Metro to start employee wellness program

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Local,Health,Liz Essley,Metro and Traffic

Metro is looking for ways to get its employees to smoke less and exercise more.

The transit agency is starting a program funded by the federal government to help employees improve their health through lifestyle changes.

"National data has confirmed that 80 percent of heart disease, 40 percent of cancer and 80 percent of Type 2 diabetes is preventable, so we believe that implementing a plan here for our employees to create a healthier lifestyle, make different choices, will improve their health and productivity, as well as over time provide some possibilities in health care plans," said Tawnya Moore-McGee, Metro's head of human resources.

Wellness programs are becoming more common nationwide: 92 percent of employers with 200 or more workers reported offering them in 2009, according to a recent study by the Rand Corp.

"We recognize that our employees are an important Metro asset which our healthcare plans help to protect," said Metro spokesman Philip Stewart. "We are adding wellness to the mix to improve employee health, prevent disease and reduce health care costs."

Metro hired a manager for its program in April who will make between $66,000 and $82,000 per year. Metro would not release the specific salary without a freedom of information request.

Metro will offer a "modest incentive" to employees who fill out a questionnaire about their health habits, Stewart said, though he said the exact incentive was yet to be determined. Then Metro will use the survey data to design specific goals it wants the new wellness program to achieve. The agency's employees contribute to the cost of their health insurance.

Some employers with wellness programs offer cash or gift cards to employees who run 5ks or visit their doctors for health screenings.

But Metro says it hasn't yet decided how it will motivate employees to become more healthy.

"The actual programs, e.g., smoking cessation, 10k stepchallenges, etc. will be determined once the results from the [surveys] are known. The programs will be tailored to our workforce," Stewart wrote in an email.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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