Diane S. Rohlman, PhD, University of Iowa; Shelly Campo, PhD, University of Iowa; Bradley Evanoff, MD, MPH, Washington University; Laura Keniston, MHA, University of Iowa; Lisa Henning, BS, Nebraska Safety Council; Nate Fethke, PhD, CPE, University of Iowa; Ann Marie Dale, PhD, OTR/L, Washington University; Beth Livingston, MBA, PhD, University of Iowa; Lauren Remspecher, MPH, St. Louis Area Business Health Coalition; Elizabeth Ablah, PhD, MPH, MS, University of Kansas Medical Center-Wichita; Megan TePoel, MS, University of Iowa; Jessica Williams, PhD, University of Kansas Medical Center
Serving Federal Region VII, the Healthier Workforce Center of the Midwest (HWC) is a Total Worker Health Center of Excellence. The states in our region (Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri) disproportionately suffer from higher burdens of occupational injury and illness, as well as high rates of unhealthy behaviors compared to other regions of the country. Much of our region is rural and suffers from higher rates of poverty and lower access to healthcare compared to other parts of the country. High rates of suicide and the opioid epidemic disproportionately affects workplaces in the Midwest, particularly the construction industry. Furthermore, the pandemic has accelerated changes in work patterns, due to new technology and economic forces, which increased remote work in many industries and exacerbated stress on frontline workers. This has highlighted how work policies and practices are directly related to important health outcomes, including mental health and substance misuse. In order to improve the well-being of workers, the HWC addresses these issues through research, outreach, and education.
The vision of the Healthier Workforce Center of the Midwest is to create a safe, healthy, and productive workforce through basic and applied research, participatory approaches, and theory driven education and translation activities. The HWC is a collaboration which includes the University of Iowa, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Kansas Medical Center, WorkWell KS, and two NIOSH Total Worker Health Affiliates (the Nebraska Safety Council and the St. Louis Area Business Health Coalition). The Center includes an Evaluation and Planning Core, which oversees center coordination, leadership, and evaluation through internal and external advisors; an Outreach Core that translates science-based findings and disseminates through regional and national channels; and a Research Core which includes a Pilot Project Program that promotes career development of academic investigators and capacity building among community partners. Center research projects have included longitudinal research on high-risk populations, examined the impact of multiple work organization and environmental factors on the health, safety, and well-being of construction trade workers, clinical workers, remote workers, and low-wage workers. We rely on practitioner expertise to inform our research projects and to guide our outreach activities.
The Center responds rapidly and effectively to emerging issues, primarily through the Pilot Program and Outreach Core. Leveraging regional partnerships, we were able to develop the Total Worker Health Employer Guide: COVID-19 Edition which was launched through a national webinar, including employers describing successful practices and policies, and disseminated at the American Industrial Hygiene Association 2020 Conference. The Center conducted longitudinal surveys to examine the impact of COVID-19 on changes to the nature of work for essential clinical, non-clinical, and remote workers at our institutions (Washington University and University of Iowa). Results indicated a need for outreach to supervisors of remote workers. In addition, findings from a Construction Research Project identified mental health as a major concern in the industry. This led to a collaboration between the Associated General Contractors in Missouri (AGC-MO) and the HWC to develop and launch week-long suicide prevention efforts kicked off by a “stand-down for safety event” addressing workplace suicide. The campaign aimed to increase awareness, reduce stigma, and educate individuals about risk factors and warning signs of suicide. We expanded this effort to Iowa and adjacent states. The Outreach Core developed a video featuring AGC-MO to promote the campaign, led the translation of the materials into Spanish, and provided a central repository to make the materials easily accessible. Over 200 packets were sent to employers throughout the US. This has led to a new partnerships, including an OSHA Alliance Agreement with Federal Region VII to raise awareness on the impact of behavioral health (mental health and substance use) in the workplace.
Since its inception, the Healthier Workforce Center has addressed the need to create a safe, healthy, and productive workforce. Leveraging our long-standing, productive partnerships across academic institutions, business groups, employers, and labor organizations, we pursue Total Worker Health research and translate research into improved practices. Center research projects utilize multidisciplinary teams across institutions and partnerships with intermediary organizations to target vulnerable workers and address new work arrangements. Research projects investigate solutions that include organizational policies, employee benefits, management responsibilities, and availability of organizational resources. These solutions will increase sustainability and have greater impact than those focused solely on worker-level interventions and outcomes. The Center is designed to improve understanding of effective, integrated employee safety and health programs and policies, and to translate this evidence-base into practice for the benefit of employed populations.