Meritage Medical Network of Novato wins Healthiest Companies Award

Meritage Medical Network employees in a walking group wear pink in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. (photo courtesy of Meritage Medical Network)

GARY QUACKENBUSH, FOR NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

“Meritage Medical Network launched its wellness program — Meritage Health 360 — in 2016 with an ambitious mission to empower employees to live their healthiest lives,” said CEO, Wojtek Nowak. “After almost a year, we’re already seeing gains.”

He said Meritage conducted pre- and postimplementation anonymous employee surveys, and found that job satisfaction increased after introducing Meritage Health 360.

“Our wellness program is voluntary, and we already have a 40 percent participation rate, far surpassing our first-year goal of 25 percent.”

Employees are happier and more productive, some have lost weight and others have become more physically active. Those engaged report less fatigue and increased focus, and some report that group wellness activities foster a more congenial, relaxed and connected workforce.

This award-winning, physician-run medical network in Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties, has 700 primary care and specialist physicians who serve half a million North Bay residents.

“Our focus was outward — on serving our community,” said Linda Chotkevys, vice president of human resources. “By looking inward, we came to understand that we could do more to help our 85 employees who are steadfast in their support of others.”

Rather than contracting an outside vendor to design and implement a top-down program, Meritage employees used their firsthand healthcare knowledge and experience to develop the program and have a strong voice in decision-making.

Employees formed a wellness committee of nine “champions” who meet monthly to plan and arrange activities. These champions lead various activities and encourage participation. They also serve as a resource for other employees to answer questions and take suggestions to the committee for implementation.

Meritage Health 360 focuses on each employee’s physical, mental and financial health and well-being, comprising a holistic program to cultivate wellness both on and off the job.

Onsite, there are fitness classes, walking groups, Yoga and monthly chair massages, along with monthly classes that help employees learn about different aspects of mental health, financial education, etc. Many class topics are employee-driven. All classes are 100 percent employer-paid. In addition, Meritage offers free flu shots to employees, discounted membership at the Novato YMCA and a $25 monthly gym membership subsidy.

Offsite activities are designed to help employees maintain and build on their success after hours. Hiking, walking, gardening and participating in events, such as Earth Day, are promoted. Employees use “selfies” to record these activities, often wearing Meritage swag (e.g., hats, shirts, water bottles).

Meritage also took a bite out of junk food by subsidizing the cost of adding healthy items to vending machines and by providing fresh, organic and seasonal fruit, including fruit from local farms.

“We plan to incorporate biometric testing as well as increase and track our success metrics,” Chotkevy added. “Employee retention and talent recruitment is an important outcome. They have favorable perceptions about working at Meritage, and several candidates and new hires reference Meritage Health 360 as a positive benefit of joining our team.”