Health Center Enlisted for $8M Federal Worksite Wellness Program

From left: Graduate student Drew Seils, Dr. Martin Cherniack, and Tim Morse demonstrate an exercise bike test in the Ergonomics Technology Center. (Chris DeFrancesco/UConn Health Center Photo)

From left: Graduate student Drew Seils, Dr. Martin Cherniack, and Tim Morse demonstrate an exercise bike test in the Ergonomics Technology Center. (Chris DeFrancesco/UConn Health Center Photo)

Occupational health researchers at the UConn Health Center are taking part in a national initiative to study health promotion in the workplace established with an $8 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The UConn Health Center is part of a regional collaborative center with UConn-Storrs and UMass Lowell known as the Center for the Promotion of Health in the New England Workplace. CPH-NEW is one of three subcontractors; the award recipient is Viridian Health Management.

Health Center faculty members are taking the lead organizational role in the project, known as National Healthy Worksite, with large portions designed by Dr. Martin Cherniack and Timothy Morse. All data collection and analysis will be based at the UConn Health Center and in Storrs.

“The workplace is one of the most important factors in the daily lives of the adult population,” says Cherniack, the co-principal investigator for CPH-NEW. “Workplaces that promote the health and engagement of their employees can both do good and survive in the marketplace.”

National Healthy Worksite is the only CDC-funded project integrating health promotion and workplace safety to improve overall worker health.

“Integrating health promotion with occupational health at the worksite provides unique opportunities to address the full range of health risks among workers in the place where they spend a large proportion of their time,” says Morse, director of the Chemical Innovations Institute and CPH-NEW affiliate faculty member. “It has great potential benefit to the workers, their families, and their employers. The best way to reduce health care costs is to prevent illness and promote health in the first place.”

Cherniack, who heads the Health Center’s Ergonomic Technology Center, says more than 100 model programs in seven regions of the country will be designed, the idea being to help employers of different sectors and sizes develop their own programs.

“Currently, many health promotion programs follow a one-size-fits-all approach and seem out of reach,” Cherniack says. “This is particularly true in the current economy, where many workplaces are just managing to stay above water and with resources to put into areas of workforce health, yet face a bewildering number of choices and vendors. The goal is not to institute government programs but to use CDC resources to design programs that can be used by employers, labor organizations, insurers, benefits organizations and companies and the public sector.”

The two-year program aims to improve the health of American workers and their families while reducing health care costs. Central to that is a focus on innovative ways to get workers to exercise more, eat better, improve ergonomics, reduce workplace stress, and use less tobacco.

Morse and Cherniack agree, the project comes at a pivotal time in the Health Center’s history.

“The institution is at the center of a major biomedical science initiative that is meant to transform the economic life of the state and establish the region as a major national force in biomedical research and health care,” Cherniack says, referring to the Bioscience Connecticut initiative. “Basing so much of the National Healthy Worksite project here is a recognition of these goals and the prominence of the ideas and people we can bring to the national stage. The Health Center’s commitment to improving the health of the people of the state and serving as a technical and economic leader is implicit in this program.”

Other National Healthy Worksite partners include Ovation Benefits, which has offices in Farmington, and the Health Promotion Institute.

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