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Vital Signs

DHMC is caring for staff as well as for patients

This spring, DHMC began "investing" in its employees' health. By doing so, it hopes to benefit both its employees and its bottom line. The initiative, called the Health Care Worker Health Promotion (HCWHP) project, is partially funded by a grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It provides free, voluntary health screenings for any DHMC physician or staff member on the Lebanon campus.

"A healthy workforce is a very good investment for employers," says Dr. Robert McLellan, medical director of employee health and safety at DHMC. He believes that improving employee wellness can lower health-care costs, reduce the number of workers' compensation claims, improve retention of current employees, and—by enhancing an institution's reputation for treating its employees well—make the recruitment of new employees easier. Furthermore, in the field of health care, maintaining a healthy staff is important because healthy workers serve as good role models and are more likely to provide the best care possible for patients.

HCWHP has three parts. In part one, employees are offered an opportunity to participate in a 10- to 15-minute health screening that includes measuring their blood pressure and fasting blood-sugar and cholesterol levels. In part two, employees will complete, at their convenience, an online questionnaire (www.howsyourhealth.com). All participants will receive individually tailored health profiles that highlight their health strengths and weaknesses.

Parts: For most employees, the process will end at part two. But anyone with slightly elevated blood sugar—people who are at risk for developing adult-onset, or Type II, diabetes—will qualify for part three. This is a voluntary two-year study involving periodic screenings and surveys about lifestyle choices.

The HCWHP project is targeting pre-diabetes partly because the condition can lead to other chronic diseases, which in turn can lead to missed workdays and higher health-care costs. According to the American Diabetes Association, "Some longterm damage to the body, especially the heart and circulatory system, may already be occurring during pre-diabetes." HCWHP chose to address this condition because it is easy to detect in screenings and because it responds well to changes in physical activity and diet.

"Increasing physical activity and improving diet have been shown to minimize the risk that people with pre-diabetes will progress to diabetes," McLellan says. "Without this intervention, the risk of progression is about 11 percent over three years." He estimates that 800 of DHMC's 5,000 employees may be at risk for developing diabetes. Of those 800, he figures about half will participate in stage three.

Access: The program will also give employees access to behavioral counseling, health education, and exercise classes. And program leaders will look for other ways DHMC can foster a culture that supports healthy behaviors; they hope all employees will become more focused on good health and will help each other make positive changes.

DHMC is not the first organization to pay attention to employee health. But as one of the biggest employers in northern New England, it has an opportunity to be a role model for the region, says McLellan. In addition, the Medical Center will be showing medical students, many of whom may become employers themselves one day, the importance of employee health.

"DHMC is rightfully proud of its continued efforts to improve the quality of health care it provides to its patients," McLellan says. "With the HCWHP project, DHMC will evaluate its efforts to improve the well-being of its own employees. To manage," he adds, "you must measure."

Mark P. Lawley

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