I am the Employee Wellness Coordinator for the County of Cape May, NJ. We are the largest employer in our county at just over 1000 employees. Having spent most of my career as a physical therapy professional, I realized many conditions that I was treating could be prevented with lifestyle modification. I began to redirect my energy into preventive measures and health awareness. I became a Certified Personal Trainer (NCSF) eight years ago and recently transitioned into the field of Wellness. I have dedicated myself to raising health awareness to help my co-workers lead healthier, happier lives. It is exciting to play an active role in preventive health measures as part of our Human Resources team.
As a young adult I pursued a health care career to compliment my active lifestyle. My degreed education is an Associate in Applied Science as a Physical Therapy professional. My formal learning continues as I regularly participate in webinars and attend seminars required for my professional licenses. My years of experience as a PT professional have afforded me the medical foundation for sharing my passion for living healthy with my peers and co-workers. I dedicated myself to this employee wellness program three years ago. Since then I’ve received two awards, both within my first 18 months. I applied for and received the American Heart Association “Fit Friendly Workplace” gold level award in February 2014. This award has been my proudest achievement, validating my work and giving our young program national credibility.
I was appointed the Wellness Coordinator in June 2012. My primary goal was senior management buy-in and a shift in organizational culture. I was tasked with addressing our sky rocketing self-funded health care costs, averaging two million dollars per month. Administrations goal was driven by saving money; my goal was a healthier workforce. I knew my goal would achieve their goal. Our medical costs are now averaging just over 1 million dollars per month.
Partnering with the leadership of our Director of Operations, we formed a 30 member Wellness Committee. Our team held regular meetings and surveyed our co-workers to determine the best approach to take. We agreed that a multi-faceted program would address various needs and interests. I was unfamiliar with workplace wellness so my first order of business was to join WELCOA. I read case studies and analyzed the 7 Benchmarks to direct my focus. I was given a large idle storage space to transform into a gym/wellness center; which would become my home base. During the renovation process I needed to generate employee interest. I authored a weekly “Wellness Wednesday” newsletter (emailed to all employees - now monthly) with tips, employee pictures, and news of events. I continue to hold monthly Steering Committee meetings to review program direction. (www.cmcwellness.org)
I drew on my medical background and started holding blood pressure screening events. I set up blood pressure clinics with volunteer medical staff throughout our facilities. These BP clinics were very successful and we were finding people with hypertension who were totally unaware. I realized that even though most of our employees are insured, many do not regularly visit their physician. We referred many employees to the doctor, and several directly to the hospital, with a few admitted. Employees reported back that their doctor determined we may have saved them from a catastrophic event. This is an additional undetermined cost savings for us. These people that we “saved” at our clinics were not only grateful, they were able to seek the appropriate medical treatment, thus becoming healthier more productive employees.
I started planning lunch & learn events during the day; hired a local farmer to deliver produce at a discounted rate to our office buildings, and had local doctors come in after work to give talks. The 4200 square foot gym was completed and outfitted with commercial grade exercise equipment – cardio and strength training; a quiet room for weekly yoga, tai chi and MBSR/stress classes; a daily boot camp class; and shower rooms. Our gym participation gradually grew and we are now at 458 members (active/retired/spouse).
We negotiated a rebate with our health insurance underwriter offsetting most of the expenses to out-fit our gym. We petitioned for and received a point reduction in our premium rate for offering workplace wellness. This was another smart business move and cost savings for us. So in the end, completion of this project did not cost any jobs, raise or tax dollars, and was budget neutral. The cost savings were already compounding.
My drive and determination caught the eye of many and generated more interest. I made regular visits to our offices throughout the county, and starting bonding with our employees. Employees realized it was coming from my heart. I cared about them - heads started turning my way when I entered a room or meeting. Culture change was achieved! I had been challenged with an overwhelming task but I was honored to take it on. We are the first self-funded county government in our state with a wellness program. What benefited me the most was joining WELCOA, reading the case studies, and participating in weekly webinars for certification.
a) I am very aware that people look to me for guidance and I must be a good role model for our employees. Our Director of Operations here calls me “the face of wellness”. Realizing that our bodies are fundamentally biology sets, I eat a clean plant based diet. I exercise regularly and participate in our classes at the gym. Employees inform me that their offices have begun banning junk food; they are challenging each other to eat healthily and walk at lunch, and are successfully losing significant amounts of weight. They are following my lead!
b) My reputation in the community as an exemplary health care professional gave me the credibility to be heard. I research what I am not familiar with to become well versed. Being a good listener is a key ingredient to learning. Respect must be earned.
c) My advice to others in this field: You must lead by example and be passionate. Living healthy works! If you don’t walk the walk, you will not be successful as a Health Promotion Leader.
I have taken a multi faceted approach to changing our culture while realizing the fundamentals of health are a key ingredient. I started with a “Know Your Numbers” campaign to raise awareness of blood pressure and cholesterol. I sponsored a biometric event for our employee’s, and continue random blood pressure clinics. I have sourced our health department employees to perform monthly biometric clinics, free to employees. There is a nominal cost to us by using in-house staff to perform this screening compared to the expense of using a private lab facility. To allow even more convenience for BP tracking I purchased two automatic machines that print out your vital signs. One machine is located in the wellness center, and the other travels around to our office buildings. Local physicians report being able to treat our employees more efficiently when they present these readings during office visits. Employees make a point to stop by and visit the BP machine to keep an eye on their health.
Our wellness center gym allows 24/7 member access. Employees, including shift workers, can work out at their convenience. Our lunch-crunch workouts are very popular! This builds morale and camaraderie as they share ideas, laughs, and supports a mutual quest for improved health and fitness. Being a Certified Personal Trainer allows me to perform new member gym orientations, provide guidance, and motivation.
Being aware that our employees are most sedentary during the cold winter months, I hold fitness challenges and contests at that time. To avoid stagnation I introduce new programs. I hold a yearly wellness center open house. I sent a “Why Wellness” letter to all employees to mark our second anniversary to remind everyone that we are all benefiting by participating in this program. I spearheaded a workplace safety campaign with prizes and raffles for new ideas. Our program is expanding again as we’ve just started an employee/family dodge ball league after work as a fun way to keep us moving in the evening.
To shine a light on eating a healthy diet I recruited a college level nutrition educator for monthly classes that includes a brief educational program followed by menu tasting & sharing of recipes. A nominal cost to attend covers expenses. I often raffle off a prize or gift to keep it fun. I also celebrate the American Heart Association “National Eating Healthy Day” by providing samples of healthy foods in employee break rooms. Educational materials are available at all events. On a trial basis we implemented a produce truck program during seasonal months to provide at-cost farm to truck produce to employees - another big hit!
It’s important to keep your program in the spotlight. I take and publish many photos of our events. I generate regular press releases to let our community know that these employees are collectively doing good things. This program benefits employees, administration, and county tax payers – all of us in so many ways. As public employees we share the combined cost for medical expenses. We also share the burden of increased work demands due to absenteeism from poor health. The continued growth in event participation has demonstrated that we now have behavior and culture change. The cost savings from a reduction in our medical claims and expenses is proof that there is improvement in our health status. And our employee population has not decreased. In 2014 our health insurance rates were held flat for the first time in many years. Our organization is stronger – physically and fiscally.
I CANNOT IMAGINE ANY DISADVANTAGE TO PROMOTING A HEALTHY WORKFORCE. As firmly documented by my recent work, it is clear that employee wellness is a WIN. Our community as a whole will also benefit as we collectively get healthy, and save tax dollars. I feel I have a multi-faceted model program for workplace wellness.
In less than three years I have: 1) Captured CEO, CFO, Administration and employee support. 2) Created a dynamic, cohesive, comprehensive wellness program - which I have recently opened up to our benefit eligible retirees. 3) Have fine tuned our operating plan to address every aspect of facilitating a healthy lifestyle. 4) Determined the interventions that work best for my audience: creative repetition of basics. 5) Maintain a supportive environment: I am accessible to employees and events must be convenient for busy lives. 6) Evaluation of outcomes: I audit our statistics quarterly with our CFO and insurance representative for detailed information on directing my monthly topics and events.
I have earned the respect of our Administration with documented financial gains. I have established a precedent for workplace wellness for government in this state. Local municipal government agents have contacted and met with me during the past two years to copy my business model. Performing this task while balancing government stipulations presents a challenge which is even harder than in private industry. I am a key player in the organization due to my dedication to the success of this program. I STARTED SMALL AND HAVE SUCCEEDED!