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Roundtable on occupational health | Crain’s Business in Chicago

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What is the number one challenge employers face in creating and implementing occupational health programs and how can it be addressed?

Thordarson: The most daunting challenge is often the time and effort it takes to create a comprehensive, engaging and impactful wellness program throughout the year. Too often, programs are put together simply as an annual event, which does not allow for real change and real growth. We have found that it is very important to involve employees when and where they are. To have the most impact, it has to be practical for them. We are using technology they may already own (a mobile phone app or website connection) that can be linked to show progress toward their personal goals. We are now bringing this expertise to employers in the communities we serve. Such a partnership allows for proven results with limited time and budget for the employer in creating a culture of well-being.

Kunst: Strategy. I would say the number one key in creating a successful wellness program is making sure the program is designed for that specific workforce. Instead of using a one-size-fits-all approach, an employer should first understand their workforce by examining data from past insurance claims, employee surveys, and health assessments to select wellness programs that meet the needs. most common health problems of their employees. Then, the employer can define goals, budgets and expected short and long term results.

Burke: The most difficult challenge may be finding a profitable, profitable partner who will work with you to customize your program to meet the needs of your staff and business. Once you have your personalized program, rolling it out to gain buy-in and participation from staff can be a daunting task, as it takes a lot of effort and a willingness to change. Introducing a new health and wellness program is daunting at first. It’s important to be consistent, to focus on what employees really want to improve or change, and to continue to be positive and show the benefits.

Siddiqi: Taking care of the whole person and not just a disease is fundamental to managing the health of the population. We have implemented innovative solutions to address these important social needs, such as partnering with technology company NowPow to connect patients with community organizations capable of meeting unmet social needs such as safe housing, nutritious food, transportation and stable employment.

What has been the biggest impact of the COVID-19 pandemic so far on occupational health?

Kunst: Stress levels have increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the many disruptions in our daily lives. The American Psychological Association reported in 2020 that we are facing a national mental health crisis. And it’s not just adults who feel it. The report also found that our children are under high stress. We provide members with access to mental health support including in person, over the phone and digitally through services such as Sanvello.

Thordarson: Amid the growing need to support physical and mental health, there has been a noticeable shift in the way mental health is viewed. “It’s OK not to be OK,” is it often and widely heard. This awakening has opened the door to powerful conversations and there is less stigma in asking for help. From the onset of the pandemic, our medical and spiritual professionals went to work to support our associates and physicians. Our behavioral health experts continue to run confidential virtual support groups several times a week to care for our caregivers.

Siddiqi: The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on the link between employee health and well-being and overall business performance. As organizations change their business models and work environments to embrace more flexible solutions, traditional healthcare delivery also continues to transform and evolve. In 2019, lawyer Aurora made approximately 3,000 virtual patient visits; by the end of 2020, that number has exploded to over a million virtual tours. We launched the LiveWell app, a one-of-a-kind digital ecosystem that combines a patient’s integrated medical record with features such as guided meditation, healthy recipes and health news. It quickly reached over a million downloads. Increasing employer demands for employee vaccination and / or COVID-19 testing have led to a further transformation in occupational health. Integrative solutions to help businesses stay productive and control healthcare costs will continue to be in demand in 2021 and beyond.

How to approach mental health and stress management?

Burke: By offering a variety of health and wellness programs that address physical, mental, and financial health, businesses can create an environment that provides a happier and more productive workforce, but also helps relieve stress. the stress. Organizations must first identify stressors and develop techniques to manage and minimize them. Some companies include an EAP that provides direct access to mental health professionals and resources. Employees can be encouraged to talk to their managers or just take a break or a short walk to give themselves time to recharge and decompress from stressful situations. It is also important that the employees use the PTO.

Kunst: It is important to recognize that the signs of stress are not the same for everyone. Some people are angry or depressed, while others have difficulty concentrating or making decisions. The good news is that stress is manageable, but you need to learn to recognize triggers, take the time to have fun, incorporate relaxation techniques, and welcome support. Stress is a body’s natural defense mechanism, but being stressed for too long can have a serious negative effect on a person’s health. And if you notice that stress is becoming a problem for you, please talk to your doctor. At UnitedHealthcare, we help guide people to quality care and make behavioral health solutions available, affordable and attractive to our members. Physical and mental health are intrinsically linked, and taking a holistic approach to health has never been more important. And people struggling with behavioral health issues – from depression and anxiety to eating disorders to substance abuse disorders – may not always recognize when they need help. That’s why our trained lawyers provide members with the right information and the right care options, at the right time.

Siddiqi: A first step for businesses might be to consider a voluntary EAP benefit, offering psychological support on issues such as stress, bereavement, family issues, psychological disorders, and substance abuse .

Thordarson: Managers should have regular conversations with their associates and be aware of all available resources. Not all mental health needs can be solved with one solution. Giving associates access to multiple tools gives them the freedom to find what works best for them individually. At AMITA Health, all of our associates and physicians are invited to join a confidential virtual support program facilitated by one of our behavioral medicine specialists. We have organized over 345 virtual peer support groups with over 1,180 participants since the start of the pandemic. They can review the stress management training modules at their own pace. They can speak to an EAP specialist, who can refer them to a qualified professional. They can speak to a chaplain for advice.


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