Community Health Equals Community Wealth

Indiana ranks 41st among states for health.* To potential employers, this ranking communicates that doing business in Indiana is a risky proposition.

Health care is one of the top five costs for employers. Unhealthy employees are unproductive employees—and their medical bills can eat into a company’s bottom line. That’s why businesses seek healthy communities where their companies and their employees can thrive.

With the launch of the Indiana Healthy Community Initiative, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce’s Wellness Council seeks to make Indiana a healthy—and lucrative—place to do business. How? By turning workplace wellness efforts into community health efforts.

“We’ve spent three and a half years conducting research to find out what it will take for workplace wellness initiatives to become more impactful for both employees and employers,” says Chuck Gillespie, executive director of the Wellness Council of Indiana. “One of the key facts we noticed was that the biggest influencers on employees’ habits were friends and families. It begged the question: ‘How do we help spread the wellness conversation taking place at work into the home?’”

The Indiana Healthy Community Initiative seeks to expand the impact of workplace wellness initiatives by helping businesses and hospitals engage community partners and work with local government to provide citizens with increased access to health care and wellness resources. “Our research showed that the communities having the best results from their health initiatives were those in which the workplaces were driving most of the activity,” Gillespie notes.

In just its first year, the success of—and excitement surrounding—the initiative has exceeded the Wellness Council’s expectations. “When we launched the initiative in October 2015, we hoped to get two or three communities involved in the first year,” Gillespie says. “Today, we have 10 communities engaged in the process and two counties—Hancock and Delaware—that have already been designated as Indiana Healthy Communities.”

HOW HANCOCK FAST-TRACKED COMMUNITY HEALTH

When the Hancock Regional Hospital Foundation learned of the opportunity to become designated an Indiana Healthy Community, they set their sights high. With a goal of becoming the healthiest county in the state, they created a full-time position to jumpstart their designation efforts.

Their commitment to community health has paid off. In just nine months, Danielle Daugherty, healthy community coordinator, has spear-headed Hancock’s efforts to become designated one of the first Indiana Healthy Communities.

When seeking community partners, Daugherty cast her recruitment net far and wide— from parents, teachers and athletic directors in local schools to business and health care leaders. “We don’t ask people to do things, we invite them to come with us on this journey,” Daugherty says. “The mission, county goals and strategies have all been built by community members.”

Hancock created three teams of approximately 25 people each to address their top priorities: Healthier Choices, Mental Fitness and Workplace Wellness. In addition to the 75 core team members showing up for monthly meetings, more than 500 people have attended community-wide gatherings or engaged with the effort digitally.

“Our biggest focus in the beginning was to track engagement and get the word out about our efforts,” Daugherty notes. “It’s been very humbling to see not only how many people care about their own health, but the health of their community.”

STARTING FROM THE INSIDE

Whereas Hancock Regional Hospital Foundation has been aggressive in its outreach efforts, Putnam County Hospital (PCH) has built on the success of its own internal wellness program throughout the designation process.

“We introduced a wellness program earlier this year that would enable staff who participated to receive a discounted health insurance rate,” notes PCH CEO Dennis Weatherford. “Currently 90 percent of hospital insured staff participate in the program. In conjunction, we’re working with area employers by offering them wellness screenings and opportunities to partner in our current wellness program.”

While visiting with local businesses, PCH staff discovered that many of the recommended programs communities need in order to obtain the Indiana Healthy Community designation were already in place. “From walking trails to nutritional classes, Putnam County offers healthy lifestyle options,” Weatherford notes. “We just haven’t joined forces to effectively spread the word.”

BUILDING ON THE FOUNDATION

Gillespie notes that the Indiana Healthy Community designation process works with each community individually in order to provide them with the resources they need to capitalize on their existing successes—and build toward a healthier future. “We want to interconnect the Indiana Healthy Community Initiative with existing tools and programs and build off the successes that are already happening in our communities,” Gillespie says. “Let us come in and help evaluate and analyze. If you don’t have something coalescing, we can help.”

“The Wellness Council of Indiana has a tremendous program on their hands, and we’re excited to be a part of it,” Weatherford states. “While the initiative can seem overwhelming at first glance, Chuck Gillespie and the Indiana Wellness Council have walked our steering committee through step by step.”

“A lot of us across the community are responsible for taking care of others, whether we’re in health care or not,” Daugherty says. “In order to do that, we have to make sure we’re in our best health and that our resources are plentiful and available. I think this initiative can be duplicated in any community. It boils down to caring for our neighbors.”

Gillespie believes this is just the beginning of what Indiana communities might achieve when they work together. “We’ve laid the foundation, but now it’s time to build on the foundation.”

 

* According to the United Health Foundation