Employee Health and Wellness

We are proud to share a recent article published in the December issue of Central Massachusetts Health, a publication by the Worcester Business Journal. Click here to view the original article.

Beginning in 2008, employee health and wellness became a high-priority topic for Venture’s management team. At the time, these programs were still a new concept for many employers – the idea was somewhat controversial and the agency’s financial commitment was significant. As research about the advantages of wellness programs emerged, opportunities were more widely available.

In October 2013, the agency began working with a wellness provider during the annual open enrollment process. Although many employees showed interest, our next step was to educate our more than 650 staff members about this opportunity, such as explaining the incentives and easing fears about confidentiality. The human resources department worked together with the wellness provider and our insurance broker to provide employee access to the new initiative. Representatives explained the benefits of the program, including assistance in achieving a healthier lifestyle, decreased absenteeism, increased morale, and improved overall health.

Employee engagement is always challenging, but we continue to explore new ways to spark interest. In April 2013, we welcomed our first Wellness Coordinator to the human resources team. Since then, we have also added a Wellness Committee that includes representatives from departments across the agency which meets on a monthly basis. The group focuses on keeping employees motivated to reach their health and wellness goals, planning our Annual Wellness Fair, and hosting “challenges” that increase program awareness, build morale, and encourage a little bit of healthy competition. The program has already shown tremendous growth – our Annual Wellness Fair more than doubled in attendance this year. This event offers access to information about medical and dental issues, fitness, healthy eating, chiropractic, massage, and more. We believe that when employees are offered a wide variety of opportunities and flexibility in the ways they choose to participate, we will enhance involvement.

In the past two years, Venture has utilized several initiatives to increase participation. First, employees who enroll in and maintain the program’s requirements pay a reduced premium toward their health insurance. We also offer special events such as guest speakers who discuss nutrition, stress management, and more. We’ve also implemented “Fruity Friday” and “Tasty Tuesday”, which offer free healthy snacks in our break room. Additionally, Venture recognizes an employee with our monthly Wellness Works Award through a nomination process. Employees can recommend a fellow coworker who has made a positive change to improve their health. The recipient of the award and the other nominees are identified through our Internal Newsletter.

Another method of encouraging employee participation is offering annual bonus incentives for taking part in health and wellness. Credits are awarded for attending fitness classes, gym memberships, running or walking in community races. In addition, in conjunction with our current wellness provider, we offer a random quarterly cash prize drawing for engaging in webinars, challenges and other activities. Wellness participants can also enroll in NutriSavings, which partners with national and local supermarkets to automatically score food purchases based on nutritional content and offering rewards for buying healthy foods – giving employees the opportunity to save on groceries.

At Venture, we are committed to empowering our employees through ongoing education and innovative opportunities. The keys to employee participation in our wellness program are communication, creativity, and flexibility.

Effective Community Day Programs

I’m pleased to introduce Kevin Hughes, Vice President of Day Services, as this week’s guest blogger from Venture’s senior leadership team.  Kevin can be reached at khughes@venturecs.org.

Graduating from high school and entering the “real world” is a significant transition for any young adult.  Typically, these young adults continue onto college or enter the workforce – but for the young adult with intellectual disabilities, the choices can be different.  A small percentage will continue their academic pursuits but the majority will enter the workforce, participate in community based day supports, and/or continue skill development in day habilitation programs.  To complicate matters, some of these young adults will also move into new residential settings as they transition from children services to adult services.  As you can see, the transition can be very difficult and confusing for the young adult as well as the family.

Many agencies offer different residential and day service models, as one model does not fit everyone.  The focus of this blog will be on one model, the day habilitation model.  All day habilitation programs are approved and regulated by MassHealth and must adhere to their standards.  However, many agencies in the field of developmental disabilities are recognizing the need for change within the day habilitation program to offer support to a changing population.

For example, the need to create programs for those diagnosed with autism is changing our field.  Valuable programs include sensory rooms with treatment protocols written by an Occupational Therapist which allow some individuals to interact and manipulate their environment in such a way that is meaningful to them.  Other therapeutic models, such as adaptive yoga, are both enjoyable and allow for growth.  Venture’s Sturbridge community day program offers adaptive yoga and massage therapy in-house and some individuals also participate in therapeutic horseback riding.

Individuals that require behavioral support have the right to competent behavior analysts that have the education and experience to deliver this level of service.  Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) that work together with the team to address problem behavior while increasing skill development is an excellent addition to these types of programs.  In addition, consulting a licensed psychologist or a doctoral level BCBA is recommended for treatment that is more complex. A Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker can also offer additional support and counseling for individuals that benefit from a more traditional therapeutic relationship.

Finally, and most importantly, day program environments should be aesthetically pleasing and well maintained. Individuals have the right to a “physical and social environment that is safe, humane, and responsive to individual needs” (Van Houten et al, 1988).  This includes offering activities that are preferred, focus on skill development, and are age appropriate.  The availability of community activities and volunteer opportunities ensure that skills taught in the program generalize or transfer to community settings.  Functional skill development that is person-centered, encompasses multi-treatment modalities, are preferred, and delivered in pleasing environments.

Van Houten, R., Axelrod, S., Bailey, J. S., Favell, J. E., Foxx, R. M., Iwata, B. A., & Lovaas, O. I. (1988). The right to effective behavioral treatment. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 21(4), 381–384. https://doi.org/10.1901/jaba.1988.21-381