Award program puts focus on outcomes

ACOEM recognizes exemplary practices

Awards and award programs have become so prevalent in the United States that at times they take on a sameness that overshadows the reason they were created in the first place. That’s unfortunate, for many awards programs in the health care industry do more than just recognize outstanding performance; they help identify best practices that can be emulated by others.

That’s certainly the case with the Corporate Health Achievement Award (CHAA), which is co-sponsored by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM), of Arlington Heights, IL, and GlaxoSmithKline. Designed to recognize organizations "with exemplary employee health and occupational and environmental medicine practices," the CHAA focuses on four key categories:

  • Healthy People;
  • Healthy Environment;
  • Healthy Company;
  • Management and Leadership.

Those four categories are detailed in a four-page worksheet called the CHAA Excellence Checklist. (To see "Healthy People" and "Healthy Company" checklists, click here.) But the selection process itself also illustrates the uniqueness and value of the CHAA.

"In addition to recognizing exemplary programs conducted in a corporate setting, the role of CHAA is also to identify model practices corporations have that could be emulated," explains Doris Konicki, MHS, director of research and development at ACOEM and the staffer in charge of this year’s award program. "We are really looking for outcomes; is this being implemented? What is the effect, and if the program has not taken off as anticipated, how was it modified to make it acceptable?"

Konicki worked in concert with a committee of physicians. This year’s winners were announced mid-April and posted on the web site.

To further explain the process, Konicki gave this hypothetical example. "If you identified a number of injuries in a particular area and wanted to decrease that number, we would look at what kind of program you put in place, any positive results you achieved, such as a decrease in disability or days off work, and how it led to the overall improvement in the health, wellness, and productivity of the employees."

What makes a winner?

While Konicki could not disclose the names of this year’s winners, she did cite elements that all winning programs had in common. "First, there was the commitment from top management, which is very important. If you don’t have that, and you don’t have the necessary resources, whether the issue is safety, decreasing injuries or addressing chronic illness, your changes of success are not nearly as high."

Second, she says, is the successful integration of several different departments within the corporations — which she sees as linked to leadership as well. "The support and interaction of the safety officer and environmental folks was one example," she observes. "Those individuals traditionally may not work together on any other issue, and if senior management was not committed to bettering the health and safety of the workers they wouldn’t have had the interaction and the willingness to do it in these companies. Having been in a large corporation myself, I know that cross-pollination like this does not usually happen. This is one way you can get mid-level managers talking across the organization."

If a plant manager is dealing with a specific safety issue, he might not normally care what the health department thinks about chronic asthma or hypertension, notes Konicki. "But when leadership shows them it has an impact on the effectiveness of their own employees, or on absenteeism, they are more willing to work at issues that affect the overall health of employees," she explains.

Different approaches seen

While there were certain approaches the winning programs had in common, each of them also had something unique that made them stand out, Konicki says. "First of all, they were not in the same areas; this year’s cadre focused on different program targets," she offers.

Each program focused on what was of greatest importance to their company, she adds. "The wellness programs were absolutely outstanding — they showed the outcomes and the impact on employee health, noting the level of illness, days off, short- or long-term disability prior to and after program implementation. In some instances, where the focus was on specific diseases, they noted when those diseases were caught in the early stages."

In safety programs, the winners look at where the greatest number of injuries were being reported, and through program implementation tracked the impact on the number of days of lost work due to that particular type of injury.

"Not having been involved in this aspect of occupational health before, I was quite amazed and very happy to see the level of commitment among major corporations and institutions in this company in terms of looking at the health and wellness of employees," Konicki concludes.

[For more information, contact Doris Konicki, MHS, Director of Research and Development, American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 1114 N. Arlington Heights Road, Arlington Heights, IL 60004. Telephone: (847) 818-1800. Web: www.acoem.org. A list of winners and the four-part CHAA Excellence Checklist can be found at www.chaa.org.]