The LHSFNA was founded, in part, to address the American health care cost crisis which was just becoming apparent in 1988. Since then, the Fund’s Health Promotion Division has developed and implemented a wide variety of programs designed to maintain and improve the health of LIUNA members and their families.
“Nothing saves money for our health and welfare funds as much as simply keeping yourself healthy,” says LHSFNA Health Promotion Division Director Mary Jane MacArthur. “From our earliest days, we’ve encouraged members and their families to adopt healthier lifestyles, get regular check-ups and use medical services properly.”
Nutrition and Exercise – the New Frontier
One of the biggest health care storylines in 2005 was the rise of obesity to the top of the agenda in American public health promotion. After decades of focus on specific ailments – for instance, heart disease or diabetes – the medical community suddenly seemed to wake up to exclaim, “Eurkeka! We see it now. If you have unhealthy eating habits (high fat, high sodium, low fiber), overeat and don’t exercise, you’re probably going to have serious health issues of all sorts.”
“There’s no question that genetic factors can play a significant role in who gets what kind of life-threatening disease,” says Angela Brennan, the Division’s Associate Director. “What is new, however, is the clear and broadly articulated consensus that a healthy diet and regular exercise is the best protection against most diseases.”
Throughout 2005, the Health Promotion Division staff researched the issues of diet and exercise while promoting the government’s new Food Pyramid and other insights emerging in the nation’s obesity self-examination. In 2006, it will begin to roll out the Fund’s new nutrition program.
“Some Laborers in the U.S. and Canada are overweight or even obese,” says Brennan. “As a result, they are at risk of serious, long-term disease. Even now, the extra weight can be a significant obstacle to on-the-job performance. Moreover, through their example, they encourage excessive weight gain among their family members and friends.”
The nutrition program is designed for use in training centers, and its materials can also be disseminated through local union meetings and health and welfare fund initiatives. It will concentrate on how live a longer and healthier life through proper dietary habits and exercise.
Tried and True
While advancing the new nutrition program, the HP staff will sustain and enhance its other programs. As always, it will continue working on ways to address rising health care costs.
One of the longest-running and most successful programs is the Sun Sense campaign, launched each spring as the sunny, outdoor construction season moves into high gear. Among Laborers and other outdoor workers, skin cancer is a serious and common problem.
Another service provided by the HP Division is its review of drug-free workplace programs. Increasingly, these programs are the norm at construction sites, ensuring sobriety at work and conforming, in specific situations, to state or federal contract guidelines.
“Through our involvement,” says Behavioral Health Care Coordinator Jamie Becker, “we make sure these programs are fair and effective, ensuring accountability while offering support and treatment to those who have problems.”
Throughout 2005, Becker worked with counterparts in other unions in an effort to establish a national drug-free workplace program for the building trades. That effort is ongoing. Also, at the request of the E.H. Mancinelli Training Centre in Ontario, Becker developed a drug-free workplace training program that relied on Canadian law and regulations and employed data, terminology and resources specific to Canada.
As in past years, the HP Division, working with the Laborers-AGC Education and Training Fund, conducted it annual Medical Conference last August. The Conference updates medical professionals who conduct the medical clearances necessary for Laborers to participate in the Hazardous Waste Training Program.
This year, the value of this training was brought into stark relief by Hurricane Katrina’s devastating assault on the Gulf Coast. After weeks of flooding in New Orleans, the workers involved with clean-up faced an extensive and uncommonly dangerous mold and mildew hazard. Soggy wallboard, plaster and insulation materials contained silica and asbestos, both of which present significant danger to unprotected workers. Finally, much of the soil – as well as much of the rubbish – was contaminated with heavy metals and chemicals that escaped from damaged or flooded, local petrochemical facilities.
Responding to the disaster, Laborers-AGC stepped up its hazardous waste handling classes at the Livonia (LA) training facility, relying in part on some of the medical professionals from the Medical Conference.
“The only ‘upside’ of Katrina,” says MacArthur, “was how it made us all more aware of how important our knowledge and experience can be in specific crisis situations. It gives us more motivation as we look at the projects ahead in 2006.”
While nutrition is likely to be the major focus this year, the general mission of promoting health will always be the Division’s primary objective. “Not only are we strengthening the content of our programs,” says MacArthur, “we’re also going to improve how we use our website and our newsletters to promote health among Laborers and their families.” Currently, the Fund prepares quarterly wellness newsletters for publication by local health and welfare funds. “We hope all the local funds will take advantage of this important means of communication with their participants.”
Keeping Laborers and their families healthy has always been the point of the LHSFNA. Every year, reacting to external events and the suggestions of LIUNA insiders, that mission moves in new directions and takes on new forms. 2006 will be no exception.