March 26, 2023

Town of Babylon employee Mario Bencivenga takes part in a fitness class at the West Babylon Community Youth Center on Thursday. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa Loarca
The pandemic provided us with many lessons and for Babylon Town officials, it highlighted the impact that self-care — or the lack thereof — can have on workers.
As a result the town has begun implementing a holistic health and wellness program that focuses on medical health, mental resiliency and fitness. Pieces of the program began rolling out last year and are now being ramped up.
“We figured out during COVID if we weren’t healthy, it breaks down everything going on here,” said Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer. “So we decided it was important to have a program where we taught you how to take care of your health and well-being.”
The town hired Radish Health, a Manhattan-based concierge health care company that helps connect employees with medical care. The company holds biweekly clinics at the town hall annex in North Babylon, where employees can get blood work done, receive flu shots and other services. Workers also can be connected to a nutritionist or doctor.
The work is billed through the employee’s insurance and Radish is paid $15 per employee per month. The town has more than 400 employees enrolled in the program and has so far paid the company $158,880. Babylon has budgeted $80,000 for the company this year.
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To address mental health, the town has hired TLC Virtual Resiliency, a Brooklyn-based company that provides virtual mental health help with skills such as coping and stress management. The company has done a dozen group sessions and has been paid $44,694 so far.
For fitness, the town hired business owner and Schaffer’s personal trainer Rob Labiento for $90 an hour. He has also been made director of the health and wellness program. Schaffer did not seek an ethics board decision on the hiring but abstained from the vote to hire him. Labiento has been paid $10,297 to date.
Employees can attend two hourlong classes each week with Labiento at the West Babylon youth center, as long as their work duties are covered. The equipment was donated by the Babylon IDA.
Schaffer said the goal is to have healthier employees who become a “better representative” for the town. He also thinks the program will help reduce the town’s insurance costs.
Schaffer said the town modeled the program after ones implemented by large companies.
“We want to make this a cultural change within the town and get as many people as possible to change their way of thinking,” Schaffer said.
Janine Nicole Dennis, chief innovations officer at Talent Think Innovations, a Wheatley Heights-based management consultancy firm, said Babylon’s program is part of a growing trend of employers trying to offer more holistic benefits sought by workers in light of the “great resignation” that was sparked by the pandemic.
“I think the last few years have been a rude awakening for how people really feel about the work environment and also their willingness to walk away from it all in the face of just having sanity, if not a better opportunity,” she said.
Town Clerk Gerry Compitello said that during the height of the pandemic, several employees in her office had seen a decline in their health, from becoming prediabetic to recording high cholesterol numbers. Since her staff have been using Radish and TLC and doing the fitness classes, she has noticed a marked difference.
“They’re sitting up straighter, their aches and pains are going away,” Compitello said. “It’s done wonders for the morale in the office. . . This really just created a positive environment here and that benefits the constituents.”
By June 30, 2020, 41% of U.S. adults had delayed or avoided medical care including urgent or emergency care.
Conditions reported to be most impacted by delayed care: diabetes, COPD, high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma, cancer and depression.
This year 31.5% of Americans reported symptoms of anxiety or depression compared with 10.8% in 2019.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control; National Library of Medicine; U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey
Denise Bonilla has worked at Newsday since 2003 and covers the Town of Babylon, including the villages of Lindenhurst and Amityville.
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