An employee from Prevention Partners lead meeting participants in an exercise break.
An employee from Prevention Partners lead meeting participants in an exercise break. Photo credit: Rose Hoban

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By Rose Hoban

In many rural counties, the 10 largest employers – the hospital, the school, local government, manufacturers – will employ about 25 percent of all the local workers.

Now health care advocates are looking to tap those 10 largest employers to promote community health.

This “Power of 10” is an idea Chapel Hill-based Prevention Partners is promoting to business leaders all over the state. The group gathered Triangle employers to pitch their ideas and strategies this week at a meeting in Raleigh.

Representatives from several dozen businesses listened to presentations at the Prevention Partners meeting Tuesday. Photo credit: Prevention Partners

“Public and private employers are starting to build policies and environments to help employees be as healthy as they can,” said Meg Molloy, president and CEO of Prevention Partners, a not-for-profit organization that works to improve employee health and, with it, the fortunes of businesses.

Prevention Partners is the organization that helped all of North Carolina’s hospitals go tobacco-free in the 2000s. Now the organization is working to reduce the incidence of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke in North Carolina through their “WorkHealthy America” program.

The idea to disseminate Prevention Partners’ knowledge across all 100 counties came from former Secretary of Commerce Sharon Decker, who met with Molloy in 2012.

“We talked about the notion that if North Carolina had healthier employees, we’d have healthier businesses and a stronger economy,” Decker said. “We could attract more companies if our health care costs are lower.”

Decker said Prevention Partners was the right group to get these ideas out there because the organization has a lot of experience helping businesses get healthier and has data and research on how to do it most effectively.

“Prevention Partners brings the technical support,” Molloy explained. “We help benchmark the science; we show people what to do and how you do it.”

Molloy said one example of an easy workplace policy to improve health is to promote breastfeeding among new mothers.

“We encourage businesses to have a mothers’ room and have policies that are clear to a woman’s supervisor and herself that she has time to use the mothers’ room to express, store and refrigerate breast milk,” Molloy said.

The basics for creating such a room are simple: a chair with arms, a dormitory-sized refrigerator for storing milk and a sink for handwashing.

Stephanie Emerson from Asheville-based accounting firm Johnson Price Sprinkle PA told the meeting how Prevention Partners helped her employers build a culture of health, first through helping people get to the local YMCA.

Prevention Partners leader Meg Molloy.

“We didn’t have anything in a policy or a procedure,” Emerson said. “Some things you might already do, but just make those a formal program; make those part of the everyday life and the culture of the organization.”

She said the company did small things that made a big difference.

“During tax season, you used to see cakes, but those things went away,” Emerson said. “Now I look back at the last six years of transformation. Not that it was a horrible group of unhealthy people to begin with, but now [health] is the culture.”

She said her employers have incorporated wellness initiatives into the strategic plan for the company.

“We used it as an opportunity to do something really great for our employees, because our employees are our number-one resource,” Emerson said.

Molloy said they’re aiming at getting the 10 largest employers in each county involved in improving workplace wellness by the year 2025. Prevention Partners also has strategies for small- and mid-sized employers to help them improve their employees’ health.

“We help benchmark the science, we show people what to do,” she said. “How you do it may vary based on the size of your company, your budget.”

This article has been corrected to note Prevention Partners’ work with hospitals going tobacco-free. Public schools were ordered to become tobacco-free by the General Assembly in a 2008 law.

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