How Two Local Organizations Are Reshaping Pittsburgh’s Employee Health

PITTSBURGH — The last time you went to one of the many YMCA locations in Allegheny County, you may have seen something in the window indicating that they are a Live Well Allegheny Workplace. It’s a simple window cling, but it symbolizes the YMCA’s dedication to the health and well-being of both its employees and community. In partnership with Live Well Allegheny, the YMCA has improved employee health and even saved a person’s life.

The Associate Vice President of Healthy Living, Gretchen North, and Shannon Vargesko, the Y’s HR Coordinator and Healthy Living Assistant Project Coordinator reflected on their long-time partnership with Live Well Allegheny. “It just made sense…the YMCA is known for healthy living and social responsibility,” said North when asked about the partnership with Live Well Allegheny. This inspired the Y to put their mission first and “walk the walk” for their employees and community at large. On September 6, 2016, the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh became the fourth worksite to be designated as a Live Well Allegheny Workplace.

The YMCA has been making the health and well-being of its employees and the community a priority for a long time. It’s their mission. The message the organization sends to its employees is that they are invested in them as well as our community. This is what brought them to partner with the Live Well Allegheny campaign.

According to Vargesko, the YMCA has made several changes, big and small, to its approach to employee health. From healthier choices in vending machines to full campaigns encouraging healthier living, our county’s Y has made real changes worthy of replicating. Vargesko mentioned several healthy campaigns for employees, including the “Renew, Restore, Re-You” campaign. The program asked employees to pick a relaxing activity they normally do not participate in and do it once a week. One employee reported having reuniting with a friend she had not spoken to in over ten years because she chose to reconnect with former friends as her activity. Vargesko said it “increased [employee] morale, but also their joy in this hustle and bustle society.”

While the Y’s employee health campaigns are working, it’s reasonable to ask how an organization with fewer resources could weave Live Well Allegheny’s values into their workplace. North had a possible idea. “We’re fortunate to already have exercise equipment and trainers and dieticians,” North said, “but being an employer who wants to invest in its employees’ health can be much simpler.” The YMCA offers bi-annual health screenings and CO2 monitoring for free. North reported that through these routine procedures an employee and lifetime non-smoker found she had dangerously low levels of carbon dioxide. She was then able to get medical help, which led to open heart surgery. That simple, free screening, offered by her employer, saved her life.

Allegheny County’s YMCA and their partnership with Live Well Allegheny shows how a workplace can care and invest in their employees’ health. Ultimately, improving employee health aids in improving community health. Employees are people with families and friends, who may notice how much less stressed they are. Vargesko reports, “less stress, clarity,” are many of the terms used by employees in post-campaign surveys.

Live Well Allegheny’s main goal is to improve the overall health of its citizens and, ultimately, become the healthiest county in the United States. This is a lofty goal, and only possible with collaboration, including communities, workplaces, restaurants and schools. Live Well Allegheny hopes to provide support for these partnerships. Something as simple as having that window cling has “helped our reputation…and serves as a reminder to employees and community members that health is a priority,” said North. The YMCA is a great example of how a Live Well Allegheny Workplace can invest in employee health in simple, but effective ways.