Workplace Wellness: Renewing Preventative Health For Workers

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Team Members of Northwell Health coming together to create walking teams for the annual destination challenge, Walk Down Under. (Courtesy of Northwell Health)

With 21 hospitals, ambulatory sites such as laboratories and physician practices and about 84,000 employees, Northwell Health isn’t only a huge healthcare provider.

It’s also New York State’s biggest nongovernmental employer — and one that offers its employees far-reaching workplace wellness services.

These programs, the system says, promote health for employees and benefit the organization by having healthier, even happier people on the job. 

“Workplace wellness at Northwell is part of the culture,” said Patricia Flynn, assistant vice president of the employee wellness and employee assistance program. “Do we provide a culture where people can be healthy? Healthy foods in the cafeteria. Flexibility from your leader. Resources and programs.”

While Northwell handles its own workplace wellness and serves others through Northwell Direct, Manhattan-based VitalCheck Wellness (whose clients include Fordham University, Princeton University, Baron Capital, Natixis, and Citco Fund Services) provides onsite services to companies.

“People won’t get vital medical services, because they don’t want to take off from work or they can’t make a schedule work for them and the doctor,” said Nicole Christopher, VitalCheck’s operations and marketing manager. “If you bring healthcare services directly to someone’s job, you don’t have to worry about any of that.”

Flynn said workplace wellness encompasses physical, emotional, financial, social and spiritual wellness.

Northwell’s Gympass program, for instance, offers discounts to gyms. It also offers confidential counseling for workers and their families, along with stress workshops.

“It’s more, ‘What is the stressor?” Flynn said of stress. “It may be you have PTO [personal time off] and you haven’t taken it.”

Wellness coaches and chaplains help and a multidisciplinary Team Lavender assists employees at hospitals and emergency departments after particularly traumatic events.

Christopher said that VitalCheck’s workplace wellness programs services, such as temporary clinics often covered by insurance, benefit all involved.

“VitalCheck services benefit employers by reducing sick days, increasing workplace productivity, improving employee satisfaction and reducing long-term healthcare costs,” she said. 

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(AP Photo, File)

Pandemic Impact on Workplace Wellness

Covid-19 has increased the attention paid to healthcare, including workplace wellness. “Since the pandemic, there’s been a lot more focus on wellness than even before,” Flynn said. “Post pandemic, people are really interested in staying healthy.”

Christopher said that VitalCheck, which typically serves companies with 200 and more employees, added on-site Covid testing and vaccinations.

“It definitely slowed down,” she said of Covid testing. “We only have a few Covid testing sites left. We may see more (vaccinations) during flu season.”

Northwell’s programs seek to keep employees connected when thousands of their employees work remotely.

“That’s been really important since the pandemic due to the remote workers,” Flynn said of online support groups. “We want to make sure people are not isolating.”

WebMD and Workplace Wellness

Northwell’s online programs include helping with chronic conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, lack of sleep, and back pain.

Their myWellness portal for employees is used by 50,000 workers, and includes health risk assessments and information.

Northwell provided about 400 live workshops last year for employees, focusing on health issues, cooking, nutrition, meditation and more.

“They were all well attended,” Flynn said. “Lots of topics. How to improve your credit score. The legal aspect of getting your elderly parent into a nursing home. Every category.”

Flynn said big concerns include sleep, nutrition, caring for children, back pain and caring for the elderly.

“We can find an expert in any category that people are telling us,” Flynn continued. “A big part of wellness is listening. We do a lot of surveys and ask people what’s on their mind.”

VitalCheck offers telemedicine and a full suite of online offerings. “Sometimes our wellness clinics are held virtually,” Christopher said.

Northwell Direct provides telemedicine to U.S. Department of State employees around the world.

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(Photo by Bob Giglione).

Prevention Rx for Workplace Wellness

VitalCheck says prevention is a key part of workplace wellness, and offers physical exams and cholesterol/blood pressure/stroke/diabetes/healthy heart screening.

They also provide nutritional counseling, weight management, mental health, lab work, counseling, shots, immunizations and tobacco cessation.

Christopher said that  Vital Check, with temporary and ongoing onsite clinics, detects “medical problems early, to save lives and reduce long-term health care costs significantly.”

Northwell’s workshops on YouTube for employees, ranging from 20 minutes to an hour, garnered about 50,000 views in a year and a half.

“We did a lot of prevention,” Flynn said. 

Employees can upload data such as blood pressure and cholesterol and answer questions, leading to advice.

“Most people want to do it. They want to make sure they’re getting the right tools,” Flynn added. “If they give permission, we can ask for a health coach to look at data and coach them on whatever it is they’re trying to improve.”

Employees know conversations and services are confidential and free. “They can get counseling for themselves and their family,” Flynn added, noting that financial workshops and counseling also help, because some “people are struggling financially.”

Northwell retirees are eligible for many programs and services, such as counseling and various portals. Northwell also has a returnship program for people rehired after leaving.

Northwell Direct, which serves various companies,  runs the Finest Care program for the New York Police Department.

“We really have the ability… to make sure that we connect the individual to the appropriate venue of care, the appropriate type of care,” Northwell Direct CEO Nick Stefanizzi said in a written statement.

Special Events for Workplace Wellness

VitalCheck offers ergonomic services, assessing offices and warehouses, even examining lifting.

They have sent in massage therapists and licensed manicurists and run events such as how to build your own succulent as well as meditation sessions.

“It’s during business hours,” Christopher said of these. “People can come in different sessions.”

About 20,000 Northwell employees just did their annual walk with teams of six averaging at least 7,000 steps daily monitored by electronic devices.

Those who complete the journey can win raffle prizes, such as trips, as well as engage in a healthy activity.

“We care for the caregivers,” Flynn concluded. “Our mission is to care for people who are caring for our patients. You can’t do your job if you’re not healthy.”

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