Employee Wellness in the Commonwealth of Virginia

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Launched in 1986, CommonHealth is an employee health program offering health and wellness education to approximately 125,000 employees in more than 500 state agency, department, and local government locations throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia.

CommonHealth Background

Virginia’s CommonHealth program depends on nine full-time regional coordinators, who have diverse backgrounds in health, fitness, and wellness. The coordinators serve as health educators who deliver programming to employees in the state offices in their regions. Once each quarter, the coordinators call on each state office to deliver an interactive program on a chosen topic. In addition to active employees, departments and agencies are encouraged to invite retirees. Recent topics have included dental health, skin cancer prevention, and stress management. CommonHealth has provided gifts at each session, such as travel dental care kits and sun protection kits; beginning in 2010, in an effort to “go green” there will be drawings for gift cards instead.

Employees also receive weekly emails about health and wellness, and free health screenings every two years. According to Program Manager Rose O’Toole, “We are constantly looking for ways to expand our audience beyond active employees and have initiated a coupon system in which participants review detailed information about the current topic via their agency volunteer. They can even return a coupon included in the newsletter to receive a gift.”

As a result of moving the management of CommonHealth in-house to the Department of Human Resource Management (DHRM) from a private contractor, the state reduced its spending from $5 million per year to approximately $1 million per year. DHRM is expanding the reach of its educational programs by producing short videos based on the quarterly lessons, which are downloadable from CommonHealth’s website and provided in DVD format to agencies with 24/7 workdays, such as Department of Corrections facilities. DHRM pays the Virginia Department of Transportation to film and produce the videos. In addition, the Virginia Department for Blind and Vision Impaired manages the logistics for the 30,000 gifts delivered each quarter.

Supplemental Programs

In addition to the quarterly programs, CommonHealth offers free programs in prenatal care, smoking cessation, and weight loss for all state employees and retirees. The maternity management program offers educational materials, unlimited access to a registered nurse, and postpartum support. In addition, participants may have their health insurance deductible waived for childbirth if they join the program in the first trimester of pregnancy and get a dental exam and cleaning in the first trimester.

In the Quit for Life Program, participants are assigned to a Quit Coach who helps devise a plan for smoking cessation. Quit for Life participants receive free nicotine replacement patches, gum, or smoking cessation gum for one year as long as they stay active in the program.

Discounted pricing is offered to all employees, spouses, and dependents for participation in Weight Watchers. Employees can also be reimbursed for half of the program fees after they complete a certain numbers of required sessions. Further, health club membership discounts are offered at a wide variety of fitness centers throughout the states.

Results

The CommonHealth program has grown tremendously in its 23-year history. One ongoing challenge for the program is engaging the state universities in its programming. According to Rose O’Toole, professors and other university personnel are the most difficult to engage in the programs, in good part because of their flexible schedules and because they don’t see themselves as conventional state employees.

The program has measurably improved state employees’ health:

  • Blood pressure and cholesterol levels have remained stable and are significantly less than the national average, which is continually trending upward.
  • The blood pressure of 81 percent of Commonwealth employees is less than 140/90.
  • 64 percent of Commonwealth employees  have cholesterol values less than 200.
  • 8,000 employees are enrolled in the Weight Watchers at Work program and have lost a cumulative 53,000 pounds.

Contact
Anne Dinterman
Program Manager
CommonHealth Virginia
804-225-2159
[email protected]

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