1 of 3

Buy Photo

Henry A. Barrios/ The Californian

Volunteers at the Community Action Partnership Food Bank, from left, Lina Espericueta, Sandra Flores, Fabiola Borja and Hillary Retamoza, sort food for distribution in 2012.

2 of 3

Buy Photo

Casey Christie / The Californian

Bakersfield Heart Hospital.

3 of 3

Buy Photo

Felix Adamo / The Californian

One bus leaves as another loads passengers at the GET Downtown Transit Center in this October 2012 file photo.

After a long wait, 13 Kern County employers large and small have been picked for a national worksite wellness program tied to health care reform.

Kern is one of only eight counties in the nation that was selected for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Healthy Worksite Program, an initiative paid for by the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund. The goal is to reduce chronic illnesses.

“My vision is that our employees will be healthier and, frankly, that includes me,” said Linda Eviston, executive director for STEPS, a nonprofit that helps people regain their driver’s license after being convicted of driving under the influence. STEPS is one of the employers selected.

The value of the program for each Kern organization participating will be about $50,000, though they’re not receiving any money, said Ashley Vorhees, California regional director for Arizona-based Viridian Health Management. Viridian was awarded the $8 million contract to guide companies nationwide for 12 months as they enact the worksite health programs.

The program was announced in fall 2011 but the selection process was slow. About 30 employers applied, and 24 were interviewed, Vorhees said.

“It was very exciting to hear that (we were picked) because it has been such a long wait,” said Lisa Baldridge, chief operating officer for the Klein DeNatale Goldner law firm.

Vorhees and her colleagues — two health coaches — will help the local employers conduct health screenings in August and then develop a three-year worksite wellness plan with them. The programs will focus on three areas: physical activity, nutrition and cutting tobacco use.

The end goal is to get them to take ownership of the efforts so they continue beyond the CDC’s program end date.

Some of the chosen employers said they’ve dabbled in workplace wellness programs; others said they haven’t offered any programs of this kind.

Baldridge said the law firm, which has 100 employees, has added health-conscious options in the last couple of years, including a weekly yoga class, circuit training and weight-loss effort. The national initiative seemed like an opportunity to give workers more well-rounded offerings.

“We’re hoping to see kind of a more top-of-mind awareness of health issues for our employees,” she said.

The firm’s employees often work long hours at their desks, Baldridge said, and bringing healthy choices to the workplace makes it easier to pick a healthy option over a bad one.

Other employers hope the efforts will help them practice the healthy living that they preach to clients. Mark Corum, outreach manager for Community Action Partnership of Kern, said the nonprofit’s food bank has made strides to provide more nutritious food. It’s important for employees to model the behavior they encourage, he said.

“We need to walk the walk and talk the talk,” he said.

At STEPS, Eviston said the nonprofit’s employees and clients have already benefitted from training Vorhees provided. STEPS has 10 full-time and 11 part-time workers, several of whom have diabetes, high blood pressure and weight issues, Eviston said.

“We work to make our community safer and better, and this is a way to do it internally as well as externally,” Eviston said.

Beyond Kern, the program is also under way in Buchanan County, Mo.; Harris County, Texas; Marion County, Ind.; Philadelphia County, Pa.; Pierce County, Wash.; Shelby County, Tenn.; and Somerset County, Maine. A total of 104 employers have been chosen for the project.