Public transportation is not immune to the high costs associated with preventable diseases. Ten years ago, Austin, Texas’ Capital Metro experienced healthcare cost increases of 15% to 25% per year. In response, the agency enacted an innovative, holistic, technology-based Employee Wellness Program, which was recognized with the prestigious APTA Innovation Award at EXPO on Tuesday.

The Capital Metro Employee Wellness Program was designed to improve employee health and reduce absenteeism, while increasing employee morale and safety awareness and addressing key aspects of employee health — physical activity, nutrition, safety, weight management, stress reduction strategies and tobacco cessation.

The foundation of Capital Metro’s Wellness Program are the four 24-hour onsite wellness centers, each staffed with a full-time health fitness specialist, to provide free personal training, individual exercise program design and group fitness classes.

The Wellness Team works closely with the Safety Department to design and implement programs specifically tailored to the needs of each department. Presentations at safety meetings, safety-themed wellness challenges and free CPR and automated external defibrillator classes are integrated into wellness operations.

Recognizing nutrition as an integral part of employee health strategies, Capital Metro employs a registered dietician to provide employees with the tools to make healthy food choices. Employees have the opportunity to meet with the dietician for individual counseling sessions or in group settings, such as weekly weight management classes, monthly lunch and learns, and healthy cooking demonstrations.

The employee health plan covers 100% of the cost for all forms of nicotine replacement therapy, and the Wellness Department offers “Freedom from Smoking” classes for employees, household members and the community free of charge throughout the year. Employees who stop using tobacco are eligible for a cash incentive of $250 per year for five years, as well.

Additionally, in the past year, Capital Metro has moved to a contracted labor business model and worked to ensure the future sustainability of the program by requiring the agency’s major contractors to contribute financially to the Wellness Program on a per-employee basis.

By looking beyond standard budget-cutting efforts proposed by many agencies, Capital Metro has established a nationally recognized program that serves as a model for transportation companies looking to improve the physical, mental and emotional health of their staff.

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