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New Biddeford program aims to boost employee health

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Posted: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 12:01 pm | Updated: 12:02 pm, Wed Feb 27, 2013.

BIDDEFORD – In an effort to help small business owners provide creative opportunities for their employees to make healthy choices, the Heart of Biddeford is set to kick off its new Healthy Maine Streets program with an informational meeting next week.

The program, which is funded through a two-year grant from the Maine Development Foundation’s Maine Downtown Center, will be overseen by a Wellness Council made up of small business owners in the downtown who have less than 20 employees each.

The council will determine how best to spend the $10,000 a year that’s available through the grant, according to Delilah Poupore, executive director of the Heart of Biddeford. The program developed would include initiatives that positively impact worksite wellness and encourage preventative care, such as proper nutrition, physical activity and quitting smoking.

Poupore said the goal of the Healthy Maine Streets program is to help small businesses reduce absenteeism and control their health care costs. 

“When business owners and employees are healthier, they get to spend more of their time and resources on helping their business succeed,” she said. “In Biddeford, I see these small businesses as creating a model for others to follow, with healthier eating, less smoking and more exercise.”

According to the Maine Development Foundation’s website, the mission of the Healthy Maine Streets program is to “create vibrant downtowns through community leadership focused on developing place-based worksite wellness. Healthy people build downtown vitality, fuel economic growth and strengthen our quality of place for future generations.”

The first meeting of the Wellness Council is scheduled for Monday, March 4, at 8:30 a.m. at the Heart of Biddeford office, located at 205 Main St. Poupore said 17 business owners have already indicated an interest in the Healthy Maine Streets program, and said the council will be headed up by Brandy Rogers, a local licensed clinical personal counselor and small business owner.

In addition, Southern Maine Medical Center, the YMCA of Southern Maine branch in Biddeford and the Coastal Healthy Communities Coalition have all agreed to be partners on the council, Poupore said.

Any small business owner in the Main Street district, which includes the mills, as well as Elm and Alfred streets in the downtown core, is eligible to take part in the Wellness Council or the programs it initiates.

Poupore said the Heart of Biddeford is promoting the Healthy Maine Streets program because it has learned that small businesses are particularly vulnerable to high absenteeism rates and high health care costs. 

She said MCD Public Health, which is collaborating with the Maine Downtown Center on the Healthy Maine Streets program, would provide training to her and the members of the Wellness Council about the various ways costs can be reduced and the health of employees improved. 

MCD Public Health, which is based in Augusta with an office in Portland, is a nonprofit that “works in partnership with communities, organizations and government agencies to create and implement (health) programs, policies and systems that generate lasting change,” according to its website.

Poupore said that at the end of the two-year grant, “We’d love to see a healthier downtown and business owners with lower health care costs.”

She said the Healthy Maine Streets program seemed like a good fit for Biddeford because “we are already pretty good at working together downtown to accomplish goals. As Brandy and I have walked into small businesses to talk about the program, we’ve been amazed that everyone seems immediately interested. They know that having small businesses lead the way in improving health will be good for everyone.”

Poupore said that under the program each participating small business would fill out an online assessment through MDC Public Health, which the Wellness Council would use to help create programs or incentives to have a positive impact on health. 

“After two years, we will have tangible results to share about how health has improved and costs were reduced,” she said. That information could then be used by any business in Biddeford as they make decisions about health care and employee wellness issues.

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