Workplace wellness takes center stage in McDowell County

With support from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, local people are working to improve the health of McDowell County and the surrounding region by expanding workplace wellness opportunities and efforts to provide employees with direct access to a variety of health services.

This investment is part of Healthy Places NC - the Trust’s long-term commitment to improving the health of residents in the state’s rural, under-resourced counties. The Isothermal Planning and Development Commission (IPDC) - the regional Council of Governments for Cleveland, McDowell, Polk and Rutherford Counties - will receive $210,514 to work with employers to increase investments in programs addressing limited access to health care, behavioral health resources, health insurance, healthy food options, transportation, and child care for low-income employees and their families in the manufacturing, small business and government sectors, according to a news release.

The grant is the result of a collaboration between IPDC and the McDowell Health Coalition to expand local efforts to help employers improve their bottom lines, make their worksites healthier places to be employed, and connect employees to free or low-cost resources. All of this money will go to McDowell County through the IPDC which will be working with the McDowell Health Coalition.

“Manufacturing jobs dominate our region, leaving many of our friends and neighbors juggling busy and demanding schedules along with their health needs,” said Nick Byrd, workplace wellness advisor of the McDowell County Health Coalition. “Over the past two years we’ve seen the tremendous impact that strategies like onsite substance abuse counselors or in-house paramedics can have on employee health. We look forward to working with IPDC to spread the work and establish a blueprint for increased employer investment in wellness activities.”

In addition to working in McDowell County, IPDC will seek to spread wellness efforts across the four-county region they represent.

“If we want to improve health it must be part of the economic structure of the community,” said Scott Dadson, executive director of the Isothermal Planning and Development Commission. “That can’t stop at the county line. People from McDowell work in neighboring counties and many employers are subsidiaries to larger companies outside the county. We see this as a hyper-local effort building on existing efforts but also spreading best practices throughout the region.”

The funding is part of a series of grants awarded by the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust to organizations across the state. Selected projects are driven by the community’s concerns, and the Trust works in partnership with residents toward sustainable, long-term change, according to the news release.

“The work happening in McDowell County around workplace wellness is inspiring, and we are proud to support it,” said Dr. Laura Gerald, president of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. “This is about more than employers and employees. This is a community coming together, identifying needs and then challenging existing systems and norms to help improve the health and economic well-being of an entire region.”

McDowell County is part of the Trust’s Healthy Places NC initiative. The Trust plans to invest $100 million in 10 to 12 rural counties. To date, the Trust has invited seven counties - McDowell, Beaufort, Burke, Halifax, Rockingham, Edgecombe and Nash - to participate, according to the news release.

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