This blog post is part of our quarterly series highlighting the work of Healthy People 2030 Champion organizations. Healthy People 2030 Champions are organizations recognized for their work to improve the health and well-being of people in their communities and to help achieve Healthy People 2030’s goals.
Northeast Business Group on Health (NEBGH) is a nonprofit coalition of health care stakeholders centered in and around New York City. NEBGH’s members include private- and public-sector organizations that provide health care benefits to employees — as well as other organizations interested in employee health, like labor unions and major health plans.
“Our mission is to empower our members to drive excellence in health,” says Candice Sherman, CEO of NEBGH. “Health is a complex issue — one we can best address when we work together toward common goals.” In line with this focus, NEBGH offers its members opportunities and resources to help them prioritize employee health — like webinars on a variety of health topics, roundtables where they can share their experiences, and action plans to address priority health issues. Healthy People 2030 Leading Health Indicators (LHIs) and objectives — like the Healthy People 2030 workplace objectives and LHI to increase flu vaccination rates — help NEBGH guide these efforts and identify priorities.
Promoting Vaccine Fitness
One of NEBGH’s current priorities is to help its members promote vaccination — or “vaccine fitness,” as NEBGH calls it — among their employees. “Vaccines have been one of the biggest public health innovations of the last century, impacting millions of lives,” says Dr. Mark Cunningham-Hill, Medical Director of NEBGH. “But the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted gaps in information, knowledge, and promotion — not just in regard to COVID-19 vaccines but vaccination in general.”
Vaccine initiatives are a great example of how business and public health interests intersect. High vaccination rates are essential to keeping employees healthy — thereby reducing sick days and helping make sure businesses stay open — and to keeping communities healthy. “Fifty-four percent of people in the U.S. get their health insurance through employers, so employers have a huge role to play in preventive care, including vaccination,” Cunningham-Hill says. “Through vaccine coverage, employers not only reach employees but also their families and their communities — so the impact is much bigger than on the workplace alone.”
But boosting vaccine uptake is a complex task. While progress toward meeting other vaccine-related Healthy People 2030 objectives has stayed constant or improved over time, LHI IID-09: Increase the proportion of people who get the flu vaccine every year, has gotten worse. Cunningham-Hill points to the key role that employers can play in addressing this: “Employers can be trusted messengers and help fight vaccine misinformation. While people may have lost trust in many public institutions, many of them still trust their employer.”
To leverage that trust and help improve vaccination rates, NEBGH has put together a toolkit for employers with actionable resources — including a step-by-step guide for creating a vaccination-friendly culture, a checklist of action steps, and an adult immunization schedule. And Cunningham-Hill says NEBGH members have taken a variety of steps to boost vaccination rates among their employees — like offering flu and other vaccines on site and providing educational content focused on preventive care.
Raising Awareness About Social Determinants of Health
NEBGH is also helping employers understand social determinants of health — a Healthy People 2030 priority area — and how they may be impacting their employees. Social determinants of health have a big impact on employee health and well-being and contribute to widespread inequities, so addressing them is key to creating a stable, productive workforce and healthier communities.
“Traditionally, employers have been focused on medical benefits they can provide,” Cunningham-Hill says. “Social determinants of health have obviously been on their radar, but many employers have never fully understood how to address them.” He notes that traditional health care benefits can’t fix food insecurity, unsafe housing, or a lack of reliable transportation — and he emphasizes that these issues can affect anyone, including people who have jobs and health insurance.
That’s why NEBGH created a guide to educate employers about social determinants of health. The guide includes actionable strategies that employers can use to assess their benefits packages through an equity lens and make improvements so all employees can get the support they need. For example, one strategy described in the guide is to consider adjusting employee health insurance contributions based on salary level so that people who make less can pay less.
When it comes to what makes NEBGH’s health promotion resources resonate with members — and what advice she might share with other organizations — Sherman points to a multifaceted approach.
Broaden the conversation when talking about vaccines.
- Focus on the importance of preventive health care overall to start the conversation — and frame vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, as an important piece of the puzzle.
- Find entry points into the conversation by mentioning other important vaccines, like flu or MMR (measles, mumps, rubella). “They may be less emotionally charged than COVID-19 vaccines,” Sherman says.
- Reinforce the significance of high vaccination rates for community and employee health by pointing to cases of vaccine-preventable diseases, like recent measles and polio outbreaks.
- Seek input from employee resource groups (ERGs) to understand the experiences of different employee populations and challenges they may face. This can help you understand factors that may influence vaccine hesitancy.
- Engage community leaders in efforts to break down misinformation, address the history that contributed to distrust in vaccines, and promote the life-saving benefits of vaccination.
Consistently reinforce your messages.
- Keep offering resources to your audiences over a period of years. “Guides and resources are not one and done,” Sherman says. Pair them with webinars, mailers, and regular newsletters to get your messages out.
- Try to promote resources in new and different ways. For example, use current events — like an especially bad flu season — to point to resources about vaccination.
- Encourage your audience to consider issues through a different lens — for example, you might say: “Low vaccination uptake is a diversity, equity, and inclusion issue.”
- Be prepared to play the long game. It may take time for health improvement strategies to show measurable effects.
Make the business case for investing in health.
- Present accurate and relevant data. Draw on and cite trustworthy sources to emphasize the benefits of vaccination and other preventive health care.
- Encourage leadership to model healthy behaviors. For example, having executives roll up their sleeves and get their vaccines in an open forum is a great way to encourage others to get vaccinated.
- Create and follow an action plan. Set goals for employee engagement with health initiatives and make those goals part of your organization’s culture.
- Focus on value, not just return on investment. For example: Making it easier for employees to access vaccines shows you care about their health, their families’ health, and the communities they live in — and that value transcends a healthy bottom line.
Related Healthy People 2030 objectives: