Health and Wellness: Why is it important for business to care?
Communities have many types of capital - financial, physical, economic and political among them. One not often considered--and perhaps the most important--is community health capital.
How healthy are its citizens, what type of wellness support systems does it have? Healthy places with great support systems are a desirable place to live, a great place to own a business and have a more desirable, productive and efficient workforce that is easier to employ.
A healthy community is a place where mental and physical well-being is supported through connected social systems and is the foundation for achieving all other goals of the community.
Good health is often seen as an individual thing--personal choice, no one else's business--and seen as expense to business. These two perspectives are completely counter to the idea of creating healthy community.
Health at the community level in this country is taken for granted but is essential for a productive society. You can't build a highly productive and innovative work force if it’s not healthy. A desirable place to live and work means it will be sought after. A sought after place will have higher property values, more local community disposable income, more economic opportunity and prosperity. That is an economic advantage that community leaders, business owners and real estate developers should care deeply about.
During a recent Chamber Forum, attendees were provided insight into the importance of health and wellness, its impact on our economy and a method that is used to provide an overall summary of Oklahoma City’s health status, by a panel of experts.
Gary Cox, executive director of the OKC-County Health Department, said that his agency uses a huge study, known as the Wellness Score, as the foundation of planning and program development for improving health outcomes for Greater Oklahoma City.
His agency consulted with several other local agencies in to obtain zip code-level data that includes determinants and outcomes of health and wellness for community residents.
“This is this not a document that you take and put on the shelf,” he said. “It's a document that we actually use to prioritize and place our services to keep our city and our county healthy. Really, the news overall for Oklahoma City and Oklahoma County is good.”
Cardiovascular disease fell 5 percent, stroke mortality is down 14 percent, heart disease mortality is down 3.5 percent and all cancer deaths are down 7 percent.
That’s definitely good news, but there are some challenges, too.
“The big one that we saw was a growth in unintentional deaths,” Cox noted. “And when we drill down on that, we find it relates to drug overdoses. And if we drill down even further than that, you'll see that it's opioids and so that's why, as a community, we're really looking at criminal justice reform.
“We're looking at other issues where we can try to have an impact, so we actually use this data where we can come together as a community and try to have community interventions and efforts to improve things and make them better.”
What else can be done to improve health in OKC?
“We think we can make the biggest differences in improving health in our community if we focus on things that are the biggest killers, things like cardiovascular disease, heart disease,” said Cox.
“We have a program called My Heart; it's a voluntary program. We've enrolled thousands of people now in that program to do not only the medicine -- whether it's the drugs that they need, the statins or the blood pressure or cholesterol medicine -- or whatever the medical care. But also the preventive care to help them stop smoking, to help them go through our wellness classes where they can have get information on how they can improve their health. And we've had some really good results from that program. It's saved a lot of lives and I think that's one of the reasons that we've seen some of these numbers improve.”
Mary Mélon, president and CEO of the Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation, says that education is an important factor in health and wellness. And Oklahoma has some shortcomings in that area.
“We are the only state in the country without mandated health education measures,” she said. “So we are educating our children without forcing them to take health education. And that, in my view, is a real problem and something that we all need to step up and agree that we need to make sure that our schools are pushing health education.”
But aren’t there other factors affecting health and wellness in Oklahoma City?
“90 percent of our students live in poverty. So you will see it when the breakout is done on all of the data relating to health edge outcomes and educational outcomes that it really does depend on the zip code you live in as to where your health outcomes are and where your educational outcomes are. And this isn’t, I'm sure everyone will agree is not acceptable,” she added. “It should not matter where you're born whether you have access to health care and whether you have access to good education. But the link between education and health and wellness is clear as well. The higher the educational attainment that a person receives, the higher their health outcomes are going to be, so it's very tied together.”
Sounds like common sense, right? So what does this really mean for business? Does health and wellness really have that much of an impact on the bottom line?
The answer is yes.
“It takes really three things to have a good quality of life in a city, or a state for that matter; education certainly is key, health and wellness is linked and then, jobs in the economy and all three of those things are interrelated,” said Cox. “You cannot be successful unless you have all three. What it means for business is, if you don't have health and wellness and a healthy workforce, that's going to affect the bottom line. It's going to affect your insurance rates and also it's going to affect your ability to attract and retain top flight talent and top flight businesses in our community.”
Not to be overlooked is the role that the City of Oklahoma City plays in providing a safer city with infrastructure that entices citizens to live a healthier lifestyle.
Steve Hill, chief of staff for Mayor David Holt, elaborated on the importance of the passage of recent bond issues.
“Thanks to the voters who passed not only the bond issue but the Better Streets, Safer City initiative, because those two things are going to enable us to really work on our roads and in conjunction with the roads our sidewalks,” Hill said. “And you all know that sidewalks have been a thing we've been doing for a while now and we're going to do a lot more of that. And all the infrastructure changes that we've made over the last ten to fifteen years have been kind of designed to get people outside and get people walking, and so the planning department now has a bike/pedestrian plan. It's a comprehensive look at how we're gonna move people throughout the city on bikes once we get all the roads fixed. So everything we've done, the park, the senior wellness centers, the streetcar, the bike and the bike trails, the emphasis on putting sidewalks in neighborhoods, that's all design with an intent and that intent is to change the way that we react to our city.”
How do we move the needle and address these issues?
According to the Center for Disease Control, chronic diseases are the most common and costly of all health problems, but they are also the most preventable. Four common, health-damaging, but modifiable behaviors—tobacco use, insufficient physical activity, poor eating habits, and excessive alcohol use—are responsible for much of the illness, disability, and premature death related to chronic diseases. Changing behavior only slightly can have a significant impact. Psychologists say that changing behavior depends on social relationships – peer pressure, what our friends do, what our colleagues do. This is a social problem and that is where communities and social systems within communities can have the biggest impact. It’s also where business can help itself by offering programs that help employees live healthier lives. This is how we create an economic advantage and make Oklahoma City a better place to live, learn, work and play.
“It's important for the business community to be involved because you are influential. You have a lot of employees, you know a lot of policymakers, a lot of the folks that make decisions,” said Cox. “So, when you are talking to your elected representatives and talking to your neighbors and your colleagues, it's important to talk about how important health and wellness is and prevention and how it's really going to improve our quality of life here in Oklahoma City. Only business can do that.”