Friday, May 31, 2013

Philadelphia employers make employee wellness fun

If you peek in the offices at Fox Rothschild during lunch, you might see people doing yoga or participating in Salad Bowl Wednesday, when the office supplies the greens, and employees bring in favorite toppings.

At American Heritage Federal Credit Union, employees might think twice about what’s in their lunch box if they’re competing against their coworkers to win the “Losers R Winners” competition.

And those employees eating at their desks at Bentley Systems won’t suffer the ill effects of prolonged sitting, thanks to flexible new sit-stand desks.

These are just some of the innovative initiatives Philadelphia companies have taken to keep their employees healthy.  In partnership with the Philadelphia Business Journal, UnitedHealthcare invited employers, large and small, to tell us about their wellness initiatives.  We received over seventy nominations for the Healthiest Employer Award and we learned a lot about the healthiest employers in Philadelphia.

As it turns out, almost all of the companies advocating workplace wellness have a few things in common.  The companies that focus on wellness have healthier employees, increased productivity, reduced costs and a healthier bottom line. Most of the wellness programs these companies use are based on sound principles.

Senior level support and involvement was critical to helping employees understand that wellness was a high priority in the organization’s strategic plan.  Executives tried to  create a culture of wellness with such activities and programs as promoting stair use, encouraging a smoke-free workplace and making vending machine snacks healthier.

Smaller companies stressing workplace wellness tend to have a wellness coordinator, while larger companies put a committee in charge of wellness.

The healthiest employers in Philadelphia are also among the smartest.  They used data from health assessments, claim reports and employee surveys to help identify and understand the needs of their employees.  Then they created a wellness program that best augmented their existing benefits package.

Finally, and here’s where the fun began, they came up with innovative programs that generated excitement about wellness in the workplace.  But don’t take my word for it, go to and check out these Philadelphia companies who are making the health of their employees a top priority.  It doesn’t get much healthier than that!

Friday, May 17, 2013

$5,000 Grants Help Children Get the Care they Need

Four-year-old Alexander could hear the sounds. He could see the way the lips of others moved and he understood everything he needed to do to say the words. But his mouth and tongue didn’t seem to work and no one could understand what he said. It was frustrating for this happy and sociable pre-schooler, and even more frustrating for his parents who were running out of money to pay for the therapy he needed.

It’s called Apraxia of speech, and the special speech therapy needed to help Alexander and other children with this physical disability to overcome it is usually not covered by health insurance.

Luckily, Alexander’s mom, found out about the UnitedHealthcare Children’s Foundation (UHCCF) from a friend she saw at a business conference. Alexander's mom applied for and was awarded a grant.

Alexander’s grant paid for intensive speech therapy sessions with a licensed speech therapist.  Alexander improved rapidly and his mom reports that she now understands nearly 50 percent of what he says, whereas it used to be only about 20 percent.

UHCCF awards grants of up to $5,000 to families nationwide to help pay the cost of their children’s health care treatments, medical services and equipment not covered or fully covered by their commercial health insurance such as physical, occupational and speech therapy, counseling services, surgeries, prescriptions, wheelchairs, orthotics, eyeglasses and hearing aids. UHCCF grants are available throughout the year for families with children aged 16 and under.

 To be eligible for a grant, your child must be 16 years of age or younger. In addition your family must meet economic guidelines; you must reside in the United States and have a commercial health insurance plan. Grants are available for medical expenses you have incurred for your child 60 days prior to the date of application as well as for ongoing and future medical needs. A parent or legal guardian may apply for grants at, and there is no application deadline.

In 2012, UHCCF awarded more than 1,300 grants, worth more than $4.1 million, to families across the United States for treatments associated with medical conditions such as cancer, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, diabetes, hearing loss, autism, cystic fibrosis, Down syndrome, ADHD and cerebral palsy. Parents or legal guardians may apply for grants at

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Pink never looked so good

Almost everybody has a breast cancer story.  “My mom had it,” “my sister has it,” “my wife had it,” “I have it.”  As I look at the 30,000 people gathered in photos and videos of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Philadelphia this Mother’s Day, I’m reminded of just how many people have been touched by the disease.

But what really stands out is the number of pink t-shirts, which are worn by the survivors.  Every year, there are more pink t-shirts at the race, and an increasing number of breast cancer stories end with “but now she’s five years cancer-free,” “ten years cancer-free” or “twenty years cancer-free.”

pk|CV: 2013 Susan G. Koman Race for the Cure  2013 SGK Race for a Cure 048
Breast cancer survivors and supporters at Susan G. Komen's Race for the Cure
 Mother's Day, Philadelphia.

And not only are many, many more women breast cancer free, but because of organizations like Susan G. Komen that support breast cancer research, a diagnosis of breast cancer is no longer a death sentence.  In fact, 90 percent of people with breast cancer will survive for at least five years after they are diagnosed.  When the cancer is detected early, the five-year survival rate is 99 percent.

I have been personally involved with Susan G. Komen for the Cure in Philadelphia for several years, and I am so pleased that my employer, UnitedHealthcare, supports the organization.  At this year’s race, UnitedHealthcare sponsored two events.

The first was Children’s Fun Fest, a place for families to gather and enjoy magicians, clowns, music and games.

The second event was one that we launched last year, the UnitedHealthcare Children’s Dash to Make a Difference for kids between ages three and twelve.  “The Dash” was created to help young children take part in making a difference.  No matter their age or the distance they walk or run, “The Dash” teaches a child that they, too, play a part in the fight against breast cancer, and encourages them to grow into adults who will continue the fight against the disease.

This year’s “Dash” leader was Michelle Goglia, vice president of sales at UnitedHealthcare. Michelle and many other UnitedHealthcare employees took part in the day’s activities including holding “The Dash” finish line tape.  According to Michelle, watching this very special group of breast cancer fighters who were there for their moms, neighbors, teachers, aunts and grandmas was like watching the next generation of cancer researchers dash towards a cancer free future.

Friday, May 10, 2013

JDRF Promise Ball showed delicate balance of life with diabetes

“Both children and adults like me who live with type 1 diabetes need to be mathematicians, physicians, personal trainers and dieticians all rolled into one. We need to be constantly factoring and adjusting, making frequent finger sticks to check blood sugars, and giving ourselves multiple daily insulin injections just to stay alive.”

- JDRF International Chairman Mary Tyler Moore

Although I have worked with JDRF for several years, attending the JDRF Promise Ball last weekend really heightened my awareness of just how difficult it is to live with type 1 diabetes. For these people, many of them children, staying healthy means maintaining a difficult and fragile balance – almost like working with glass.

Glass sculptures played a big role in this year’s Promise Ball, in addition to the fun Beatles theme. A stunning glass sculpture by glass artist Andy Paiko was specially designed for the live auction at the Ball to raise money for diabetes research.

Titled “Ladder to Light,” the sculpture conveyed the ups and downs of type 1 diabetes as voiced by the diabetes community. Diabetics, their families and their friends shared powerful words about diabetes with Paiko, who translated the emotions into glass. According to Andy, the words told him of darkness, but also of personal growth and the abundant strength that comes from managing diabetes.

Andy’s piece was beautiful and incredibly moving. But it was another glass sculpture that truly took my breath away.

As this year’s JDRF honoree, along with my company, UnitedHealthcare, I was humbled when to my surprise I was presented with a glass sculpture of my own, inspired by Andy’s work and created by diabetic children involved with JDRF. It turns out that the kids had spent an afternoon at East Falls Glassworks to learn about working with glass and worked together to make the sculpture for me.

The glass sculpture was a beautiful way to represent the delicate balance of life with diabetes, and I’m honored that the kids took the time to create the sculpture for me.

The hopeful note that was captured in both glass sculptures reminded me of just how much these people are relying on scientific research to help them live healthier lives. And despite the evening’s celebration of the scientific advances into the causes, treatment and possible cures for diabetes that were made in 2012 with the support of JDRF, there is still much work ahead of us. We’ve got to keep on going, until we find a cure!

JDRF ambassaors present Sue Schick with "balance of life" scupture at 2013 Promise Ball