WaferTech among employers striving to keep workers well

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian Health Reporter

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When employees walk into the dining hall at WaferTech, they’re greeted with refrigerated display cases full of whole fruit, yogurt, salad, milk, fruit juice and teas. There’s a table where employees can make their own granola mix and a salad bar that serves as a smoothie bar during breakfast hours.

But that wasn’t always the case. The dining hall, which is open 24/7, underwent a major remodel about two years ago that not only transformed the industrial feel of the room to a more Whole Foods-vibe, but put an emphasis on healthy foods and drinks.

“Before we did this remodel, the first thing you saw when you walked in was three platters of doughnuts,” said Alison Dezsofi, benefits analyst at WaferTech.

“Now if you want a peanut butter cookie, you have to look for it,” she added.

WaferTech, a microchip manufacturing company in Camas, worked with Clark County Public Health to bring in a behavioral economist who helped the company design its dining hall in a way that makes healthy foods more appealing and less healthy foods less appealing. They moved less healthy options to the back of the dining hall and brought healthy foods to the forefront.

They swapped out the candy bars at the cash register with granola bars. The coolers with sodas and energy drinks are in the back and have far fewer varieties that they once did.

“We’ve made a major shift in the foods available,” Dezsofi said. “I mean, we have coconut chips.”

The dining hall remodel was one of several changes the manufacturing company has made in the last two years to promote healthier lifestyles for employees. They’ve made changes to the biometrics data collected, added lunchtime fitness classes, started online challenges and brought in personal trainers to work with employees in the on-site gym. They also started a community garden, launched a Weight Watchers group and created a 2-mile walking trail.

“The goal is to have a culture shift across the company toward healthier living,” Dezsofi said.

Helping employees improve their health isn’t only the right thing to do, Dezsofi said, but it makes sense economically. Every year, the company’s health costs go up. Offering free or heavily subsidized programs is a way to engage the workforce in healthier lifestyles, she said.

“The resources invested in these things are so small compared to the health care costs of taking care of (chronic diseases),” Dezsofi said.

WaferTech has one of the more robust wellness programs in the county, according to Clark County Public Health. But health officials hope a new group — the Clark County Worksite Wellness Network — will encourage more businesses to implement their own programs, though they don’t expect every employer to launch such a comprehensive program.

“People participating in Worksite Wellness Network don’t have to do all of it, but they can share ideas,” said Cyndie Meyer, program manager with Clark County Public Health.

The Clark County Worksite Wellness Network is a collaboration between Clark County Public Health, the Healthy Living Collaborative and local employers and is funded by a federal grant.

The goal is for the network to serve as a sounding board. Employers who are interested in starting programs or wanting to make their programs more robust can hear from business owners with established programs. Those with established programs can pick up tips for expanding their own offerings, Meyer said.

The network kicked off with an event in October and will host quarterly, educational events. The events are free and open to all employers. The first of the meetings is 7:30 to 9 a.m. Feb. 7 at Brickstone Ballroom, 105 W. Evergreen Blvd., in Vancouver.

“The whole goal of our team is reducing chronic disease,” Meyer said.

Chronic diseases are costly, yet preventable, she said. Half of adults have at least one chronic disease and 86 percent of health care dollars are spent on chronic diseases, Meyer said. Since people spend about one-third of their waking hours at work, it makes sense for health officials to work with employers to reach people at their workplace, she said.

“We can really make an impact on their health,” Meyer said.

An investment

The city of Vancouver kicked off its own program in June with a wellness fair. About 200 employees attended. City officials hope the program will not only provide an opportunity for improved long-term employee health but result in less sick time, said Julie Hannon, director of Vancouver Parks & Recreation Department.

“We hope it’ll have a return on investment for our health care costs,” she said.

The city created committees to focus on various areas of health: nutrition, mental well-being, social connectedness and fitness. Through the program, the city has offered team challenges, began circulating wellness newsletters and hosted barre and yoga classes. The city will also offer biometric screenings this year.

Everything is voluntary and nothing is punitive, Hannon said.

The team challenges have been the most popular. One recent event challenged employees to maintain their weight through the holidays. Teams of employees weighed in before Thanksgiving and again after the new year. Sixty-eight employees formed 15 teams for the challenge. Teams that maintained or lost weight are entered to win a $340 jackpot, funded by the $5 entry fee for each employee.

“It’s only been six months,” said Carol Bua, city communications manager. “It’s just going to continue growing and evolving.”