Health Care

Wichita employers signing on to health initiative

A new initiative is taking good health to the corporate suite. A handful of Wichita's business leaders already have signed on for Healthy Wichita: Leadership by Example, which will officially launch at the Working Well Conference next month.

The initiative asks business leaders to promote the role of good health in the community, with the understanding that "good health is good business." It is sponsored by the Wichita Business Coalition on Health Care, the Health and Wellness Coalition of Wichita and the Sedgwick County Health Department.

Charlie Chandler, chairman, president and CEO of Intrust Bank; Bryan Derreberry, president and CEO of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce; Linda Brantner, president and CEO of Delta Dental of Kansas; Linda Merrill-Parman, CEO and president of Envision; and John Allison, superintendent of Wichita's public schools, have agreed to be champions for the initiative.

That means they've lent their names to the initiative, which asks business executives to lead the development of a culture of health within their organizations, to complete an online assessment related to work-site health promotion and to implement at least one recommendation — a policy change or health promotion program, for example — based on the assessment.

Any business can sign on; there is no cost to participate.

The initiative is funded by a grant from the National Business Coalition on Health.

Role of healthy workers

From the perspective of the Wichita Business Coalition on Health Care, the initiative is part of "the continuum of ways we can address health care costs," said executive director Ron Whiting. It's also "a terrific time to engage the whole community in supporting physical activity and good nutrition."

Participating — as a champion or otherwise — doesn't mean that a business already is a paragon of health and wellness, Whiting said. It means a company recognizes the role of health in business and is willing to make it a priority.

Chandler said Intrust has learned that "the best way to control health care costs is through prevention."

Though evidence is anecdotal, he said, "our folks in our benefits area would tell us that they think our (health insurance) experience ratings... have improved since we put more of our wellness efforts in place."

Intrust has a range of programs to promote health and wellness, including weight-loss programs, participation in organized walks and runs, and internal competitions, he said.

"We've found that working on wellness and fitness within our organization has been really good for us in a number of ways," Chandler said, with less absenteeism and happier employees.

Businesses do a good job of thinking about their physical plants and other components of business success but often don't consider the role of healthy employees, Derreberry said.

"From the perspective of an employer, there's a clear recognition that if your team is healthier and they're taking better care of themselves physically, there's a nice transfer to show how that affects them mentally and spiritually," he said.

Chandler and Derreberry said they recognize the importance of good health in their own lives.

Chandler walks and power-walks, outside or on a treadmill, three or four times a week and does some weight training.

"I enjoy it, and I'm fairly faithful," he said. "I do it for stress control, too."

Derreberry works out four or five times a week, doing aerobic and weights work, for "the benefits it has to my productivity."

Merrill-Parman said she works out twice a week with a personal trainer and has changed her eating habits since marrying a physician who's a triathlete. They've switched to a low-glycemic diet that "evens out your blood sugar so you don't have the highs and the lows."

It's a diet that's good for people who have diabetes, she said — as many of her employees do.

She said she looks forward to the work-site assessment because "the health of our employees affects our productivity in terms of attendance, their overall well-being, their state of mind, their emotional well-being."

"All of that, we bring to the office. And the healthier we are, generally, the happier we are and the more productive we are," she said.

Spend $1, save $3.50

Healthy Wichita points out that productivity losses related to health problems cost U.S. employers $1,685 per employee per year — $225.8 billion annually.

Every dollar invested in promoting work-site health can save $3.50 in return, it says.

Becky Tuttle, health promotions coordinator for the Health Department, said the initiative's sponsors will be recruiting the area's 50 largest work sites to participate but is willing to work with businesses of any size.

The assessment is free, she said, and will include a look at what a company already is doing well and ideas for making improvements.