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Merging missions for good health

July 17, 2012
by Colleen Beagen
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            Today’s addiction treatment organizations embrace a holistic model for individuals in recovery that includes emotional, behavioral and physical support. A robust treatment plan focuses on all aspects of an individual’s health and functioning, and requires counselors to actively engage clients as a coach and partner. Interacting with clients at this level is mentally and physically demanding, with counselors’ skills tested every day to live up to the challenge. As research supports the importance of physical exercise in addiction treatment and providers look to incorporate fitness into their programs, the health and fitness of staff members becomes increasingly important as well.

Bringing wellness into the workplace is a natural development at New York City-based treatment organization Odyssey House, where the overall mission is to promote a healthy recovery for individuals and families facing a range of life challenges that can include substance use disorders, mental illness, homelessness and chronic medical conditions. In 2011, Odyssey House introduced a free, voluntary wellness program called R U Fit?! to encourage staff to improve their overall health and fitness.

This staff wellness initiative represents a continuation of Odyssey House’s commitment to support and promote good health among treatment program participants. It takes a similar positive reinforcement approach to the proven model Odyssey House developed with clients, providing staff with group support, free on-site fitness facilities and access to an employee-only online health coaching service.

Odyssey House’s objective in implementing a wellness initiative is to help workers change any negative behaviors that are undermining their health and to foster new habits, such as developing an individualized diet and exercise regimen that supports good health and stress reduction. While obesity and other diet- and exercise-related health problems are not more common than the national average at Odyssey House, staff expressed interest in improving their overall health and fitness. In the future, these changes are expected to boost morale and productivity, improve employee recruitment and retention, and reduce healthcare costs.

The development of the program was spurred by Odyssey House President Peter Provet, PhD, who has made wellness a top priority during his tenure based on his firm belief that “ultimately, it is the clients we serve who will be the beneficiaries of healthier, happier staff members.”

Provet adds, “Given the steep rise in healthcare costs coupled with increased awareness of the importance of a healthy diet and regular exercise, we looked at what we could do to both help staff improve their overall health and impact our bottom line. We found that a wellness program that offered personalized and confidential life coaching was a sound investment in our most valuable resource: the 330 counseling, educational, medical, and administrative staff who dedicate themselves to the mission of Odyssey House.”

A recent survey of American workers at businesses with 10 to 1,000 employees backs up this view. The survey found that 41% of workers agreed that having a wellness program encourages them to work harder and perform better at work; 52% said they have more energy to be more productive; and 35% said they have missed fewer days of work as a result of participating in a wellness program.

The Principal Financial Well-Being Index, compiled in the last quarter of 2011, further indicated that the type of incentive-driven and ease-of-access approach Odyssey House offers, an enhanced program that includes external fitness center discounts, on-site prevention screenings, access to wellness experts, and on-site fitness facilities, targets the wellness benefits that are most desired by employees.