposed program. Two reviewers who were blinded to the applicants' identities scored the proposals. Awards were capped at $50,000, and grantees were required to provide matching funds.

The awardees and their projects, presented in alphabetical order, are:

* Better Baked Foods of Westfield -- An "affirmative action" campaign for employees and their families promoting healthy lifestyles.

* Mark IV Industries, Inc., the Rehab Center of Olean and Hodgson Russ in conjunction with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Western New York -- Lifestyle and behavior modification programs for five employer groups targeting physical activity, nutrition and weight management, stress management and smoking cessation.

* Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus -- A "Healthy Worksites Program" promoting "heart-healthy" lifestyles among employees of its five affiliated institutions.

* Clymer School District -- A staff wellness program focusing on improving fitness and nutrition.

* Daemen College -- A Campus Health Improvement Program for employees, involving physical fitness training, a Team Walking program, a Stair "well" Challenge and a Health Cooking and Eating program.

* Erie Community College -- A Wellness Department that will work with consultants to assess each employee's health and design individualized improvement programs

* Jamestown School District -- Wellness assessment, educational seminars, motivational activities and cardiovascular conditioning and weight management for administrators and support staff.

* Greater Buffalo Savings Bank -- "Healthy Me, Health Us" programs and additional fitness equipment for its 1,300-sq.-ft. Wellness Center.

* Independent Health -- A "Total Health Program" centered on interventions to improve cardiovascular health.

* Mt. St. Mary's Hospital/Stella Niagara -- A six-phase wellness program involving assessment and development of a "self-care plan."

* Niagara Frontier Auto Dealers -- "Growing Up Fit," a family-based education and exercise program.

* People Inc. -- Healthy People Wellness Program, involving team-based competition surrounding daily physical activity and healthy nutrition.

* Wilson Greatbatch -- The WellFlex™ program with a dedicated Wellness Team to enhance overall health.