The American Heart Association's "Start!" movement for helping employees eat better and become active has recognized Memorial Hospital of Union County as a platinum-level Start! fit-friendly company.

The American Heart Association's "Start!" movement for helping employees eat better and become active has recognized Memorial Hospital of Union County as a platinum-level Start! fit-friendly company.

The initiative is aimed at being a catalyst for positive change in the work force by helping companies make their employees' health and wellness a priority.

To earn platinum level status, an employer must have implemented healthy changes company-wide. Memorial Hospital has created its Health Risk Assessment (HRA) program, Working on Wellness (WOW) program, healthy cafeteria menu items and a smoking cessation program.

Employees are encouraged throughout the year to participate in various programs and activities intended to adopt healthy lifestyle habits.

"Our programs are designed to help improve the total health of employees," WOW coordinator Kelly Daum said. "It's important to focus on nutrition, physical health and mental health, like stress management, if we want these modifications to be lasting lifestyle changes."

Deb Stubbs, director of Memorial's Health Center, said the hospital's equation for employee wellness is good health equals wealth -- for the employees and the organization.

"By asking our employees to partner with us and take ownership of their health habits, they reduce health care costs, increase productivity and set the stage for a longer life," Stubbs said. "It is a nice perk to have access to while at your work place."

Hospital data show participants in the HRA program, in its third year at the hospital, cost $983 less per employee than non-participating employees.

Free comprehensive lab work, body fat analysis, blood pressure checks and girth measurements were evaluated and then scored. To ensure good participation, a plan was implemented to allow employees a chance to decrease insurance premiums based on their results. Free screening also was extended to spouses of employees for a potential additional premium discount.

The WOW program, in its 12th year, has 230 participants. It offers points and incentives for all types of wellness behaviors, from medical checkups to exercise.

In addition to health care cost savings, Memorial has noticed that sick time usage has decreased, fewer employees are smoking and general health, monitored through blood pressure and cholesterol levels, has improved.

Companies that participate in Start! get free access to program resources such as the free Start! Walking Program, materials to help promote company wellness programs to employees, internal newsletter templates and consultation on CPR/AED (automated external defibrillator) programs. Start! also offers MyStart! Online, a free Web-based fitness and nutrition tracker for companies and individuals.

For more information about the Start! program or Memorial Hospital's employee health programs, call (937) 578-2580.