Against the backdrop of soaring American health care costs, the Fund’s Health Promotion Division has always advanced strong, diversified programs to promote wellness among Laborers. Healthier Laborers mean lower costs for funds, better bottom lines for employers and longer, healthier lives for members and their families.
Through the years, with the goal of making every Laborer a healthier and more conscientious health care consumer, the Fund became one of Labor’s most consistent leaders in wellness education, building a bridge to the modern health care marketplace in which knowledgeable patients are as important as competent health care providers.
One of the Fund’s first orders of business was to identify habits among Laborers that led to poor health. Educating Laborers and their dependents to avoid or discard these habits has become a core mission of the Health Promotion Division.
An early discovery that Laborers were among the workforce’s heaviest smokers led the Fund to partner with the Dana Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard and launch a program to curtail tobacco use. The program continues to this day.
In more recent years, the Division has delved into the diet and exercise habits of Laborers. Many Laborers are overweight, don’t exercise and don’t eat a healthy diet. These lifestyle choices carry a hefty price tag. Obesity, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure are rampant and lead to billions of dollars lost to sick time and medical care.
Recognizing that many Laborers would like to improve their dietary and exercise habits, the Health Promotion Division created the Nutrition and Fitness for Laborers (NFL) program. The Division also generates a stream of articles on the components of healthy eating and physical activity.
Many common and potentially life-threatening health conditions – high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes – can be symptomless for years while inflicting serious damage. When detected early, they can often be managed with changes in lifestyle and medication. Recognizing the importance of routine health care, the Health Promotion Division works with local unions, signatory contractors and training centers to stage health fairs. At these events, Laborers and their dependents have access to basic screenings – blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose – that may reveal a potential health problem and for which they receive guidance.
The Division also brings wellness information to members with quarterly newsletters for H&W funds. And one of its most long-standing and popular wellness programs – the Sun Sense Skin Cancer Awareness Program – delivers free lip balm, neck flaps and towelettes to Laborers and makes protection from the sun’s damaging rays simple.
Substance Abuse Programs
Alcoholism, illegal drug use and misuse of prescription and non-prescription medications undermine workplace safety plans and the health of Laborers who abuse these substances. Increasingly, employers have turned to drug-testing in efforts to minimize on-the-job dangers. The Division’s Substance Abuse Awareness and Orientation to Worksite Drug and Alcohol Testing programs provide information, training and assistance to Laborers and signatory employers.
Laborers, family members and employers have become increasingly aware of the long-belittled problem of mental health. The Fund was instrumental in the creation of the first union-affiliated Member Assistance Program (MAP). MAPs provide members and dependents with help for a multitude of issues including mental health, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and day-to-day stressors that can affect members on and off the job.
The Health Promotion Division’s Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) Program helps workers manage the emotional stress of a workplace catastrophe. It includes a critical incident stress debriefing where trained specialists meet with workers who witnessed the event and colleagues who were close to the victim. CISM helps traumatized workers get back on the job faster and can stem the job turn-overs and stress-related health care claims that can follow a workplace accident.
The Division also educates members and signatory employers about workplace violence. Harassment, bullying and physical confrontation may not be everyday occurrences, but employers must be prepared. The Fund helps them establish programs to address these problems.
Early on, the Division realized that economies of scale could be an effective cost control measure for local H&W funds. The obvious opportunity was in prescription drugs where pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) were brokers for large employers. Recognizing that LIUNA’s funds could pool purchasing power to get better prices, the LHSFNA partnered with National Prescription Administration (NPA) – since acquired by Express Scripts, Inc. – to create LaboreRx. The savings have been substantial. Last year alone, participating H&W funds saved more than $19 million.