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June 9, 2014

City Embracing Health Changes

Employees with the City of Waupaca are looking at healthy lifestyles a little more positively.

Employees with the City of Waupaca are looking at healthy lifestyles a little more positively.

In March, the city teamed up with ThedaCare At Work to have a health coach facilitate employee health programs that will improve health and result in fewer sick days and doctor visits, which cause insurance premiums to go up.

“We knew employees would be a little apprehensive but we are very happy with our participation to this point,” said Aaron Jenson, parks and recreation director. “The programs are raising awareness and people are talking about it.”

The city started taking health seriously two years ago. The programs launched by an employee wellness committee were met with mixed success, said Jenson. “It was tough to keep the wellness initiatives a top priority with our committee’s other job responsibilities. We wanted to make sure we stayed consistent and didn’t lose sight of this effort.”

Also concerns arose over confidentiality issues. And there was also the risk that employees would pay more out of pocket if insurance rates increased. “We do want to take wellness seriously,” said Jenson, noting that having a third party come in could help employees stay on track. “Our committee feels it means more coming from a health professional rather than a fellow employee.”

Henry Veleker, the city administrator clerk, agreed. Having a health coach is a natural development of the program, he said. Although the city tried various efforts, “we came to the realization that we were kind of inventing the wheel. Plus we are not experts in this area. We just don’t know the wellness aspect. For us to be really effective, we needed to move to the next level and undertake the health coach and try that and see if it helps us.”

The city has about 60 employees with more than half participating in the health challenges. The program is open to all city employees and their spouses who are covered by the city health insurance. Kristi Smeaton, the health coach, is on site every Thursday to meet with employees and share new programs, information and even new foods and recipes. Jenson has heard positive feedback. For instance, those who did not eat healthy are trying new things. “I definitely think there have been individuals who have made changes whether they are big or small,” he said.

Jenson said healthy lifestyles are good for employees and the city. “When you are healthy, it benefits you in more ways than people can wrap their heads around,” he said, noting improved production at work, less sick days and less insurance costs. “I think just the fact that we’re showing that the city of Waupaca cares about employee health, that can go a long way.”

Veleker agreed. “It’s very unusual for public sector organization to have this,” he said. But knowing they could be paying more out of pocket for insurance “was a significant motivation to get into it and take it seriously.”

There is still more work ahead but Jenson and Veleker are hopeful for a healthy outcome. “It’s more of a journey and more of an attitude that we’ve got to instill in our workforce,” said Veleker. “Improving healthy habits today will help our employees live healthier and more active lives down the road and we feel that is something to get excited about.”