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Healthy Utah Transit Authority: realizing the benefits of good health.


Realizing the Benefits of Good Health

If the American worker is overworked, overweight, out of breath, and irritable it is because for too long society has been more interested in curing the disease rather than promoting wellness. Companies such as Utah Transit Authority (UTA) have seen the trend and decided to take action.

UTA began its comprehensive programs in 1984 on a one-year trial basis when managers became concerned that health-care costs were increasing at a much faster rate than other costs. UTA believed that encouraging a healthy lifestyle would pay off in the long run with healthier employees and lower health-care costs.

Today UTA has programs and policies that include a smoke-free work site, bonuses for smoking cessation and weight loss, in-house fitness centers, medical-benefits rebates for good health, exercise incentives, and more.

Taking Action to Promote Wellness

In designing its programs, UTA studied recent national statistics that show most employees have at least one of the three major risks for cardiovascular disease: high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, or cigarette smoking.

Adults with uncontrolled high blood pressure are three to four times more likely to have heart disease and seven times more likely to have a stroke than are those with normal blood pressure. Adults with high blood cholesterol are twice as likely to have heart disease than those with desirable blood cholesterol levels. Compared with non-smokers, smokers are 10 times more likely to die of lung disease and twice as likely to suffer heart attacks and strokes. Coronary artery disease affects approximately 7 million Americans and causes about 1.5 million heart attacks and 500,000 deaths a year. The number of coronary bypass procedures performed each year is approaching 300,000 (Healthy People 2000, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

Rewarding Good Health

To help UTA employees control these factors and others, the company created a program called "Invest in Yourself with Healthy UTA." All employees can receive bonuses each year in insurance premium waivers and cash. In addition, employees' spouses who are covered by UTA-paid insurance are also eligible.

Employees and their spouses who are covered by UTA-paid insurance are invited to participate in a free yearly fitness evaluation. Trained health professionals test participants and make evaluations in five target areas (though the evaluation covers more than the five areas): smoking cessation, cholesterol, blood pressure, body fat, and cardiovascular fitness.

Participants who score on or above the standard in all five target areas will be eligible for the immediate incentive bonus. Those who score below the standard in any of the five areas will be eligible to work toward the year-end bonus total or smaller bonuses for improvement in any of the five target areas.

Because this is a new program, evaluating its success is months or even years down the road. Early results, however, show an increase in participation, and the new Healthy UTA program has been welcomed with excitement by the employees. One of the best benefits of the Healthy UTA program is that it will allow UTA to measure the actual changes in employee health and to more accurately estimate UTA's return on its investment.

In previous years the fitness evaluation has identified as many as 25 employees in a single year who have major health risks. The estimated costs of coronary bypass surgery and stroke treatment and rehabilitation are $30,000 and $22,000, respectively. UTA managers believe if they can help even one employee prevent those kinds of diseases, they have justified the cost of their health and fitness programs.

On-Site Fitness Centers

UTA has divisions in Ogden, Salt Lake, and Provo. Each division has its own Fit Factory equipped with bikes, rowing machines, free weights, dumbbells, and multi-station exercise units. The Fit Factories are also equipped with a radio, stereo cassette, TV, and VCR. Exercise videos are available for employees to check out and use. The Meadowbrook Division in Salt Lake, the largest UTA division, offers on-site aerobic classes six times per week. The Fit Factories are also used for the rehabilitation and conditioning of injured employees. UTA is reducing its workers' compensation costs by having employees use the in-house facilities for work hardening, self-directed therapy, and injury-related reconditioning.

Participants can accumulate points for hours spent in the Fit Factory or exercising away from the facility. The points are then used by employees for various fitness-related prizes. To encourage employee participation and to help with the administration of the programs, volunteer fitness committees have been organized at each division.

Encouraging Family Leisure Time

UTA sponsors employee basketball, baseball, bowling, and golf teams. Interoffice volleyball competition is one of the favorites at the Meadowbrook site. As a part of the total health program, UTA makes available to its employees discounted tickets for local ski resorts, movie theatres, ball games, and water parks. UTA hopes to encourage employees and their families to spend their leisure hours together, thus promoting a healthier family unit.

Each spring UTA participates in the National Employee Health and Fitness Day sponsored by the Association for Fitness in Business and Allstate Insurance Co. During the holidays, the Project Zero weight-loss program is a popular UTA event. Last year 80 percent of the participants either maintained or lost weight.

Employee Appreciation

Employees who are surveyed or interviewed place a high value on the health and fitness programs that UTA sponsors. They generally see the fitness facilities as a benefit worth much more than the actual cost to UTA. Because of the positive employee feedback, UTA has come to see its health and fitness programs as an employee relations and a recruitment investment in addition to their main goal of improving the health of UTA.

Raylene Thueson is a health and fitness consultant in the Salt Lake area and the chairperson for the Association for Fitness in Business.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Olympus Publishing Co.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Utah Transit Authority promotes employee wellness programs
Publication:Utah Business
Date:Oct 1, 1991
Previous Article:Partners in progress: Huntsman Chemical.
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