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Plasma Technology
Monday | 04 May, 2009 | 2:56 am

Mind, body, spirit

By Lisa Rummler

May 2009 - Cinematic wisdom dictates that if you build it, they will come. Beyond the silver screen, at Hypertherm Inc., Hanover, N.H., "it" is an on-site wellness center, and "they" are about 900 employees.

Staffed by two nurses from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, N.H., Hypertherm's wellness center provides medical services to employees free of charge.

"The RN and nurse practitioner come to us with broad experience, so it's wide open as to what they can treat and what they can offer, both on the counseling side, as well as the prescribing side and direct intervention," says Barbara Couch, vice president of corporate social responsibility at Hypertherm.

The bigger picture
The center is just one piece--albeit an important one--to an overall wellness initiative at Hypertherm. The company had provided several programs over the years geared toward employee well-being, but there was never a concerted effort to develop a comprehensive strategy, according to Couch.

"We do a Weight Watchers class every once in a while, we have exercise classes going on and we have a wellness fair, [where] people can have their cholesterol checked," she says. "But those events occur randomly, without an overall strategy. We really wanted to elevate what we were doing here and take it up to a much higher level."

About two years ago, Hypertherm began to take steps to achieve this. As the discussions evolved, Couch says the goal changed from simply offering an on-site wellness center to a more proactive, companywide approach to employee well-being.

"The most important thing is getting ahead of our associates and understanding what some of the underlying health risks are in our workforce and preventing them," says Couch. "We wanted the focus to be more than a center but to partner with health practitioners who could help us take a more systemic approach and look at nutrition, look at exercise, look at heart disease and obesity and diabetes and smoking and wearing seat belts and helmets--the whole gamut."

This proactive partnership between Hypertherm and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center helps both organizations meet overall goals.

"DHMC's mission is to create the healthiest community possible, and an important part of our mission is to create the healthiest workforce possible," says Couch. "As the nurses begin to build trust in the organization, I think people will be open about the ways in which they want to improve their lives, whether it's drinking less, eating less, exercising more or other kinds of things. The nurses are working with Hypertherm and our team to not only treat our associates but to identify what the issues are so we can put programs in place to address those issues in a meaningful way that resonates with our associates and is comfortable."

Looking ahead
Hypertherm's wellness center opened Feb. 13 to much enthusiasm from employees, and Couch says she expects it only to increase as the company further unveils components of the overall wellness initiative, including additional health education opportunities, a larger exercise area in a new building Hypertherm is designing and a community-supported agriculture program that will provide employees easy access to fresh produce.

"Our associates are responding positively," she says. "And especially in this economic climate, I have heard from many associates how much they appreciate this investment in their health and well-being."

Additionally, Couch says the long-term benefits of the center and overall wellness initiative will likely have a positive impact on the company's bottom line in the form of lower health care costs and increased productivity. She also says she thinks the program will improve employees' self-perception.

"I believe that healthy associates who feel good about themselves and their physical well-being are happier, more positive and productive, which, at the end of the day, translates into better products and service for our customers," says Couch. MM

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