Last month we talked about the importance of having an employee wellness program. We alluded to the fact employers do not need to start big or spend a lot of money to make a positive impact on their team members. We also suggested a great place to start is at the Healthy Maine Works website at www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/population-health/hmw/.
Editor’s Note: This month’s Workplace Wellness column is the second in a three-part series contributed by Steven Wallace, MBA, and Jason Buchanan, PhD, MBA. Jason and Steve are members of the YMCA of Auburn-Lewiston’s executive team, where employee satisfaction and welfare is discussed at every leadership team meeting.
After getting free access to the site and realizing our capacity to run a full wellness program was limited, we decided to start small by adopting wellness policies. Collectively, we thought about what types of sickness or illnesses have impacted our team over the years. Was there a tragedy we could have possibly prevented if we had the right education and incentives in place? Tragically, we all remembered the same sad story.
Meet Bonnie. A beautiful and wonderful soul. Bonnie was absolutely the preeminent infant room teacher in our Early Childhood Education program. Bonnie’s reputation was such that new parents would get their name on the waiting list months ahead of time to be sure their baby got into Bonnie’s room.
One day, Bonnie felt weak while in the classroom. Out of caution, we called medical professionals and transported her to the hospital. Little did we know, as she walked out our doors, she would never return. Mere weeks later, she passed away from cancer. Over three years later, our team is still devastated.
Stan Goldberg writes, “All of us, at least one time in our lives, will have someone say to us, ‘I have cancer.’” In that moment, everything stops. For those who have experienced it, those three little words change their lives forever. For those who try to respond to it, no words are adequate
According to the Maine Cancer Foundation, our state’s cancer rates are higher than the national average, and it is the leading cause of death in Maine – killing more than 3,000 Mainers each year. One in three Mainers will face a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime, with about 8,600 being newly diagnosed each year.
You are probably thinking, “That is a heartbreaking story, but how could you have prevented her passing?” We realize that we could not have saved her; the cancer was too advanced. However, that is not the right question. Instead, we should ask ourselves, “How can I help prevent it from happening AGAIN?”
Earlier we detailed starting with small changes. Here’s a great start. While going through the “Healthy Maine Works” website, specifically the policy builder section, we found the tools we needed to start our conversation on how to fight cancer. We felt it was important to encourage our staff to get annual cancer screenings based on their age, gender, ethnicity, and family history. As we talked more, our leadership team unanimously decided to give additional Paid Time Off, up to 16 hours per year, to encourage employees to get their potentially life-saving screenings. By writing one simple policy, we eliminated the two biggest barriers to early cancer detection – education on who should get screened and time to get the procedure done, with no loss in pay!
Why is this important? Studies show once cancers reach advanced stages, the five-year survival rate is about 15%, compared to 93% if diagnosed in early stages. To put numbers to those stats, in 2018, there were more than 18 million new cases of cancer diagnosed. Of those new diagnoses, nearly five million cases of breast, cervical, colorectal, and oral cancers could have been detected sooner and treated more effectively.
For those of you that like to look at dollars and cents, early diagnosis can also significantly reduce the cost of treatment. Studies show that treatment costs for early diagnosed patients are two to four times less expensive than treating those diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer. A U.S. study estimates the national cost savings from early diagnosis at $26 billion per year.
Enough talk. How about a little action? What is stopping you from giving one in three of your employees a better chance of beating cancer? What is stopping you from taking this further and instituting policies to check for prediabetes and diabetes? Heart disease? Stroke? Mental Illness? We could go on, but you get the point.
In closing, we would like to share two inspirational quotes:
Be well. Be bold. Be caring. Be better.