Priority put on wellness in small firms


    Priority Health and the Tri-Cities YMCA are teaming up to offer wellness options for small companies in the lakeshore areas.

    “Smaller employers don’t have the opportunity to provide wellness,” said Wendy Wigger, Priority Health’s director of wellness, citing challenges with budgeting and coordinating wellness programs with a small number of employees.

    By combining services for a dozen lakeshore area small employers, Priority Health and the YMCA have a 16-week pilot program under way to bring wellness services to organizations that otherwise wouldn’t have access to them.

    The program, “Y Wellness Works,” includes free health screenings and classes from both the Y and Priority Health staff, and participation in Team Up to Trim Down, the Y’s eight-week weight-loss program.

    “I think what’s interesting is that you’ve got two organizations that bring to the table similar but different resources,” Wigger said.

    Tri-Cities YMCA Executive Director Dean Buntley said his organization was looking for a way to reach out to businesses.

    “We wanted to find something we could do to reach small to mid-sized business, especially in these economic conditions,” Buntley said. “How can we encourage employers to provide benefits for employees that are not going to cost them an arm and a leg?”

    Buntley said the program was marketed to Chamber of Commerce members from Holland to Fruitport and east to West Olive. Some 300 people turned up for the first Team Up to Trim Down session, he said.

    “It’s fun. There’s a lot of jabbing,” he said. “There’s a dentist’s office that sends the other dentist’s office doughnuts before weigh-in.”

    Wigger said it’s more cost effective to provide services to a larger group, even though the members may be part of very small businesses, which are less likely to offer wellness initiatives. A MetLife report in 2008 estimated that while 57 percent of companies with at least 500 employees offer wellness programs, just 16 percent of smaller businesses offer such programs as smoking cessation, weight management, exercise plans and cancer screening.

    “We normally wouldn’t necessarily be able to bring a whole team of health professionals to a site that may only have five or 10 employees,” Wigger said.

    “We’re trying to figure out what will be the best way to engage small employer groups, how to provide support realistic and scaleable programs,” she added. “Part of our message to help small business understands that wellness works for them as well as large employer groups.”

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