Six ‘CEOs Stopping Diabetes’ share how they promote corporate wellness

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Nearly 400,000 Marylanders have diabetes and a staggering 1.2 million people with prediabetes are at risk for developing the disease, according to the American Diabetes Association, Maryland Chapter.

In an effort to fight diabetes and promote wellness in the workplace, last year the ADA’s Maryland Chapter partnered with the Greater Baltimore Committee and launched the ‘CEOs Stopping Diabetes’ initiative to engage six regional CEOs and their employees by promoting aspects of their company’s wellness activities, such as screenings, walking and cycling programs.

The CEOs are: Christopher Brandt, managing partner of Audacious Inquiry; Skip Counselman, CEO of RCM&D; Charles Monk, Esq., managing partner of Saul Ewing, LLP; Brian Rogers, chairman and CIO of T. Rowe Price; Carmel Roques, CEO of Keswick Multi-Care; and Samuel Ross, M.D., CEO of Bon Secours Baltimore Health System.

At a Nov. 6 breakfast, the six executives who pledged to provide leadership within their companies during the initiative’s premier year participated in a panel, moderated by WJZ anchor Mary Bubala. They shared their successes and discussed the importance of the cause and setting a healthy example.

In the past year, T. Rowe Price asked their employees to complete a diabetes risk test online. Companies that administer the assessment, without CEO support, have about a 38 percent participation rate, Bubala said. However, 24 percent of T. Rowe Price’s 6,000 employees completed it, which Rogers attributes to effective communication throughout the organization.

Rogers said he learned that about 500 T. Rowe Price employees either already are or are likely to be affected by diabetes in the future.

“I put my corporate hat on and I thought it made sense for the company to get engaged,” he said.

Rogers acknowledged his interest in stopping diabetes is personal.

“Both my parents were Type 2 diabetics,” he said.

Like Rogers, Ross also has family members affected by the disease.

“We’re all realizing, particularly as we age, that we need to do better,” Ross said. “Working in Southwest Baltimore where we have the worst health disparities, because it’s a large African-American population, and those disparities include our employers and our coworkers, it’s extremely important that we strive to make a difference.”

Counselman said that for the past 371 consecutive days he has walked a minimum of five miles – or 10,000 steps. Last month, 72 RCM&D employees signed up for a challenge and walked 7,175,000 steps, or 3,055 miles, Counselman said.

“My initial strategy to get involved was ‘let’s talk about it’ because if we talk about it I’ve gone public and I’d better live up to it,” Counselman said. “We motivate one another by sharing our experiences.”

Being busy is not an excuse for poor health.

“You’re not too busy to take good care of your health because that’s your personal responsibility,” Counselman said. “If I can do that, anybody in our organization can do that. It’s really important to set the example.”

Roques said the initiative afforded her the opportunity to find ways to promote wellness for those in her organization.

“Being well and feeling well is not for the privileged few,” she said. “It is something that should be available, at least the opportunities should be available, for everyone. I came at this from a point of view, the deep, deep sense that I’ve been so blessed with good health and it has been a tremendous advantage in my life and I want that for the people in my organization and their families and the generations to come.”

Roques said this was the first year of a three-year initiative at Keswick. Next year there will be a greater focus on metrics and tracking what is being purchased in the cafeteria, for example, and the third year will be tied to positive benefits, including possible lower insurance rates.

“This program is about raising awareness,” said Monk, who noted his firm strives to organize one event every month, such as stair challenges. “It’s those little things that you can do.”

Those “little things” include swapping Danishes for granola and fruit when the firm hosts clients to “create the opportunity for healthy lifestyles.”

Monk said it’s important for executives to seek employees who are excited about the cause.

“As a CEO what you try to do is empower them and say it’s OK for them to say ‘we’re going to have all the secretaries on the eighth floor take a walk this afternoon,’ and you’ve got to say that’s great and it’s OK that you’re not going to be here for an hour and we’ll figure out another way to get the client’s work done and it becomes part of the culture,” he said. “The goal for our organization is to make it part of the culture.”

“It’s an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to wellness,” Brandt said.

Kathy Rogers, executive director of ADA’s Maryland Chapter, likened Type 2 Diabetes to “a coming tsunami.”

“If present trends continue,” she said, “one out of three adults will have diabetes by the year 2050. It’s the leading cause of heart disease and it’s expensive. Everyone here has a unique role in creating a healthier community.”

For information about the ADA’s Maryland Chapter, click here.

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