Business of Well-being

Dr. Gene Migliaccio: An Interview with the Director of Federal Occupational Health (FOH)

Established by Congress in 1946, FOH is the largest provider of occupational health and wellness services to the Federal government, serving more than 360 Federal agencies and reaching 1.5 million Federal employees, FOH's mission is improving the health, safety and productivity of the Federal workforce.

FOH provides services in several health-related areas: Worksite Health, Wellness/Fitness and Health Promotion, Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), Work/Life, Environmental Health and Safety, Organizational and Professional Development, and Emergency Preparedness and Response.

Unlike most Federal agencies, FOH does not receive appropriations from congress to carry out its functions within the government and thus, operates much like a private sector organization, covering operational costs with funds collected from the services provided.

However, unlike their private sector counterparts, FOH does not make a profit, charging only operating costs. FOH charges its Federal partners for services provided via an interagency fee-for-service arrangement. FOH operates under the leadership of Dr. Gene Migliaccio, who was appointed as Director in January 2007.

No stranger to Federal service, Dr. Migliaccio served in the United States Air Force Medical Service Corps as health services administrator before he entered the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps in 1992. When he retired from the USPHS, Dr. Migliaccio served as Director of Immigration Health Services managing an integrated healthcare delivery system.

He also served as the Chief of Staff (Acting) for the United States Surgeon General. His other assignments have included positions in hospital administration, managed care, information technology, and healthcare research. Dr. Migliaccio holds a Doctor of Public Health (Dr.P.H.) from Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, a Master of Public Health (M.P.H.) from the University of Hawaii, School of Public Health, and a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) from Marquette University.

In a recent interview, I had the pleasure speaking with Dr. Migliaccio and getting to know more about FOH. I asked Dr. Migliaccio about what drew him to FOH, and he shared that his interest in FOH stemmed from his ongoing passion for population based studies, epidemiology, and health communications and policy.

I also wanted to know what had prepared him for this leadership role within FOH, and Dr. Migliaccio told me that his experience with running special programs and his vast knowledge of the field of occupational health has aptly prepared him for running an organization as multifaceted as FOH.

When asked if FOH would ever service the private sector, Dr. Migliaccio explained that while there are no plans to provide services to the private sector at this time, he hopes that family members of Federal employees can see what FOH is doing and try to implement similar services or programs within their workplace.

Dr. Migliaccio highlighted some exemplar services and programs that FOH provides to their Federal partners. Examples of services available include Lactation Programs, Blood Pressure Screenings, Automated External Defibrillator (AED) Programs, Smoking Cessation Programs, and the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), just to name a few.

In addition to on-site services, FOH offers virtual programs that benefit agencies with budget constraints or those in locations too remote locations to take advantage of on-site services. In addition to the wealth of services already provided by FOH, Dr. Migliaccio shared some exciting news about a new comprehensive health and wellness program called FedStrive.

Currently being beta tested on approximately 3,000 Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Federal employees, FedStrive hopes to bring a take charge approach to health, wellness, and work/life balance. Putting an emphasis on statements like "I want to be ____," Federal employees are encouraged to fill in the blank and strive to accomplish their personal wellness goals.

To help maintain momentum, the FedStrive program will also offer incentives to HHS Federal employees in the form of free Fitness Center memberships or other non-cash incentives. Using the FedStrive program as an example, Dr. Migliaccio explains that with the current administration, there is a huge emphasis on health reform, employee wellness, cost containment, and prevention funding.

Like FOH, other Federal agencies such as the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), General Services Administration (GSA), and the Department of the Interior (DOI) have joined forces to develop their own comprehensive health and wellness programs. Dr. Migliaccio emphasizes that the key to a successful worksite wellness program is frequent and regular contact with the employees as well as strong senior management support for the program.

Dr. Migliaccio feels that it is essential for the employees to have an opportunity to voice their priorities regarding wellness activities, incentives, and what would really help them achieve their goals. Then, it is even more critical for senior management to encourage employees to take charge of their health and participate in the health-related activities.

The reality of the matter is that if the leadership is not on board, the employees will not participate, and there will be no program success. As an agency leader, Dr. Migliaccio wants the Federal workforce to have convenient access to health promotion events, services, and education activities. Most importantly, Dr. Migliaccio hopes that employee health, wellness, and work/like balance will eventually be a fundamental priority and a cultural norm within Federal agencies and the private sector alike.

About the Author

Lauren Dominguez, MPH is an Administrative Fellow currently working with the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) as a Grants Management Specialist. She has a Masters Degree is Health Promotion and Disease Prevention from Florida International University. Prior to coming to NHLBI she served as an intern with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) working with grants in the area of Substance Abuse, HIV, & Hepatitis Prevention for Minority Populations.

Rachel Permuth-Levine, PhD, MSPH, is a public health practitioner and an expert in worksite health promotion. As a health behavior theorist, she strives to use evidence-based programs that produce the best results for her employees. Rachel is also a yoga and fitness instructor.

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