People are dying too young from heart disease, and it doesn’t have to be that way.
As Maine’s largest and leading workers’ compensation insurance company, we receive all kinds of reports of injuries that occur during the course of work – about 4,800 a month, which range from pulled muscles and broken bones to auto accidents and loss of limbs. Over the holidays, however, we were struck by the number of our policyholders who had employees collapse and die at work from cardiac arrest – heart attacks, which devastate families, friends and co-workers.
Though few heart attacks are a result of the work people do, they can and do occur while at work. According to the American Heart Association, of the roughly 600,000 heart attacks and strokes in the United States each year, approximately 200,000 are considered preventable.
Even though tremendous progress has been made in identifying and treating heart disease, we still see the tragedy of heart failure and strokes all too often. Yes, improved diet, exercise and medical treatment have made a measurable difference, but more needs to be done.
Though the fatalities reported to us over the holidays were a cluster of males between the ages of 36 and 64, the American Heart Association reports that about a third of all deaths from heart attacks and strokes are among women. Though these events occurred at work, they are likely attributed to an accumulation of lifestyle choices and hereditary factors. Coronary artery disease – an accumulation of fat and other substances in the arteries – is often the culprit.
All this is to say that most heart attacks occur to working-age people, which means employers and co-workers have a stake in cardiac wellness and awareness. The people with whom we work are team members – and sometimes the best of friends. They are contributors and confidants who we care about. Their well-being is important to us.
Employers and co-workers can play a unique role by creating awareness and supporting activities that promote heart health.
• Employers can contact their health plan provider and explore an on-site health screening for all employees.
• Smoking is another leading cause of heart disease. Cessation programs require support but render tremendous dividends for the individual, their family and the organization.
• Giving employees good information about local fitness centers, offering diet groups and similar health resources underscores both opportunities for wellness and expectations.
• Educating all employees about the signs of stroke and heart attack (which can differ in women) is another way to help. Quick recognition and action can save lives.
• Finally, MEMIC advocates buying and training employees in the use of automated external defibrillators. Without them, the cardiac arrest survival rate is around 5 percent; with them, it can rise to 40 percent.
And for me, it’s personal. A few years ago, I lost a co-worker and friend at the young age of 47, a tragedy that spurred us to further promote heart health and awareness. The bottom line is that heart disease and strokes take a heavy toll on families and places of work. We believe employers can be an important influence and it is in their best interest, as heart disease also contributes to lost time from work and a lower quality of life. Ask your health plan provider what they will do to help and then show your employees how you really feel about their hearts.