PEBB Approves Funding For Employee Wellness Program

The Oregon Public Health Division will now implement the program in offices and areas where state employees work
The Lund Report

January 20, 2012—The Public Employees’ Benefit Board (PEBB) voted last week to give $155,000 to the Oregon Public Health Division to help fund its Wellness@Work program, a new work-based wellness program for state employees.

PEBB first considered funding the program in November, but at that board meeting both Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) and Rep. Tina Kotek (D-Portland), PEBB’s legislative non-voting members, voiced concerns how the program would measure its success.

In October, the Oregon Educator Benefit Board (OEBB) decided to use an identical amount of money to implement the program in public schools, universities and community colleges without raising similar questions.

The PEBB board considered a set of outcomes and goals that had been developed by the Oregon Public Health Division. Some of them include having 37,000 state employees work in tobacco-free environments; increase the number of state offices with a WeightWatchers at Work program by 10 percent, and in the long term, decrease tobacco use among PEBB members by three percent.

Even with explanation of the program’s outcomes, the decision to fund the program came with numerous questions and criticisms from Johnson.

“I don't disagree with the concept, but I think it is a casual expenditure of $155,000,” said Johnson.

She had numerous questions about PEBB’s Providence Health Improvement Fund, the pool of money being used for Wellness@Work. It which has a balance of approximately $900,000. That fund, according to Joan Kapowich, PEBB’s administrator, is devoted to programs that improve the health of state employees. 

In the past, those dollars have been used to help expand PEBB’s medical home program, and other health programs.

Rich Peppers, a board member and assistant executive director of SEIU Local 503, told Johnson the intent is to fund the Wellness@Work program for one year, with the option to renew funding for subsequent years. 

The goal of Wellness@Work is to promote health and wellness at the workplace by giving employers tools and resources to help their employees become healthier by stopping smoking, eating more nutritiously, losing weight and increasing physical activity. Creating smoke-free work place and stocking vending machines with healthier snacks and beverages are just two examples.

The $155,000 expenditure will cover the salary and benefits for two-full time coordinators and one half-time research analyst at the Oregon Public Health Division, who will be responsible for surveying state employees and begin implementing the program in state and local government agencies and other sites where PEBB members work.

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