Constructing the shape of the health care work force

Filed under: Focus |

Miguel Lawsell is a special projects employee with Penrose-St. Francis Health Services. After experiencing a heart attack a few years ago, Lawsell’s priorities changed.

Today, he incorporates exercise five days a week and doesn’t have to venture too far from his work site, thanks to his employer’s commitment to employee fitness.

When Penrose Main Hospital demolished the old and constructed the new, Kristine Barrett, coordinator for Club HIIP (Penrose’s Health Improvement Incentive Program), feared the permanent loss of the fitness center. Instead, hospital administrators made room for an up-graded, state-of-the-art fitness center in the basement of the newly constructed East Tower. With six treadmills, three elliptical machines, one cable machine, four stationary exercise bicycles, a ski machine, a myriad of classes and a variety of body sculpting and weight training apparatus, Penrose employees are afforded plentiful opportunities to get fit and stay fit.

“This new wellness center is a gift to all of our associates, physicians and volunteers to let them know that we truly care about their health and wellness,” said Rick O’Connell, president and chief executive officer of Penrose-St. Francis. “It is so gratifying to see the positive impact that our corporate wellness program has had on our associates. They use the facility extensively.”

The facility and satellite facilities at Penrose Community and St. Francis are open at no cost to the 2,950 hospital workers. Physicians and others can use the facilities as well for a minimal cost.

Complementing the fitness center, Club HIIP contracts with fitness instructors who provide group classes, from Pilates to Yoga to cardio-training, in an adjacent exercise room. Club HIIP also offers classes (all of the classes are open to the public for a cost) on outdoor activities, such as gardening and backpacking, and other areas of interest, like tie dye and Irish dancing.

Embracing the holistic needs and desires of the employees helps to soften the fast pace and taxing hospital work environment. Penrose employees also have access to an hour massage for a $10 donation to a nonprofit organization, and employees can opt for discounts at World Gym and the YMCA.

Although health care employees are used to caring for others and somewhat notorious for ignoring their own needs, 40 percent or 1,300 Penrose-St. Francis employees participated in the fitness programs last year, Barrett said.

Barrett, who completed a thesis about children and obesity to earn a master’s degree in education, said the advent of technology has created a sedentary work force. Not to mention that children today have traded baseball fields for computer video games.

Contributing to America’s vegetative state is the problem that most people don’t care about their health until something happens, she said.

Corporate America could be gearing up to make it happen for the people. “Corporate responsibility (toward employee wellness programs) has improved, but there is still a long way to go,” she said. “I think there are a lot of things that will happen in the future.”

In Memorial Hospital’s near future – about 60 days – is a new fitness center that will be at the hospital’s administrative center on Pikes Peak Avenue.

The center will accommodate Memorial’s employees around the clock, said Ron Burnside, the hospital’s human resource director.

“We will have leading-edge equipment and will draw on the expertise of our employees, like physical and occupational therapists and nutrition counselors,” he said. “We will be upping the ante to encourage our employees to get on the wellness bandwagon and that includes offering vouchers for body fat analysis, ergonomic training, dietetic and cancer screenings, body fat analysis & and smoking cessation programs.”

Memorial’s focus on prevention and wellness began when a group of employee health enthusiasts wanted its colleagues to be able to attest to the same health sell that the hospital offers to businesses in the community. Health Link has been aggressively providing fitness and wellness programs to area businesses for many years, Burnside said.

Penrose-St. Francis also provides a Pedometer Program to businesses in the community.

However, there’s no place like home (work home) to teach healthy lifestyle habits, and Memorial’s WOW (working on wellness) program is focused on employees. “The program seeks to engage those employees who are on the fence or on the verge of getting into healthy lifestyle changes,” Burnside said. “We want to appeal to them, at the same time provide support for the people who are already into wellness.”

Memorial will kick off its WOW program April 1. With 3,500 employees, Burnside said “medical management” and “ongoing maintenance of healthy lifestyles” will prove beneficial to the hospital.

“Without a doubt,” he said, “a healthy employee population with an interest in attaining and maintaining wellness will always benefit the employer in terms of reducing health care expenses.”