Reducing Year-end Burnout

The end of each year, as well as the accompanying holidays, bring a multitude of gifts. While the holidays represent joy, gratitude and happiness for many people, they also are punctuated by a wide spectrum of emotional reactions including nostalgia, guilt, loneliness and, for many, sadness. These can become overwhelming and lead to depression, anxiety or illness.

The culmination of our business and calendar years increases pressure on us as we rush around trying to multitask, wrap up projects and budgets, deal with personal and family needs and prepare ourselves for the coming year. If money challenges are wearing on us, this time of year exacerbates financial woes, adding to stress and guilt. And if we’re alone, or missing people in our lives who have passed, moved away or otherwise departed, those feelings can come home to roost as the holidays rapidly approach.

It’s also a time of overindulgence, especially when it comes to eating and drinking. These activities, as wonderful as they are in moderation, may contribute to an unhealthy sense of self, which typically results in more unhealthy practices. Statistics for how much weight Americans tend to gain during this end-of-the-year smorgasbord vary from one pound to 10, but it’s undoubtedly a tough time for anyone trying to eat healthfully.

But it’s more than just overeating; exercise substantially reduces, as well. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, most Americans (approximately 60 percent) do not engage in vigorous, leisure-time physical activity. Add in the time demands of the holidays and the urge to stay inside because of the weather, and you have a recipe for even more inactivity.

What we need is our own way to help reduce stress and disorganization, improve our focus, and slow down enough – in a short, manageable period – to regain our emotional and physical footing without losing traction or productivity. Some people hit the gym, run or take a walk; others go out to eat, read, nap, pray or call a friend. Many also find that the pursuit of mindfulness – the ability to slow ourselves down, focus and truly be present in the moment – can be enhanced through meditation or other relaxation activities.

Taking charge

Many factors combine to increase the urge to overeat or feel stressed during this season. Holiday feasting, as well as stress, exhaustion and wintry weather can dampen the best of workout intentions. To make this holiday season a healthier one, it’s important to be conscious of what we’re eating, and to manage our stress and emotions.

  • Practice awareness.  It’s important to be conscious of what we eat and how much. Allow yourself some special treats at the holidays but consider moderate servings. When there’s a lot of food available, try an appetizer-sized helping of each dish instead of a full serving. Don’t deprive yourself, but be aware of content and calories. When possible, avoid foods rich in fats, salt, sugar, and preservatives. Remember, we don’t have to indulge every minute. We can allow some treats for those special days, and then get back into our healthy routines the next day.
  • Manage stress and emotions.  For some people it’s an abundance of friends and family coming out of the woodwork that has them down. In contrast, you may be alone, not have your family or friends nearby, and feel isolated. The holidays are very nostalgic, but for every good memory there also may be memories of family members and friends now deceased or living far away, and traditions no longer possible. Spending time with difficult family members, grieving the loss of a loved one, feeling pressure to give gifts when finances are tight, and loneliness can leave people feeling sad, angry, or even depressed. And these feelings are aggravated by the shorter, colder days and reduced sunlight.
  • Outreach and consistency are good. It’s always beneficial to try and continue our normal routines to help feel like we’re still in control. We can consciously try to not over-eat and make time for exercise and rest. Additionally, personal outreach, especially socializing and connecting with old friends and associates, is important for our emotional health. We humans are social creatures, and while digital outreach is valuable and sometimes our easiest option, the Internet tends to act as a buffer between us and real intimacy.
  • Dealing with the holiday blues. Though depression as the holidays near is common, there is a difference between the holiday blues, which are often temporary and go away once the season ends, and more serious conditions. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a psychological state that literally changes your biology and can cause or add to depression. Depressed individuals tend to feel helpless and hopeless about changing their situation. If the holiday blues seem to linger or become more intense, seek help from a mental health professional.
  • Do your personal planning. This is the perfect time to assess what you did or didn’t accomplish in your personal health and wellness efforts, and to plan action for the coming year. Set simple goals, and commit to action. That choice is yours, and can involve joining a gym or fitness center, changing your eating habits, participating in organized athletic events, swimming, learning to meditate, reading more, or getting involved through volunteering or charity work. Telling a friend about your goals or enlisting someone to be a partner increases your chance of success, and is more fun.

This season certainly isn’t a time to be punishing yourself. No matter if you forget to follow the above advice, your healthy habits slip a little, or you do end up eating that extra pumpkin pie, cookies or cheesecake – this is a time to recognize how far you’ve come this year, to celebrate what you’ve achieved and to show your body and yourself the love and respect you deserve.


Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Wrap Up the Year With the Gift of Wellness

As the year winds down, it’s the perfect time to reflect on your 2017 health and wellness efforts, and to contemplate how you can do more in 2018. One of the best gifts employers can give themselves and their employees are gifts that “keep on giving,” such as improved long-term employee health, tools for reducing stress, and activities that will enhance teamwork, productivity and morale.

Helping employees meet individual or team goals through successful planning and execution, a sense of accomplishment, providing service, and feeling valued are indisputable contributors to success, retention, and service excellence. Additionally, generosity, giving, and awareness create a sense of increased goodwill and can increase the bond between employer and employee, and among staff.

By supporting employees’ interests in local or national organizations through donations, fund- raising activities and in-kind services, you help your staff achieve that valuable sense of accomplishment and caring that comes from generosity and giving to others.

Additionally, every month brings a variety of wellness, disease awareness and health-related special events, activities and recognition. These represent some of the proverbial “low-hanging fruit” for promoting, encouraging and rewarding employee workforce participation. And if you time your internal outreach to the wide variety of wellness material available online, through your healthcare insurance provider and from CBIA, you’ll find the resources and educational information robust and easily available.

Here are some simple ideas you can consider for a healthier new year:

  • Health and wellness planning:Host a planning session — led by employees or by an outside expert – where participants can talk about their personal health and wellness goals, and discuss possible group support, in-house challenges and activities.
  • Nutritional guidance: Ask a professional nutritionist or dietitian to meet with staff at a group lunch, or in one-on-one or small group meetings to talk about healthy eating, smart dieting and nutritional awareness.
  • Gym memberships:If you don’t already, consider offering an allowance to employees to use for purchasing a gym, yoga or fitness center membership, or consider bringing a fitness trainer or yoga instructor onsite.
  • Offer incentives:Some organizations incentivize employees by rewarding them for healthy activities such as setting and achieving personal wellness goals, or by completing wellness workshops and classes. Many companies also allow employees to take work time to visit their primary care physician for their annual physicals.
  • Community outreach: Building up morale in the company is a commonly overlooked wellness initiative, but the results are always positive. Lead this initiative by getting a team together for a charity event or race, volunteer, “adopt” a family or charity for the holidays, raise money as a team for gifts, match team and individual efforts, and encourage employees to donate food, time and services.
  • Stress relief: Studies show that a power nap or meditation increases alertness, memory and stamina. Some companies have designated an office or area where employees can reserve times during the day for relaxing, and forward-thinking organizations find ways to reward employees and help them “recharge” by allowing them much-needed “down time” that is customized to individual needs. Also consider inviting a yoga instructor or massage therapist to the workplace, and if possible, create a space for team instruction.
  • Teambuilding activities: Some companies sponsor art nights, onsite or at local art centers, where employees can paint, complete ceramics or pursue other artistic endeavors as a team. Charitable walks and runs, fitness competitions or bicycle rides, bowling or volleyball are other good team activities, as are skating, skiing and other outdoor recreational challenges that can be turned into team fun. Many companies also sponsor facilitated off-site retreats focused on team building, communication, planning and interpersonal development.
  • Smoking-cessation:A variety of free or inexpensive smoking cessation programs are available locally through the American Lung Association, hospitals and other sources.

Whatever you choose, remember that sometimes the best gifts can’t be wrapped!  Have a happy and healthy holiday season and year to come.


If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

ERs vs. Urgent Care Centers: Knowing the Difference Can Save a Bundle

When you are injured or sick enough to require emergency care, you don’t want the cost of that care to prevent you from seeking professional medical help. But there’s no ignoring the hefty price tag that accompanies a visit to a hospital emergency room. If it’s a true emergency requiring a call to 911, the ambulance crew aren’t going to ask about cost or insurance – they’re going to take you to the nearest or the most appropriate ER depending on your condition, especially if you may be having a heart attack, stroke or other medical event that renders you unresponsive, in shock or suffering from severe blood loss. But if the injury or illness you have experienced is not life threatening, your choice of service provider has a significant impact on the cost.

“Emergency care” is a broad term, ranging from serious injuries or life-threatening events toeye injuries, sprains, broken bones, earaches, sore throats, burns, fevers, infections, animal bites and much more. Deciding where to go can be confusing, and price shouldn’t deter you from seeking help. However, there are a wide variety of more affordable choices now available that offer different levels of emergency or “urgent” care that is sufficient for incidences that do not require emergency rooms, and won’t break the bank.

Knowing the difference is especially important. If you’re an employer, helping your employees choose the proper level of care will save you and them money. Copays and out-of-pocket costs for emergency room visits continue to rise in an effort to control costs. Dissuading patients from going to ERs when a walk-in clinic will do just fine is prudent and sensible. In fact, the next step in this cost-awareness evolution now being implemented by some health insurance carriers will be to penalize members who seek care at an ER when it is not medically necessary.

Protecting against unnecessary emergency medical costs

Ask your insurer for documentation on what your plan will and won’t cover if you or your employees need emergency care. For example, get clarity on your ER copay and coinsurance and on what the plan will cover if you’re not admitted. Your insurer can also tell you which area hospitals take your insurance. You also can then ask the billing department at your hospital of choice whether the ER doctors participate in your insurance plan. And because most insurers cover medically necessary ambulance rides, know how your plan defines that—typically, it means the patient is unconscious, bleeding heavily, or in severe pain.

But the biggest single step employees – patients – can take to reduce medical costs is to choose the right kind of medical care center for themselves and their children. While the emergency room can help care for any medical situation, it costs an average of three times more than a visit to an urgent-care center. In a non-life threatening situation, you can usually be treated at an urgent-care center effectively and far more quickly.

Walk-in urgent-care centers are typically staffed by at least one emergency medical physician, as well as physician assistants and advanced practice resident nurses. They handle non-life threatening situations, and many facilities have x-rays and labs onsite.

While hospital ERs are open 24/7, many urgent-care centers are open late and on weekends and holidays. Emergency rooms are meant for true medical emergencies and can handle trauma, diagnostic x-rays, surgical procedures and other life-threatening situations. In addition to the added cost, which averages approximately $2,300 according to industry data, the average wait at an ER is 4.5 hours. In comparison, the average cost of visiting an urgent-care center is $176, and waiting times are typically significantly shorter.

Visit an emergency room if you experience:

  • Allergic reactions to food, animal or bug bites
  • Broken bones
  • Chest pain
  • Constant vomiting
  • Continuous bleeding
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Deep wounds
  • Weakness or pain in a leg or arm
  • Head injuries
  • Unconsciousness

Visit an urgent-care center for these common conditions:

  • Flu and cold
  • Coughs and sore throat
  • High fevers
  • Ear aches and potential eye infections
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain
  • Cuts and severe scrapes
  • Minor broken bones such as fingers or toes
  • Minor injuries and burns

Getting the right care when needed always should be your priority. But with the plethora of urgent- and walk-in-care medical centers now available, making a wise and informed choice can save employees thousands of dollars and help stem the continuing rise in healthcare costs that affect all of us.


 

If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Being Mindful is Good for Your Mind…and Body

If you’re one of the two out of 10 employed Americans who say they are NOT stressed at work, you may already be practicing mindfulness and stress-reduction techniques effectively, be one of those annoyingly happy people we all love to hate, be truly lucky, or maybe you just happened to be having a great day. Regardless, if you’re one of the eight out of 10 Americans who struggle with stress during the work day – as an employer or an employee – this article may help you.

Staying focused can be challenging. There’s just so much coming our way simultaneously and so many messages constantly bombarding us. Whether it’s people talking to us face-to-face or through technology, the assault on our senses is ongoing and distracting. And it’s hurting productivity, service, quality and our health.

We can only stand a certain amount of stimulation and distraction. Remaining focused on priority tasks and duties always is in conflict with reality. Whether it’s planned or unexpected meetings, calls, people showing up uninvited, customer demands, drop-everything rush projects – we’ve all been there. Finding ways to retain focus and concentration for increased productivity and quality is critical, as is ensuring that we keep stress at bay.

Many organizations are realizing the benefits of mindfulness. Mindfulness, in its simplest terms, is awareness, being present, and feeling like we’re in control. In addition to contributing to overall well-being, mindfulness and meditative practices have been linked to improved cognitive functioning and reduced stress levels.

Mindfulness enhances emotional intelligence, notably self-awareness and the capacity to manage distressing emotions. Sometimes it’s as simple as truly paying attention in a meeting or on a call, or managing to let other ideas, thoughts and pressures slide past you and concentrate on the person or task at hand. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, improve memory and lessen depression and anxiety.

Some employers have created quiet spaces for people to relax, meditate or simply seek a few peaceful minutes during their workday to unwind and refocus. Lunch rooms help, but are shared and often not as effective. Savvy businesses are inviting meditation, mindfulness, yoga and massage specialists to the workplace during the day, during lunch and after hours. But when these opportunities don’t exist or aren’t convenient to the day and type or place of work, there are other mindfulness tips you and employees can practice to help relax and improve productivity and efficiency. For example:

  • Practice breathing. It seems so obvious, but taking time to breathe consciously is very beneficial and easy to do, wherever you are. Stop what you’re doing, close your eyes, and become aware of each breath, in and out. Feel the air enter your mouth and nose and travel down into your lungs, and then back out on the exhale. Some people measure the breathing cycle with a simple one/two count, others silently chant a personal mantra, but it doesn’t matter – spend five minutes just breathing consciously and it will slow you down considerably. It’s also an easy exercise to practice anytime, anywhere when you feel your pressure rising and your concentration weakening.
  • Practice “strategic acceptance.” When we get stressed out, we start thinking of everything in catastrophic terms. Each setback is amplified, and the negativity starts to compound. Rather than fighting these negative feelings and getting more stressed, try observing and exploring them, and accept the situation you’re presently experiencing. It doesn’t mean we like or can necessarily change or fix things at that moment, but through acceptance and a willingness to examine the way the negative energy is working on our minds and bodies, we can regain control and perspective. This doesn’t mean resigning yourself to a bad situation at work — it’s a matter of accepting how things are at this moment before making a plan to do what you can to improve them.
  • Tune into distractions around you. Offices are noisy, distracting environments, especially so-called “open offices” and cubicles. People talk loudly, you hear one another’s phone calls, typing, music – the sound mix is non-stop. Taking a moment to pay attention to those distractions rather than trying to tune them out can be a good way to prevent them from stressing you out. Gently notice the sounds and see if you can become aware of the effects they have on your body. The observation tends to rob the distractions of their power.
  • Take breaks. Regular breaks during the workday can boost productivity, creativity and patience. Instead of eating at your computer or work station, leave your work area for a brief walk, to get a drink or breathe some fresh air.  Stretch, walk when you can, or simply eat your meal in a different location, and try doing it without technology interference like emails, texts or social media . . . it’s good to use the time to think, daydream, meditate or do something that breaks the routine of your regular day.
  • Unplug from technology. With laptops, smart phones and tablets, it’s hard to truly relax or get unplugged from our work. Studies have shown that excessive reliance on technology makes us distracted, impatient and forgetful. Finding a way to “detox” can be extremely relaxing and helpful, be it through a walk, live social interaction, sharing a meal, reading a book or whatever works best for you.
  • Find time to exercise. There’s nothing like exercise, whether formal or spontaneous.  Exercise is good for our minds and our bodies, and a great tool for reducing stress. Whether you prefer to recreate outdoors, participate in sports, take a hike or bike ride or go to a fitness center, gym or training class, getting “physical” is a good way to calm our minds.

Whatever form or method you choose to achieve mindfulness, being aware of how stress, noise and distractions play negative roles in our every-day work lives is a critical first step for improving how we react – or don’t react – to situations that tap our energy, patience and creative spirits.


 

If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Achieving Balance Between Work, Health, and Overall Wellness

It is rare when you find a company that seems to have successfully bridged the gap between hard work, customer service and quality of life. ZAG Interactive is one of those organizations, featuring a vibrant, energized workforce that prides itself on customer quality, innovation, teamwork and their own health and wellness.

ZAG Interactive is a full-service digital agency specializing in website design, strategic marketing, custom development and campaign support. Much of its name recognition comes from building or redesigning websites for credit unions and banks across the country. It employs 55 people, and has been growing like gangbusters. It’s a youthful organization founded 15 years ago by a young, hands-on CEO, Larry Miclette, Jr., who leads by example, in the office and in the fitness arena.

Miclette has always supported work/life balance, and takes a personal, interactive interest in the health of his employees. The culture, says the company’s Wellness Champion Dawn Stanford, operations coordinator for ZAG, is very family and team oriented. People work and play together, and even spend time in one another’s company out of the office. And fitness, nutrition and exercise play important roles in helping them bond, manage stress and remain customer focused.

ZAG offers a variety of opportunities for employees to increase their activity level and health, Stanford says. “Employees are given a full membership to Healthtrax Fitness and Wellness, a gym that specializes in group classes, personal training, or individual training. We also offer a membership to Mission Fitness, which is a group-fitness-style gym that specializes in group boot camp, boxing, power and spin classes. They also offer ‘Mission Adventures,’ which include trail running, hiking, and triathlons.”

ZAG recently provided on-site lunch-time workouts with a trainer from Mission Fitness. The trainer offered nutritional guidance as well as a 20- to 30-minute workout. Lunchtime is playtime, as well – interested employees gather to enjoy Wiffle ball, a fun activity that started with a few ZAG players and now has expanded into a league, with tournament time quickly approaching and a trophy – and bragging rights – on the line.

Every Friday during the warm months there is a team picnic, and an employee who is a yoga instructor offers a class onsite on many Thursday evenings. Frequently employees bring in fresh vegetables and fruit from their gardens, share smoothie and nutritional snacks and dinner recipes, and discuss healthy food alternatives at lunch time and throughout the day.

“Our team is very congenial, supportive, proactive and involved,” says Melissa Wilkinson, a senior designer at ZAG, who also assists Stanford with the day-to-day health and wellness communication, planning and outreach. “In the past we’ve posted daily health tips such as how to optimize a 30-minute workout break, nutritional information, and other ideas. Many of us go outside at lunch for walks or hikes, and there’s a park nearby with walking and fitness trails. We set and share personal goals, and prompt and support each other.” A fear years ago, Zag hosted a “ZAG Fit” competition. The competition encouraged employees, their families and friends of ZAG to upload photographs of themselves doing any kind of health and wellness activities that interested them at work or on their own time. If they posted photos with a ZAG Fit hashtag, they were entered into a drawing for a free Fitbit. One was awarded to an employee, and one went to a non-ZAG employee.

They’ve also created a wellness advocacy team, comprising one representative from each business area. The goal, Wilkinson says, is to better integrate health and wellness across the organization by recognizing that each department has different interests, challenges ideas and its own subculture. Inclusivity, she adds, is key to success.

“Everyone benefits in a culture that embraces wellness,” Wilkinson explains. “We all think we eat healthy and exercise properly, but getting a professional to come in and explain things to the group, or in a one-on-one setting, makes a huge difference in how effective and educated we are when it comes to nutrition, fitness and overall wellness.”

“Here at ZAG, living a healthy lifestyle is important,” Stanford stresses. “‘Living healthy’ means different things to different people. We offer many opportunities for our employees to help reduce their stress and be active, involved and nutritionally fit every day. Wellness is a regular topic of conversation, and a way of life.”


If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Flu Shot Protocols for Employers

The cost of getting sick taxes employers and employees alike. Chronic illness and injuries—though not always anticipated—can be managed, but it’s hard to limit exposure to viruses and bacteria. However, there are steps we can take to mitigate the chances that we and our fellow workers will come down with and share certain contagious illnesses, especially in the workplace.

High on the list of contagions that can be controlled is influenza, or the flu. Every year, millions of Americans contract the flu, losing three to five days of work or more, requiring visits to physicians or walk-in clinics, and for many, a stay in the hospital. It’s also life threatening for seniors, small children and adults with compromised immune or respiratory systems. The annual medical costs run in the billions, as do the costs of lost productivity.

With easy, convenient, and affordable access to safe immunizations for preventing the flu, employers across the country, especially in the healthcare industry, are taking a more proactive stance toward ensuring employee compliance. Some companies are shooting for 100%compliance, launching educational campaigns, team competitions, rallies, and incentive options such as discounts and premiums. Others are taking a carrot and stick approach, linking employer contribution incentives to medical savings accounts. Others are just wielding the stick, insisting that employees receive a flu vaccination as a condition of employment, with exceptions for those who have legitimate religious concerns or allergies to the vaccination.

Recognizing the central role businesses and employers play in protecting the health and safety of their employees, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have produced materials intended to guide employers in their planning and preparedness for seasonal and pandemic influenza. The guidance is intended to help employers take actions to decrease influenza spread, maintain business continuity, and secure critical infrastructure. OSHA recommends that employers prioritize vaccination because it is a long-term and effective intervention that reduces reliance on employee behavioral changes such as hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.

As far back as February of 2010, the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP) released their provisional recommendation that all people six months of age or older receive an annual influenza vaccination, unless contraindicated. The CDC also recommends that employers encourage employees to seek vaccination against both seasonal and pandemic influenza, offer influenza vaccination opportunities at their worksite or consider allowing employees time off from work to seek vaccination.

Despite the potential benefits of vaccination, self-reports within the National Health Interview Survey suggest that vaccine coverage among healthy adults 18 to 49 years is only approximately 20%. Offering vaccination in the workplace could increase coverage by making vaccination more convenient, and reducing or eliminating the associated cost may further improve influenza vaccine participation.

Studies have shown that individuals who received influenza vaccine at work cited convenience as an important factor in the decision to be vaccinated. Following physicians’ offices, workplaces are the most common location to receive an influenza vaccination, with one-third of 18- to 49-year-old vaccine recipients and one-fifth of 50 to 64-year-old vaccine recipients receiving the vaccine at work. The addition of workplace education programs can provide information and alleviate employees’ concerns and misinformation about influenza vaccination.

Compliance and the law

More and more healthcare employers are requiring that all employees get the influenza vaccine in order to help protect patients and coworkers during flu season. This trend has resulted in questions pertaining to the legality of such policies, as well as how to properly implement a mandatory influenza vaccination policy for employees. Employers may adopt mandatory flu shot policies which are drafted and implemented in a legally compliant manner.

As a condition of employment, an employer may require that all employees receive a flu shot. However, an employer’s compulsory flu shot policy must provide for exemptions in order to comply with various laws regulating the employer/employee relationship. For example, if an employee with a physical or mental disability refuses a flu shot, the employer may have to make a reasonable accommodation in order to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A reasonable accommodation could take the form of exempting the employee from the requirement and instead requiring a different protective measure, such as wearing a surgical mask. Similarly, if an employee objects due to a sincerely held religious belief, the employer may also have to provide a reasonable accommodation, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer.

If an employee refuses to comply with the employer’s policy and/or any reasonable alternative protective measures required by the employer if an exemption is granted, an at-will employer may pursue disciplinary action which could include termination. Employers should consult knowledgeable legal counsel before making employment-based decisions.

Employers wishing to require flu shots should adopt a written flu shot policy so that all employees have reasonable advance notice that receiving an annual influenza vaccination is a condition of employment. The policy should set an annual compliance deadline based on the anticipated start of the flu season and outline consequences for noncompliance. For instance, the policy may list the steps triggered by noncompliance, such as a written warning, suspension, and termination if the noncompliance is not addressed within a certain time frame. The policy should also specify what written documentation the employee must furnish the employer to prove that the employee was vaccinated.

An Employer’s Policy Should Include Exemptions

An employer’s influenza vaccination policy should provide a process for employees to request an exemption from the employer. Additionally, the policy should notify employees that if the employer grants an exemption, employees are required to comply, as a condition of employment, with reasonable alternative protective measures specified by the employer.
Exemptions should be allowed for reasons such as

  • A sincerely held religious belief or creed;
  • A qualifying physical or mental disability;
  • A prior severe allergic reaction to the flu shot;
  • A history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome; or
  • Some other relevant medical reason.

Ultimately, educating employees about the benefits and importance of the flu shot may help maximize employee participation. Just like frequent hand washing, the flu shot is an important protective measure for employees and their families. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), and the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC) recommend that all U.S. health care workers get vaccinated annually against influenza. The CDC has a variety of resources related to influenza vaccination  that may be helpful to employers and employees, especially those in the healthcare field.


Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Are You a Candidate for Medical Marijuana?

Though the debate about the use of medical marijuana continues in many states and in Washington, DC, close to half of the country — including Connecticut — has legalized the use of cannabis and its cannabinoids for medicinal purposes for treating a variety of conditions.

Use must be approved by a Connecticut-licensed physician or an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN), who must write a prescription that only can be filled at a licensed dispensary using products produced locally by a handful of State-approved growers.

To qualify, a patient needs to be diagnosed as having one of the following debilitating medical conditions that is specifically identified in the law, including:  Cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, certain types of damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord, epilepsy, cachexia, wasting syndrome, Crohn’s disease or post-traumatic stress disorder. Other approved medicinal uses include:

  • Sickle Cell Disease
  • Post Laminectomy Syndrome with Chronic Radiculopathy
  • Severe Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
  • Ulcerative Colitis
  • Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

The laws regarding medical marijuana are fluid and constantly changing, as a board of physicians and legislators reflect on patient needs, other available drugs and therapies, and new research. The following additional medical conditions are now covered for patients over 18 (excluding inmates confined in a correctional institution of facility under the Department of Correction, regardless of their medical condition), although patients under 18 also qualify, with certain restrictions and requirements:

  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Irreversible Spinal Cord Injury with Objective Neurological Indication of Intractable Spasticity
  • Terminal Illness Requiring End-Of-Life Care
  • Uncontrolled Intractable Seizure Disorder

The first step is to make an appointment with the physician treating you for the debilitating condition for which you seek to use medical marijuana. You will not be able to register in the system until the Department receives a certification from your physician or APRN that you have been diagnosed with a condition that qualifies for the use of medical marijuana and that, in his or her opinion, the potential benefits of the palliative use of marijuana would likely outweigh the health risks.

Patients with a prescription for medical marijuana need to complete an application with the State Department of Consumer Protection, which oversees this program in Connecticut. The process involves providing proof the patient still lives in Connecticut; an updated photograph; certifications that have to be completed online or in writing; and the payment of a program fee. Medical marijuana in Connecticut is not a covered health insurance benefit.

Qualifying patient applications take between two to three weeks to process. Upon approval of the application, a temporary certificate is emailed to the patient. This temporary certificate is valid for 30 days from the approval date of the application. The temporary certificate will allow patients to use their selected dispensary facility while their permanent Medical Marijuana Certificate is being mailed.

Patients must visit their selected dispensary in advance of filling their prescription as part of the screening process. Then, once approved, they can fill their prescription by accessing medical marijuana in a variety of forms and strengths. This includes product for smoking for those who might have trouble ingesting this medicine, or who prefer this delivery method. Prescriptions also cover the use of liquids, lozenges, edibles and other styles.

Though legalized, there are rules restricting use. For example, the law prohibits ingesting marijuana in a bus or any moving vehicle; in the workplace; on any school grounds (public or private), dormitory, college or university property; in any public place; or in the presence of anyone under 18. It also prohibits any use of palliative marijuana that endangers the health or well-being of another person, other than the patient or primary caregiver.

Finally, not every physician or APRN may be willing to write a prescription for medical marijuana, despite legalization. The Department of Consumer Protection does not require physicians or hospitals to recognize marijuana as an appropriate medical treatment in general or for any specific patient. If you believe that your physician is not providing you with the best medical care for your condition, then you may want to consider working with a different physician.

For more information, visit http://www.ct.gov/dcp and look for the section for medical marijuana under Laws & Regulations.


 

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

The More You Know, the Better You’ll Feel

Informed patients make the best consumers of medical care. But with so much information available from a wide variety of sources, as well as age and cultural differences and cost and access issues, becoming a good medical consumer isn’t as easy as buying groceries or shopping for a new lawnmower.

Access to reliable, accurate information is one challenge. Another is a patient’s ability, or willingness, to ask informed questions and educate themselves about their disease, illness, condition or surgery. Those questions can range from “Why are you suggesting this procedure or medicine?”  to “What are the costs?” But the grey area in between is enormous. People may be intimidated by medical professionals, afraid of sounding ignorant, or uncomfortable asking questions. The age of the patient, and the age of the physician or technician can be a factor, as well as gender and ethnicity.

There is a lot of quality information available online. Additionally, most large insurance companies have comprehensive websites, and many have information lines accessible by phone or email. Some insurance provider websites also provide cost-comparison tools, though not for all services and procedures, and sometimes just for Medicare services.

Employers should encourage their employees to learn as much as possible about treatments for an illness or disease, or before having surgery.  For example, many hospitals offer nurse navigators to help patients prepare for surgeries involving joint replacement (such as hips, knees and shoulders), and maternity and gastro-intestinal (GI) departments also offer materials, videos, booklets and informational forums.

Disease-management programs have become popular over the past decade. If you suffer from heart or respiratory disease, diabetes or other chronic conditions, specialized programs now exist for answering questions, and for measuring weight, blood pressure and blood sugar. Remote monitoring can involve electronic scales that register and communicate your weight loss or gain to offices staffed by technicians and nurses located anywhere in the country. They review the results, and if they see changes, can then call the patient or the patient’s physician to set up an appointment or recommend an intervention. Oftentimes, dedicated nurse hotlines exist for the patient, and he or she may be asked to complete periodic assessments, or they may receive regular calls to check on their status, to schedule appointments or to offer suggestions.

Employees who are not taking advantage of these programs are missing out on useful, important services that are included in their benefit package. Employers can remind employees about these programs, or encourage them to look into every possible resource prior to a planned surgery or maternity, or while recovering from an illness.

Hospitals also have interpreters available on staff, via phone or online to ensure that non-English-speaking patients’ questions are answered completely or clearly. And for some patients, a medical professional who looks or sounds like them can be the difference between going into a procedure with confidence or with fear – or not taking the risk at all.

Libraries now have extensive medical and healthcare sections. Additionally, many physician practices have created patient portals where you can access information about appointments, tests, results and recommendations, ask questions online or seek other information. These portals are confidential and easy to use, requiring online access only.

Finally, if you have questions for your doctor or nurse, you should ask them – call or request a face-to-face meeting and learn what you need to feel confident, less afraid and informed. Bring another person to act as a second set of ears, if necessary. Either way, if the office resists, it may be time to find another practice that welcomes your inquiries.

Understanding as much as possible about your healthcare helps you maintain control over your body, and over your wallet. The more active a role you take in your personal health, the better the results are likely to be.


 

If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Teams that play together work better

For many active, over-extended or retired weekend warriors, it’s hard driving past softball games, volleyball or tennis matches, 5K charity walks or groups of bicyclists spinning down paved bike paths without feeling wistful. It’s already June, the weather is finally warm and our bodies could really use the exercise and mental release. But we’re busy with work and life and can barely make time to get to the gym and see our family and friends, let alone go play.

Yet going to play and exercising are crucial for our mental and physical health.  For millions of American workers, the opportunity to combine physical activity within or related to the workplace environment has long been a staple of progressive cultures. This healthy practice is catching on in small and large organizations nationwide as increased awareness of health and wellness becomes integrated in team environments. Savvy employers recognize athletic activity as a tool for increased productivity, stress reduction, improved morale, team building and a path to overall wellness.

One CBIA Health Connections employer created a health and wellness committee to brainstorm and plan activities. They linked several of their ideas to national health- and wellness-related observances. Another tied their activities to local events, charities, and parks. Many employers bring in guest presenters and instructors, or sponsor classes, health screenings, nutritional education, and internal competitions. It’s all good fun, can be used to support charitable programs, and helps build stronger workplace teams.

Every month in the United States, there are a dozen or more formally designated awareness commemorations. These provide great topics around which you, your wellness champion, management team, or staff employees can develop an action plan for one or more activities.

There’s something for everyone, ranging from high-profile cancer-awareness months for ovarian, prostrate, breast, lung and skin cancers, to fruit and vegetables “matter” month, obesity, eye and hearing care, diabetes, yoga, UV protection, blood pressure, workplace and helmet safety, immunizations, and much more.

This month is National Great Outdoors Month – there are a variety of activities planned at Connecticut State parks, perfect locations for picnics and outings. And even though it’s not even summer yet, it’s never too early to begin planning for the autumn and winter – by building a schedule well in advance, you can encourage more employee involvement in planning and implementing activities that ultimately improve teamwork, enhance morale and productivity and support health and wellness.

Healthier employees are happier employees. They get sick less often, suffer from fewer incidences of chronic diseases, and have reduced absenteeism and sick days. By delegating – and using the many health and wellness tools available online – you can play a major role in promoting, supporting and funding health and wellness activities that feature a huge return on your investment.


 

If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Engage Employees in Monthly Health Awareness Activities

Somewhere in Washington, DC, bureaucrats are hard at work reviewing requests for new awareness recognition months, weeks, and days. There already are a slew of these, many designed to raise awareness for serious diseases and illnesses like heart disease, high blood pressure, most types of cancer, diabetes, traumatic brain injury, oral and mental health, and dozens of chronic illnesses.

There also are recognition periods for lesser-known or rare diseases, social causes, and special events like Great Outdoors Month, and Fruit and Vegetables Matter Month. Then, it expands widely from there, with recognition for everything from National Red Meat month, to Don’t Fry Day, Dump your Boyfriend Week, and months dedicated to condoms, grapefruits, biking, and riptide awareness.

The point isn’t to question whether or not these are important and worthwhile tributes, but to acknowledge that there’s something for everyone – and that represents opportunities for small businesses to embrace days, weeks, and months dedicated to loving dogs, drinking wine, eating chocolate, or disease prevention and staying healthy through improved nutrition and exercise.

Employees embrace a wide range of personal interests and activities. If your goal is to help improve workplace health and wellness, enhance teamwork, boost morale, and increase employee involvement, tapping into awareness recognition is an easy, fun, and interactive way to engage employees.

Many organizations create voluntary health and wellness committees tasked with identifying causes that appeal to employees, and then determining how education, outreach, and interactive activities will be coordinated. Some employers tie their activities to local events, charities, and parks. Program suggestions cover the gamut from inviting guest speakers and fitness experts, hosting healthy eating activities, running screening clinics for blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and flu shots, swapping recipes, participating in walks, runs, and bike races, losing weight, quitting smoking, and just about anything creative, enthusiastic people can think about.

This month alone, here are just some of the more serious national health observances taking place:

  • Skin Cancer and UV Awareness Month
  • Mental Health Month
  • National Blood Pressure Awareness Month
  • Healthy Vision Awareness Month
  • Arthritis Awareness Month
  • Lyme Disease Awareness Month
  • Celiac Disease Awareness Month

There are plenty more, too – pick the ones that work for you and your team.

By simply searching on the Internet for “national health awareness months,” you’ll discover a plethora of options. And when companies underwrite group activities, offer incentives, sponsor friendly competitions, and recognize participation, employers can demonstrate leadership, interest in their employees’ wellness, and their commitment to creating and maintaining a healthy workplace.


 

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!