On July 14th, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced the beginning of Winnable Battles, a statewide collaboration to solve public health problems before they become epidemics. If all goes according to plan, the Department will create vast new preventative strategies to combat a wide variety of health issues, and Baltimore businesses will experience a boost in profits while simultaneously improving the health of their workers with a bevy of informational workshops and other life-improving resources.
Though officially announced this month, the masterminds behind Winnable Battles have been underway for quite some time. For over 1 year, a coalition consisting of over 60 top government employees from all major divisions within the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene have been quietly and diligently brainstorming to identify public health concerns within the state of Maryland – especially the city of Baltimore.
The team has identified six major areas that they feel confident in their abilities to improve upon in the upcoming year. Winnable Battles aims to increase the amount of HPV vaccinations throughout Maryland, educate children as to the dangers of lead poisoning, train military veterans and their loved ones to look for signs of suicidal ideation after they return home, promote smoke-free indoor environments, and finally, to enforce two government policies: first, the Customer Service Pledge (an initiative made by Governor Larry Hogan to improve customer service relations between state workers and the general public, and to better track state government performance levels), and second, the Healthiest Maryland Businesses program.
According to their website (http://dhmh.maryland.gov/healthiest/Pages/businesses.aspx), the ultimate goal for the Healthiest Maryland Businesses program is to achieve “a supportive environment for healthy employees who can, in turn, drive the businesses to succeed”.
The average Baltimore city citizen spends over 9 hours at work a day, which lessens the amount of time available for exercise, and limits healthy eating options. This working lifestyle has caused chronic disease rates to increase throughout Baltimore, but with the correct health management strategies, the Healthiest Maryland Businesses program predicts these effects can be negated.
The health management strategies include informational workshops and lectures that are specifically designed to thoughtfully handle complex issues both in and out of the workplace. These issues range from helping employees to quit smoking, to better balancing their workload and family life, getting medically screened to detect diseases at an early stage, and identifying and reducing other daily healthy risks that not everyone is aware of.
Aside from creating a healthier general public, these Workplace Wellness programs have the added benefit of financially helping large Baltimore businesses as well. The Department estimates that every dollar Baltimore businesses spend on their employees’ health through these programs will yield a return savings of between $3.50 to $5.81. These savings come as a long-term result of lower healthcare costs, improved employee attendance, and a boost in worker productivity. With healthier workers, the overhead costs for workers’ compensation and disability management claims will be lowered by about 32%, experts say.
The Department’s Secretary, Van T. Mitchell, describes Winnable Battles as “a platform for in-house innovation here within the department to better serve Maryland.” Six health areas in particular will be addressed, according to Mitchell. They are, “customer service, disease prevention, healthy communities, healthy lifestyles, sobriety and recovery, and workplace wellness.”
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the Baltimore area has had an increase in jobs every month since April of 2010. With a growing workforce population, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene hopes these programs will have a positive and meaningful impact that will be felt for years to come.