A recent survey by Principal Financial Group indicates that employees enrolled in workplace wellness programs save money on their personal health care costs and that employers offering such programs save money on insurance costs.
Johnson County hopes to get in on those savings with the county wellness program, now in its first year.
Johnson County Precinct 4 Commissioner Don Beeson said the county has, overall, “a more mature workforce,” something that contributes to the county’s high insurance claims. And higher claims means higher premiums, Beeson said.
“Our long-term goal in initiating the wellness program is to bring down the claims, which will bring down the premiums. And bringing down the premiums will, in the long run, mean saving money for our taxpayers,” Beeson said.
Brenda Slauson, assistant to Johnson County Personnel Director Randy Gillespie, heads up the wellness program efforts. She said the program is catching on.
“We have more and more of our employees who are getting involved,” Slauson said.
The Wellness Program is about halfway through the first year of its initial three-year plan, Slauson said. It started with a committee of about 15 people who laid out the roadmap for the program. The committee has been reduced to about 12 members, without backup members, to make decision-making easier
To kick off the first year, every county employee was given the chance to undergo biometric screenings. Those screenings provide baseline data to give the county’s wellness program a starting point and an idea of what direction the program needs to go in.
For individual employees, the screenings provide information on current or potential medical issues that need to be addressed. Those who completed the screenings were asked to visit the United Healthcare website to develop a statistical base for the county’s program.
Slauson said that county officials are never given access to an employee’s specific biometric screening information and that United Healthcare never links the information to an individual’s health records. The information, she said, “is just turned into numbers, into statistics.”
Although the county pays the full cost of each employee’s health insurance, Slauson said those who did not participate in the biometric screenings in the first year of the program were required to pay $10 of their insurance costs. The cost for not participating goes up to $20 in the second year of the program, and $50 in year three.
Information and education, Slauson said, are the cornerstones of the program.
“One of the main things we are always looking at is educating our employees to go to the doctor,” Slauson said. “We live such busy lives that we often neglect our health. I know from personal experience how important it is to have those regular checkups.”
Slauson said that she had not been to the doctor in about 10 years when she finally decided it was time for a check-up.
“I went in for a wellness visit and I found out I had colon cancer,” she said. “I was lucky, they found it in the early stages. They did surgery to remove the cancer and that was it. I didn’t have to have chemotherapy or radiation. And that was because I went in for a check-up and they found the cancer early.
“That’s why we encourage [county employees] to go in for wellness visits, to see their doctors regularly. Because if they have a problem like that, and if they catch it early, it can save their lives.”
It can also save the individual and the county money, because dealing with health problems early — before they become bigger, more serious problems — is less expensive. That is the county’s ultimate goal: a healthier workforce and lower insurance premiums.
means better decisions
At the most basic level, Slauson said, the wellness program all comes down to education. The idea is that employees who know more about their own health and their options can — and will — make better decisions.
“It’s about healthy living through healthy choices, and it’s easier to make healthier choices when you have more information,” she said.
To that end, Slauson said, the wellness committee brings in representatives from United Healthcare to present “Care 24” classes at least once every six weeks.
“We try to do one every month, but things can get really busy around here and we can’t always have a class every month. But we do have one at least every six weeks.”
The wellness committee chooses a topic for each class, which can range from handling stress to boosting energy. One of the most helpful classes so far has been on “Benefits 101,” Slauson said.
“We have a lot of employees who don’t really know what benefits they actually have,” she said. “The Benefits 101 class explained what the benefits actually are and how to utilize those benefits.”
The program also gives county employees chances to put their new knowledge into action.
The Guinn Justice Center used to be Cleburne High School. One of the existing buildings was the old high school gym. After a $16,000 investment in remodeling the building, the old high school gym became the county employees’ gym.
The county purchased some exercise equipment such as treadmills, elliptical machines and stationary bikes, and the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office moved in weight training equipment purchased for that department with grant funds.
The gym is open to all county employees daily from 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., but JCSO employees, because of the terms of the grant funds used to purchase the weight training equipment, have access to the facility 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We have had really good participation in the gym so far,” Slauson said. “From the day we opened it on June 4 to about mid-July, there were 400 employee visits to the gym.
“It dropped off a little bit in late July and August, just because it can get pretty hot in there. But once it cools off outside again, I am sure that the usage will jump way up again.”
One of the first activities offered through the wellness program, in partnership with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and Extension Service Agent Gracie Walling, was the Step Up/Scale Down 12-week weight loss initiative.
Fifty-seven people signed up to participate in the initiative and 14 people attended every meeting throughout the 12 weeks. Others weren’t able to attend every meeting, but continued to participate.
“Total weight loss was 146 pounds,” Slausen said. “I think one girl lost about 40 pounds by herself. And we put together the county employees’ healthy cookbook, too.”
Walling is helping with another wellness program initiative that kicks off in early October, Slauson said. In the “Walk Across Texas” program, employees can register as individuals or in teams of eight — teams can include non-employees, too — and track the number of miles they walk each day, logging miles worked on the Walk Across Texas website.
“Texas is 830 miles across,” Slauson said, and the goal is for each team or individual registered to walk that many miles over the course of the initiative.
Regardless of what activities the employees participate in, or whether they go to the county’s gym once a day or once a month, the goal is to create a healthier workforce.
According to the Principal Financial Group survey, employers who invest in wellness programs see increased employee retention, attendance and productivity. The survey also showed that for every dollar spent on wellness programs, medical costs improve by an average of $3.27 and absenteeism costs improve by an average of $2.73.
Johnson County, Beeson said, wants to see those kinds of improvements — both financially and in the health of its employees.
And that’s what is happening, Slauson said.
“It’s a learning process. It takes time. But people are getting motivated,” Slauson said. “More and more of our employees are getting involved and participating in the wellness program. And now, what we hope will happen is that they will go home and get their families involved. They will pass it along. That way, everyone benefits.”