Seven Oaks hospital relies on healthy staff

80,000-square-foot wellness institute one of many perks
By Shannon Klie
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 10/20/2006

For Mark Neskar, the CEO of Seven Oaks General Hospital in Winnipeg, employee health and organizational health go hand in hand.

One of the hospital’s 1,500 employees, a janitor, had missed a lot of work due to back problems. He was sedentary, he was overweight and he smoked, all factors contributing to his ill health. A couple of years ago he took part in the smoking cessation and nutrition programs offered through the Wellness Institute, an 80,000-square-foot fitness and wellness facility operated by the hospital, and he started exercising regularly.

“He improved to where he is a very productive employee,” said Neskar. “In the subsequent year, he didn’t miss one day of sick time. Both the employer and the employee gained. He’s happier, he’s more productive, whether it’s at work or whether it’s at home, and he’s on the road to a very healthy lifestyle.”

The hospital’s employee-focused services, such as the 10-year-old Wellness Institute with various health and wellness programs, an on-site daycare with 80 spaces and support for training and continuing education, are some of the reasons the hospital has been named by Mediacorp as one of

Canada’s Top 100 Employers

three years in a row.

The hospital opened 25 years ago and, from the beginning, the board of trustees wanted to focus on wellness and illness prevention, for patients and employees, said Neskar.

“We’re innovative, we’re creative, we’re leading edge and we continue to do that — we don’t rest on our laurels — because we believe that having a healthy and happy workforce will result in improved personal lives for the individuals in our workplace and improved efficiency in meeting our mission,” he said.

The hospital’s turnover rate for last year was 4.5 per cent, compared to the industry average in Winnipeg of 11.9 per cent.

However, Neskar isn’t content to rely on turnover rates to find out if the hospital’s myriad programs result in improved employee engagement and productivity. He’s planning further measurements and evaluations of the programs to get a deeper understanding of what works and what doesn’t.

One of the programs that had an impact was the blood sugar screening program, the first in a series of health risk assessments. The program helped the hospital identify a large number of employees who were in danger of becoming diabetic, said Neskar.

The early identification meant the employees were able to be referred to the proper health-care providers and get started on a healthy path to avoid the disease, he said.

While many of the programs offered through the Wellness Institute, such as the weight management program, the smoking cessation program, the meditation and relaxation programs, focus on prevention, the injured workers program helps employees after they have become ill or injured.

Employees, whether injured at work or at home, are assessed within 48 hours of the injury and have access to rehabilitation services on-site, be it physiotherapy, occupational therapy or chiropractic care.

“We know that employees want to work and be productive, they don’t want to be injured, they don’t want to be off work, because it also impacts their personal life,” said Neskar. “If you can get them into the stream quickly and offer alternatives for them to deal with the issue, they’re going to come back much more quickly.”

The Wellness Institute is also open to the community. In fact, only 300 of the institute’s 5,000 members are hospital employees. However, employees get a 30-per-cent discount on membership fees and programming geared to their needs — such as the health risk assessments and CPR training.

While employees’ emotional and physical well-being contribute to a successful organization, continuing professional development is another benefit the hospital takes very seriously.

That support includes subsidies for conferences and research, as well as on-site training, bursaries and time off for continuing education.

“Health care is very high-tech now. There are new pharmaceuticals coming out every day, new equipment and techniques that are being developed every day and they require training,” said Neskar.

Education also encourages older workers to stay in the workforce, he said.

“It’s important that we keep them very current, that we give them opportunities that they want and that we provide them with flexibility of employment,” said Neskar.

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