Kathleen Herath: Healthcare Achievement Awards 2020

Heather Barr
Kathleen Herath, associate vice president of well-being and safety, Nationwide Insurance

Healthcare Achievement Awards 2020

Pathway to Population Health

Kathleen Herath, associate vice president of well-being and safety, Nationwide Insurance

If you ask Kathleen Herath what she does for a living, she’ll say she’s made a career out of solving problems for people. Both in her time as a nurse and in her current position, where she’s in charge of Nationwide Insurance’s well-being program, she’s helped people get back on track after disaster.

Herath says her interest in a career in health care started when she was hit by a car at 8 years old and spent most of fourth grade recovering in a hospital room. Many of the nurses made this time easier, she says, but she remembers one in particular who didn’t seem to understand what it was like to be a kid.

“I can remember pointing at her and telling her I would be a nurse who would be so much nicer to kids,” Hearth says.

Here are Columbus CEO’s Healthcare Achievement Award winners and finalists for 2020. Inspiring stories ahead.

As an adult, she kept her word and began a career as a pediatric burn and rehabilitation care nurse at Shriners Hospital for Children.

After seven years in a field she loved, a latex allergy forced her to move on from nursing into a new job with a subsidiary of Nationwide Insurance. Later, she was promoted and moved on to a field focused on what she says feels like her personal ministry: total well-being for employees, including a focus on mental health and addiction.

In 2006, the company was interested in revamping employee health programs, hoping to tackle problems that other employers weren’t talking about at the time—things like domestic violence, depression and financial stress—even though it was cautioned against it.

Herath says other companies were focused on getting employees to drink more water, exercise more and eat healthier at the time, but she knew sustained changes in health will happen only if employees are also mentally healthy. In her words, you have to “get the brain right and the body will follow.”

“If I’m clinically depressed, it’s not about steps, water and vegetables,” she says.

Herath says employees who participated in programs that addressed mental health went on to take part in additional programs for other aspects of full-body health. It’s not a matter of willpower or discipline, she says. It’s an understanding of what healthy means and knowing when to get help.

“To sustain that real behavior change, you have to understand your brain, you have to understand what motivates you, and you have to understand what healthy feels like,” Herath says.

She also has placed a special focus on helping employees with addiction and bringing attention to the opioid crisis across the state. Nationwide’s Second Chance at Work program allows employees to seek help for addiction and eventually return to their jobs. Herath says 60 percent of employees make it to a point where they can come back to work, and 100 percent of those who come back stay sober in the years following.

Although this program was already in place when she took on her current role, she has worked to spread its benefits to other companies and bring attention to Ohio’s opioid crisis through her work with the Ohio Opioid Education Alliance and its Denial, Ohio campaign, which is funded in part by Nationwide.

“One, it’s the right thing to do, and two, it has really good results and makes financial sense, but it’s also just the way you should be treated,” Herath says.

Her efforts have made a significant impact on the lives of employees and their families, says Gale King, executive vice president and chief administrative officer at Nationwide.

“Her passion for well-being and her passion for the associate experience from a well-being perspective is really what drives her, and because of this we’ve been able to really create a difference here at Nationwide,” King says of Herath’s work. “We hear stories all the time from our associates. I think it’s a point of pride that we focus not only on their health; that it’s a holistic look at them.”

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Many of Herath’s programs have become best practices for other companies in Ohio, winning awards. She says it all comes back to her company’s commitment to its employees, which she says is Nationwide’s “unfair competitive advantage.”

“We want people to be able to empathize. That’s how you do extraordinary customer service,” Herath says. “So we’ve got to replenish them so that they can go out, day after day, and give that extraordinary service.”

Heather Barr is an intern for Columbus CEO.