The City of Oregon has established a wellness program to promote a healthier workforce through the implementation of health and fitness programs for city employees.
Council recently voted in favor of the program.
The objective of the program is to encourage greater voluntary employee participation in health and fitness activities in Oregon gyms and health clubs. Similar programs are being adopted by both public and private sector employers and can result in a healthier workforce and lower absentee rates, fewer on the job injuries, and lower health care costs, according to City Administrator Mike Beazley.
“We discussed this during our budget process as a project we were going to look at this year,” said Beazley. “As we talk to health insurance and workers compensation issues and both public and private employers in the market, it’s really considered best practice to take steps along this line. It’s not a panacea. It doesn’t make everyone healthy, but it is considered a positive step in that direction. Health care costs are a considerable expense to the city, for our workforce, workers compensation, and lost time because of sick days. There’s good evidence out there that actions like this can and do lead to good results. They are hard to measure. We had a very robust plan similar to this at the county. We felt we were getting results.”
The program will make use of tools and resources provided through the city’s health insurance program, Medical Mutual SuperWell, and programs available through the city’s EAP at Mercy Health Partners, and combine them with other health care screening and wellness activities that will be made available, according to Beazley.
The program will include scheduled health and wellness “lunch and learns,” an Oregon employee walking program, and similar activities. Lunch hour classes may also be conducted in the community room in fitness, yoga, cardio, or other health activities. The policy will also provide for reimbursement of up to $10 per month for participation in activities at local health and exercise club facilities. To be eligible for reimbursement, employees will have to use the facility two times per week for a month rather than just sign up for membership, according to Beazley. Employees seeking reimbursement must sign a three or six month agreement that spells out their obligation and entitles them to reimbursement after the period of agreement.
The participating facilities are Snap Fitness, Mercy Center for Health Promotion and the YMCA in Oregon, said Beazley.
“We did restrict it to Oregon facilities,” said Beazley. “This is not something that is available for those who join gyms. You have to go was well. Reimbursement is available, retrospectively, for those who participate. That’s what it’s for. If you want to join, you do that on your own dime. We think this is a long term investment. We are excited about it moving forward,” said Beazley.
Council member Sandy Bihn asked if the city was discussing ways to address some employees’ high risk behaviors, such as smoking, and obesity, in the health insurance plan.
“If we are, then we really need to tell our employees and share that information with them so they know where we are with that kind of approach,” said Bihn.
“That is something that would come up at the bargaining table in 2014 when our contracts are up for negotiation again,” said Beazly. “There are two ways of doing this: carrot and stick. The stick side has been harder to do on the public sector side. I don’t have a plan on that yet, but it’s something we’re actively engaged in. The public sector has dealt with this by doing this sort of program. Andersons and others have a little more flexibility, and have different rates for health insurance for those who join clubs, and participate in smoking cessation programs. We are taking baby steps on this. I don’t really have a next step in mind. But I have an open mind to it as the world evolves.”
“My point is, if negotiations are next year, and there is any consideration for any of these, it would behoove us to have that discussion now,” said Bihn. “At least give employees’ a heads up as to the fact that it might be considered. Personally, I think it’s hard to say we negotiated this, and a month later it goes into effect. Then you really don’t have that time to make a determination of where you’re going to go with this.”
“It’s less likely to be negotiated in the current collective bargaining environment,” said Beazley, adding that he’d like to monitor the program’s value over two years.
Councilman James Seaman said getting people to change bad habits is “difficult to accomplish.”
Councilman Jerry Peach agreed.
“I think Mr. Beazley’s approach by offering incentives is the correct approach,” said Peach.
“The encouragement of health,” said Council President Tom Susor, “is always a better thing. The mandating of better health is something I am not in favor of.”