Health Action plans to recognize efforts on employee health

SONOMA COUNTY – Health Action, a partnership of businesses, non-profits and local government, is poised to unveil its latest effort in improving the overall health of Sonoma County by recognizing employers who provide wellness options for workers.

Part of the iWORK well initiative, Health Action will soon launch its Healthy Business Recognition Program, which will measure employers’ development and implementation of wellness programs. Proponents say such programs can lower company health care spending while boosting productivity.

The Recognition Program, set to launch within the next 60 days, will award employers with bronze, silver or gold certifications – essentially modeled on LEED certifications for environmentally friendly buildings, but with health and work-related programs, according to Victor McKnight, a health underwriter with Sitzmann Morris & Lavis and who is on the Worksite Wellness Committee for Health Action.

“We’re looking at helping groups of all sizes to be able to improve the health of their employees,” Mr. McKnight said.

Ben Stone, director of Sonoma County’s Economic Development Board, said the county hoped to have 25 businesses signed up for the Recognition Program within the first year.

The board will process the applications from businesses and will make the ultimate determination, based on materials submitted by employers, on whether businesses fall into the bronze, silver or gold categories.

“It’s a real plus,” Mr. Stone said of the recognition program. “It helps with employee traction and employee retention.”

The application used to determine the recognition level was developed based on national and regional wellness standards, and reflects the Surgeon General’s recommendations for employee health in the 21st Century, according to the Economic Development Board.

The Northern California Center for Well-Being, based in Santa Rosa, is one such regional partner in developing wellness standards, particularly for smaller employers, said Alena Wall, executive director for the center.

“We’re trying to make it accessible for small business owners – to highlight local businesses and give milestones,” Ms. Wall said. “We know that people act within their environment. It really comes down to the health of the environment.”

The center was asked to develop a low-cost product for employers by Health Action, and is currently doing so with Reach Air, an ambulance company based in Santa Rosa, Ms. Wall said.

Other partners include some of the county’s largest health care providers. St. Joseph Health System-Sonoma County’s Workforce Health Initiative assists employers in identifying employee health risks before they result in costly health claims, among other services. Any Sonoma County employer is eligible.

Kaiser Permanente’s Health Works assists employers with 51 or more employees, as well as custom programs for employers with 250 or more employees.

Sutter Health offers Live Well to employers with 100 or more employees.

Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield of California and Health Net offer similar wellness initiatives to their respective members.

More information can be found at www.sonomaEDB.org/wellness and www.norcalwellbeing.org/wellness-toolkit.php