Minnesota Hospital Association


October 09, 2012

Hospitals challenge themselves to serve as a model of health in their communities

Minnesota hospitals are in a position to serve as models of health and wellness for the communities they serve and are supporting the charge to develop a culture of health in communities across the state. Many are starting by making wellness a priority for employees.

“Good health begins at home, in our schools, neighborhoods and workplaces where people shape their own lives and the lives of their families,” said Ellie Zeuhlke, director of community benefit and engagement for Allina Health.

A 2010 survey by the American Hospital Association (AHA) found that 86 percent of hospitals had a formal wellness program, which include simple efforts such as asking employees to remove candy bowls from offices to implementing employee wellness screenings and health incentive programs. Much like the ban of smoking and tobacco from hospital grounds earlier, hospitals are improving healthy eating options, promoting exercise and offering rewards for wellness. These programs are focused both on improving employee wellness and improving the health and wellness of the community. Many hospitals also have health and wellness committees or wellness directors on staff.

According to David Kindig, a University of Wisconsin population health expert, healthy behaviors account for 30 percent of health outcomes. Outside of socioeconomic factors, changing the way we eat and getting our bodies moving is the most important piece of the puzzle when it comes to building a culture of health in our communities.

Making healthy eating a “no-brainer”

Hospital employees have demanding jobs and busy schedules. As a result many employees eat “on the go,” and grab quick meals when they have the time. Hospitals have responded by making healthy options readily available. Ala carte, ready-to-eat healthy food options in appropriate serving sizes make it easy to grab a nutritious meal when time is limited. Cafeterias feature healthy menu options with fresh fruits and vegetables available regularly. Healthy options also get featured more prominently in connection with menu labels that indicate the healthy meal choice. Meeker Memorial Hospital in Litchfield even has a hospital garden out of which it harvests fresh vegetables to serve to employees, volunteers, patients and the community. St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Wabasha has a farmer’s market on site weekly and incorporates local foods in many of the menus.

Employees get moving

Keeping employees healthy and active means offering a variety of options and access to accommodate the various schedules of hospitals staff. At Lake Region Healthcare in Fergus Falls, a new employee fitness center offers 24/7 access and reduced rates for employees. At Glacial Ridge Health System in Glenwood, employees get a discount on their fitness center membership for using it at least 12 times per month. Many hospitals have mapped walking paths throughout hospital grounds so employees can easily get exercise on breaks. Friendly competitions such as Biggest Loser weight loss challenges focus on accountability and providing support.

According to the AHA survey, 42 percent of hospitals report that at least half of their employees participate in at least one wellness activity. To encourage participation, hospitals offer wellness assessments and health incentive programs where employees can earn rewards and health insurance premium discounts for their efforts to lead healthier lifestyles. Often the health assessments help draw attention to areas of focus employees didn’t even realize are issues, or were ignoring.

According to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a stable and high-quality health care workforce has been shown to be essential to efficient and effective health care delivery. Minnesota hospitals that have implemented wellness programs have seen many positive benefits, including a boost in productivity, increased team morale and engagement, decreased sick time and lower employee turnover. While hospitals acknowledge there is a ways to go to get all employees engaged in living a healthier lifestyle, they’ve challenged themselves to serve as models of healthy living and fitness for their communities.