SPRINGDALE, Ark.—Tyson Foods, a major processor and marketer of food, has hired its first-ever chief medical officer, highlighting a growing trend among large companies during the coronavirus pandemic.
According to TheHill.com, Tyson Foods joins other organizations, such Royal Caribbean, Constellation brands and Salesforce, in bringing onboard a health-care professional tasked with overseeing the safety and wellbeing of its workforce. Traditionally, companies have worked with outside consultants on the health initiatives of their teams, but having an in-house medical professional—in addition to outside advisers—is necessary in the new normal brought on by the pandemic, experts said.
“I think it’s smart,” said Peter Cappelli, director of the Center for Human Resources at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “Companies are thinking about bringing more employees back to work. They are concerned about getting sued by employees, so they need credible advice. They also want to assure employees—maybe customers as well—that what they are doing is safe. A chief medical officer looks credible, more so than getting advice from outside consultants.”
Last week, Tyson Foods hired Dr. Claudia Coplein, a physician executive with more than 20 years of health-care experience, to focus on efforts to protect team members during the pandemic, while expanding and promoting health, safety and wellness companywide. Dr. Coplein also will oversee the launch of Marathon Health clinics, which will be piloted in seven of the company’s plant communities.
“The health and safety of our team members is our highest priority, and when we talk about health, we talk about it very broadly,” said Johanna Söderström, executive vice president and chief human resources officer, Tyson. “There’s occupational health, the culture of health and wellness and what we can do in general to help our team members live healthier lives.”
Early in the pandemic, meat processing plants became hot spots for COVID-19, prompting some to close temporarily. More than 4,600 COVID-19 cases and 18 deaths have been reportedly linked to these plants. Food industry workers are essential workers included in “phase 1b” of vaccine distribution, just behind health-care workers and residents of long-term care facilities. Tyson will have Coplein prepare workers to receive the vaccine.
“How do we make sure we educate the workforce about what this vaccine is and get that information out? We have a very diverse workforce when it comes to… backgrounds and nationality, so there is a lot of work we’re getting set up for,” Söderström said.
NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.