SONOMA COUNTY - Employers will soon be invited to participate in a region-wide worksite wellness initiative that seeks to improve the health of the local work force as well as recognize the county's healthiest businesses.

A project team of the county-assembled Sonoma Health Action Council met earlier this month to initiate the employers' piece of the group's "2020 vision" - a worksite wellness program. The group's mission includes a list of health indicators it would like to improve by the year 2020 through the implementation of targeted programs related to healthy foods, preventative health care and physical activity.

The committee has already initiated one program  called iWalk since it was first convened in late 2007, and tentative plans call for the release of a second and third this fall and into the beginning of next year, including a medical-home pilot and a healthy foods initiative, iGrow. The worksite wellness program is part of a simultaneous effort to rally specific populations.

On Aug. 13, the worksite subcommittee led by Northern California Center for Well-Being Executive Director Alena Wall reviewed the preliminary design for the standardized wellness program as well as an implementation strategy.

The group included Sonoma County Economic Development Board Director Ben Stone; Healthy Eating, Active Living (HEAL) Coordinator Anthony Taylor; and representatives from Kaiser Permanente; Medtronic CardioVascular; and the Network for a Healthy California. Other partners in the effort include the Sonoma County Employers Coalition on Health and the Community Activity and Nutrition Coalition.

Ms. Wall said the program will focus on a worksite wellness toolkit created by the center and HEAL last year, but it will be coupled with an awards system and self-sustaining funding model. The effort will also be branded and released with a marketing campaign similar to the iWalk launch.

"In the first meeting we discussed a promotional piece of the effort that talks about the benefits of worksite wellness, highlighting successes in the community and the financial and human benefits of having these programs," Mr. Taylor said.

"We want to use the effort to engage the business community and see what they would want to see in the program."

The free online toolkit has been available online from the county economic development board Web site since last spring and provides six specific steps for businesses interested implementing a program, though, effective programs generally require some kind of investment for the greatest impact.

The nonprofit center for well-being currently provides these kinds of managed programs, which is why it was chosen to lead a self-sustaining wellness initiative for Health Action. Officials estimate it will cost about $150,000 a year to operate.

The center currently offers programs for aging and senior health, chronic conditions, diabetes management, heart conditions, tobacco cessation, fitness, weight management, stress management and others. Staff also host onsite seminars, health coaching, fitness assessments, clinical screening and nutrition counseling.

Eventually, the program will include some kind of tiered rating system based on participating businesses' performance, earning a bronze, silver or gold award, for example.

The group is currently seeking about $100,000 in funding for the marketing initiative.