Saturday, December 29, 2012

New Equipment Increases Engagement -- Let's Try the ViPR and Ugi

I'm always looking for new "toys" to add to our exercise room. People respond well to trying something new -- it helps to keep our regular exercisers engaged and occasionally attracts someone to one of our classes. Two fun new additions to our equipment selection -- a ViPR and an Ugi.

The ViPR available from Perform Better

Not convinced? Watch this video and tell me you don't want to get hold of the ViPR. More ideas here

And, here's an introduction to the Ugi. You can sit, kneel and balance on an Ugi, making it the perfect medicine ball/stability ball hybrid for exercises such as planks (forearms balanced on the ball) or ab crunches (while lying on your back on top of it).

Monday, December 17, 2012

It Starts with Food

Preparing for our next co_health book club chat at noon EST on Wednesday, December 19.

It Starts with Food was the selection for this month's co_health chat. It was an interesting choice because it has more of a self-help focus -- diet/nutrition/change on an individual level. I found myself wondering if people selected it because they had an interest in self-improvement or because they saw a broader workplace wellness application. I actually posed that question on our LinkedIn page, but I didn't get a response. Left to my own devices, I thought we might kick off the chat by talking about incorporating nutrition challenges in workplace wellness programs.

How might a nutrition challenge similar to the Whole30® challenge posed in this book fit in a workplace wellness program? I recently chatted about this with Cyndi Fales from LWS and she recommended we offer folks a few different nutrition challenges to choose from. She suggested we also consider -- 

  • The Flexitarian Diet
  • Cooking for an Eco-Concious Life
  • The Sonoma Diet

  • We discussed grouping people by the challenge they choose, collect baseline data and data at the end of the challenge, so people can note changes in weight, body fat, blood pressure, blood sugar etc... Have you done anything similar? I am thinking it might be a nice break from the typical weight loss challenges we hold at the beginning of each year.

    More generally speaking, how can we best support people that are trying to change their eating habits? Are there studies that show what contributes most to people's success? What kind of support is appropriate to offer in the workplace? How can we support people in reading and analyzing the plethora of health information that is out there on food and beyond? (Thanks to @femelmed for that last one.) 

    Of course, these discussions always ebb and flow based on the participants interests. So, we'll see where this chat takes us. If you have suggestions to prompt discussion, please share them in the comments below. 

    Friday, December 14, 2012

    How Concussions Impact School Performance

    If you have kids that play a sport and you've known me awhile, I've probably had a discussion with you about ImPACT Testing for concussion management and encouraged you to get a baseline for your children. Unfortunately, I didn't learn about this until our oldest son, Ian, had his third concussion in 2008. In many school districts, they routinely administer a baseline ImPACT Test to all the athletes now, but that wasn't the case a few years ago. 

    ASHA doesn't particularly advocate for the use of any assessment tools, but I'm proud to say the Association has been working on educating the public about traumatic brain injury with pieces like this infograph. The speech-language pathologists in your child's school can be a valuable resource if your child suffers a concussion. 
    Kids and teens suffering from TBI may struggle with speech, language, and thinking, which can lead to problems reading or memorizing. They may have more trouble than usual focusing on tasks and homework or difficulties paying attention in class. Poor grades and/or problems talking with friends or doing favorite activities may result. 
    Every school district across the United States has a speech-language pathologist (SLP) who can work with a TBI-impacted student and his or her family and teachers to create a treatment plan. Leveraging their training in cognitive communication impairments and experience helping children develop language and reading skills, SLPs can administer and interpret cognitive and behavioral assessments. They may also work with teachers to transition kids returning to school after TBI and modify test times, class loads, homework, and deadlines as needed.
    See the full post on ASHA' s site.

    If you're the parent of an athlete, your child will probably respond the way Ian did and tell you they're fine in an effort to get back on the field as quickly as possible. My advise is to have a baseline ImPACT Test on file and pull in all the resources you have available to you if your child suffers a concussion -- starting with your doctor and the speech-language pathologist in your child's school.  

    Sunday, December 9, 2012

    New Marriage Equality Laws and Employer Provided Benefits

    Image from Getty Images via
    On December 6, county clerks began issuing marriage licenses in Maryland to same-sex couples. Marriages in Maryland can begin January 1. I haven't yet seen any guidance to HR professionals on how these changes should be reflected in our benefit practices. So, I started looking to other states for insights. There are currently nine states where marriage licenses are issued to same sex partners -- Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia. Five additional states allow civil unions, providing state-level spousal rights to same-sex couples -- Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Rhode Island.

    Although the impact on employer-sponsored health and welfare benefit plans is not yet clearly defined, here are some of the questions I am asking and what I think the answers might be.

    How will state taxes be handled for same-sex married couples that reside in Maryland?

    States that legally recognize same-sex relationships typically exempt health benefits from state income tax. Therefore, same-sex married couples in Maryland should be able to pay for their eligible benefits with pre-tax state dollars like their opposite-sex married counterparts.
    How will federal taxes be handled for same-sex married couples that reside in Maryland?
    We should expect to continue to add to the employee's wages the value of employer-provided health coverage for the same-sex spouse. Passed in 1996, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) codified the non-recognition of same-sex marriages for all federal purposes, including insurance benefits for government employees, Social Security survivors' benefits, immigration, and the filing of joint tax returns. Because of the federal DOMA, the fair market value of the coverage provided to an employee's same-sex spouse must be imputed into the employee's income as wages for federal tax purposes. Fair market value is determined based on facts and circumstances, but the IRS has stated informally that the single rate charged to an individual under the plan for COBRA continuation coverage could be used.
    Will same-sex marriage be considered a qualifying event?
    Yes, employees who marry a same-sex spouse should be eligible for plan enrollment outside of the open enrollment period under the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex spouses. Also, when a state begins to recognize marriages from another state, it generally creates a qualifying event for employees that have already married in another state. (I have to admit to finding this a bit confusing since COBRA is a federal law.)
    How will we define domestic partners in the future?
    We require staff to complete a domestic partner certification to add their partner to our benefits programs. At some point in the future, it will probably make sense to require that same-sex couples that reside in Maryland or the District of Columbia be married to be covered under our benefit programs. However, I would expect to continue to offer benefits through the certification process to same-sex couples that live in Virginia. Such a change would require a reasonable grace-period to allow adequate time for same-sex couples to marry within the state. Equal documentation requirements are part of some state laws. Employers should require the same documentation for married same-sex spouses as for opposite-sex spouses.
    On December 7, the Supreme Court decided to hear challenges to both California's Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act. This could lead to a series of historic rulings, but I've also read that the Court is likely to rule in a way that avoids sweeping change. Once clear guidance has been provided, employers with employees in a state that recently passed a marriage equality act should carefully review their health and welfare plan documents, summary plan descriptions, participant communication materials and forms to make sure the rights of same-sex spouses are clear. Staff in your payroll department should be engaged to address the related tax issues. Ensure that your communications and forms make clear that same-sex spouses are eligible for spousal benefits by using inclusive language when referring to spouses.

    I'll continue to post links to information here that might be helpful as I come across it. Please share any useful information you come across.

    Thursday, December 6, 2012

    Impact of Pricing on Fitness Class Participation

    We're always listening to feedback from staff and adjusting our wellness program offerings. In my last post, I talked about a new pricing model we are trying this session. (Sessions run 12 weeks.) Some staff had asked for more flexible options, so we introduced an "all access pass" for only $50 a month. We hoped to attract more staff to participate and simplify the administrative process bit.

    We only had a few more staff sign-up for classes, but the average number of classes participants take went from 1.83 to 2.67. If we could just maintain the level of engagement participants have, but get the number of participants back up to where it was last March, I'd be thrilled. 

    Your suggestions will be welcome.