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June 11, 2013

Employees Schools Team Up on Wellness

Beginning last summer, the school district partnered with ThedaCare At Work to improve employee health through education initiatives, incentive programs, and providing access to an onsite health coach.

Shawano District Workers Note Health Improvements

Tim Meyer always considered himself healthy – eating right and getting enough exercise. But he got the surprise following a free health risk assessment offered by his employer, Shawano Area School District.

“I got a call the next day saying I should come in right away to see a doctor. My numbers were sky high and the doctor said I was a walking heart attack,” said Meyer, the activities director and associate principal at Shawano Community High School.

Beginning last summer, the school district partnered with ThedaCare At Work to improve employee health through education initiatives, incentive programs, and providing access to an onsite health coach. A free health risk assessment and follow-up visit with a health coach is an essential component of the program.

“I’ll admit it. I was afraid of needles so I stayed away from the doctor, but thought I should go through this health risk assessment to just make sure it was OK,” Meyer said. “It obviously wasn’t – my triglycerides and cholesterol were sky high. I later found out it wasn’t what I was doing – genetics played a big role since there was a family history of heart disease.”

The wellness program has been a big win for the district, said business manager Gail Moesch. As employees make healthier choices, such as exercising more, their overall health improves, which means they are sick less often. “Research shows healthier workers are more productive,” she said.

It’s also literally paying off for the district. Health insurance premiums look to actually decrease for the coming year as employees are becoming healthier by losing weight, kicking the smoking habit, and exercising more.

The district’s commitment to wellness started with a half-day in-service focused on health and wellness. “It was all about them and what they could do to make better choices,” said Moesch, adding the district has a wellness committee made up entirely of employees that makes decisions about what programs to try. “The programs also show that we care about our employees and their health.”

All employees went through a health risk assessment and met with a health coach, who discussed different ways they could improve their health. For example, if an employee had high blood pressure or cholesterol, health coach Carey Grieves talked about ways to lower those numbers through exercise and improving their eating habits.

Meyer said meeting with a nutritionist and taking medication for his high cholesterol turned his numbers around. He lost about 30 pounds and feels great. “I have more energy than I did before. I am eating more fruits and vegetables. I used to eat a lot of red meat,” Meyer said. “The nutritionist really helped. I never really thought about what was in the food I was eating. Now, I am reading labels.”

In addition to the health risk assessments, all employees were asked to participate in one of four wellness incentive programs, such as keeping track of their steps on a daily basis or the Biggest Loser.

“The wellness programs were a huge success. Many people participated in multiple programs,” said Moesch, adding that the programs were done economically. “These aren’t big budget programs. They were very simple – such as handing out pedometers and having people track their steps. People really got into the health initiatives. I had so many people lift their jacket to show me they had their pedometers on.”

The incentive programs were not only fun and economical, they also created lasting changes, Grieves said. “We surveyed employees after the program and 57.5 percent planned to continue to do the changes they started during the incentive, such as better eating or exercising daily,” she said. “Employee health is improving across the board in areas like nutrition and physical activity.”

Shawano also opened up its high school weight room and swimming pool to employees and Pilates and yoga classes were also offered in the gym.

“Throughout the district, we’ve really made some big improvements with our health and wellness and we look forward to building on that success,” Moesch said.

ThedaCare™ is a community health system consisting of five hospitals: Appleton Medical Center, Theda Clark Medical Center, New London Family Medical Center, Shawano Medical Center, and Riverside Medical Center in Waupaca. ThedaCare also includes ThedaCare Physicians, ThedaCare Behavioral Health, and ThedaCare at Home. ThedaCare is the largest employer in Northeast Wisconsin with more than 6,175 employees. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.