Linn County Program Spotlights Employee Health

By Cindy Hadish, SourceMedia Group News

CEDAR RAPIDS — Don't bother looking for a sugary snack at Midwest Metal Products.

"You won't find a candy bar in our building," says Mikki Tritle, a customer service representative at the metal fabrication company, 800 66th Ave. SW. "Our vending machines don't even have candy."

Freshly made sandwiches are available for purchase at Midwest Metal Products, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Thursday, March 8, 2012. Midwest Metal Products strives to promote employee wellness by having a daily walk around the building, a fitness room, basketball hoop, healthy food options and more. Midwest Metal Products has done away with all candy bars in the vending machines, and now only have baked chips, they also have sandwiches and other healthy lunch options available for purchase. (Nikole Hanna/The Gazette-KCRG)

Midwest Metal co-owner Rita Jelinek says she has contemplated taking healthy choices a step beyond those snacks.

"I'd love to pull the pop machines, but I think there might be a mutiny," Jelinek says with a laugh.

Improving employee health is a work in progress as many businesses look to reduce health care expenditures.

One local initiative is in its fourth year of helping companies move in that direction.

The Linn County Board of Health's Worksite Wellness program recognizes area businesses that offer physical and social environments to support employee health.

Besides that recognition, which takes place at an April awards breakfast, businesses receive a free assessment and customized guide on ways to improve their work sites, says Jill Roeder, Healthy Behaviors branch manager for Linn County Public Health.

"(The assessment) looks at the environment only," Roeder says, noting that individual health, such as a blood pressure check, isn't measured.

An increasing number of businesses have participated since 13 work sites were evaluated in the program's first year, with 36 reviewed in 2011.

Criteria include tobacco policies; an active wellness committee; availability of healthy vending machine choices; exercise opportunities and more.

Many components are free or low-cost, such as signs that promote the use of stairs, rather than elevators, or policies related to nutrition.

Ronda Welper, human resources director at Raining Rose, 407 Ninth Ave. SE, says fruit or cheese trays are provided at the skin care product manufacturer's employee meetings instead of cookies that were offered in the past.

"We try to subtly change the culture and get people to eat healthier," she says.

Mike Simoens, (left), of Cedar Rapids, and Dan Foley, of Marion, walk outside to enjoy the fresh air on their daily walk around the building, at Midwest Metal Products, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Thursday, March 8, 2012. (Nikole Hanna/The Gazette-KCRG)

One more obvious change is a recent switch to 100 percent tobacco-free grounds at Raining Rose.

Not only are employees not allowed to smoke or use other tobacco products on-site, but they are not supposed to use any tobacco at all during their work shifts. That includes crossing the street to smoke, Welper says.

Linn County Public Health assisted in writing the tobacco policy, she says.

When it opens at its new site in September, Raining Rose will have a new fitness room for its 107 employees.

Welper says workers also undergo health assessments and take advantage of walks and other events in the community.

"We see more people participate each year or in each event that we do," she says. "It has definitely changed the culture of our place."

The same is true at Midwest Metal, where the 113 workers have access to a workout area, ping-pong table, filtered water and healthy food, in addition to tobacco-free grounds.

Jelinek says employees also take 5-minute walking breaks at scheduled times of the day.

"It gets them away from their machines and computers to walk around and get the blood flowing," she says. "We've done preventive maintenance for years on our equipment and your employees are no different."

FYI

— Worksite Wellness provides free assessments to help businesses make low-cost or free changes to the workplace to improve employee health.

— Companies can self-nominate to be considered for the Healthy Worksite Wellness Award and receive the free site visit and assessment.

— Nominations will be accepted through Friday, March 16, 2012, at 501 13th St. NW, Cedar Rapids, IA 52405 or via email at: health@linncounty.org

— Call (319) 892-6029 for details or see: www.LinnCounty.org/health

— Awards, categorized by number of employees, will be presented at a breakfast from 7:30-9:30 a.m. April 5 at the Elmcrest Country Club in Cedar Rapids.
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