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9 Manatee businesses jump on health, wellness bandwagon

Kim Stroud, division manager of employee health benefits for Manatee County government, believes workplace health and wellness programs pay a good return on the investment made in them.
Kim Stroud, division manager of employee health benefits for Manatee County government, believes workplace health and wellness programs pay a good return on the investment made in them. rdymond@bradenton.com

Something dramatic happened to Seth Marks in 2014. Friends and family noticed he had begun to lose a lot of weight.

But Marks was far from getting sick. Actually, Marks would later say he was getting well.

Something not as dramatic but with the same type of outcome happened to Theresa Rae. Rae’s friends also noted her wellness level was slowly rising, a fact that she also, delightedly, confirms.

So, what were these people experiencing?

It turns out that both Marks and Rae work for Manatee County employers — Manatee County government and State College of Florida respectively — who have installed very robust health management and wellness programs.

It’s kind of a two-fold thing. The program is a huge increase in morale for employees and the college gains healthier and happier employees.

Theresa Ray, State College of Florida employee

Marks said he joined the utility department of Manatee County government in 2014 as a stressed-out guy who hated to even jog.

But after three years on the county payroll and a beneficiary of its benefits, Marks has lost 80 pounds, completed three “Mudder Runs,” a half marathon and a triathlon and is now feeling strong and more confident about himself.

Rae, who started working at State College of Florida in 2013 and is the executive assistant to Dean Ryan Hale on the Venice campus, has seen her vitality soar as a result of twice-a-week fitness classes provided right at SCF, including a full hour of Zumba every Thursday in the Student Union and Total Body every Monday.

Rae has even added to the wellness picture at SCF, coming up with “Fresh Picks at the Cafe,” a program which motivates people to eat fresh and healthier foods in the SCF-Venice cafe. SCF employees get a Fresh Picks card and get it stamped each time they get a Fresh Picks meal. After five stamps, the card is turned in and the employee can win a monthly drawing for a $25 credit with the cafe.

“It’s kind of a two-fold thing,” Rae said of SCF’s program, which is run by wellness expert Teresa Przetocki and is called “Pride In Wellness.” “The program is a huge increase in morale for employees and the college gains healthier and happier employees.”

Manatee County and SCF on ‘healthy’ list

Manatee County government and State College of Florida are among nine organizations who have become certified as “healthy businesses” through Health Links Florida, a partnership launched last February with Blake Medical Center, the Florida Department of Health in Manatee and Manatee County Chamber of Commerce to improve the health and well being of Manatee County’s workforce.

Joining the county and SCF so far on the “healthy” list are the Department of Health in Manatee County, Blake Medical Center, FCCI Insurance Group, FYZICAL Health, FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Centers, The School District of Manatee and Tidewell Hospice, said Pascale Edouard, the worksite wellness health educator for the Florida Department of Health in Manatee.

Pascale (Edouard) is going to walk them through essentially a certification. The employer will answer some questions about the services they offer and then Pascale and the Department of Health will work with that employer on setting out a menu or benchmark of, ‘Here’s where you are and here’s where you can go.’

Kim Stroud, Manatee County Government, on being a “healthy business’

The list of things that a Manatee business can do to become recognized through Health Links Healthy Business Certification include incentivized employee wellness challenges and installing on-site fitness programs, walking meetings and healthier vending machine options, Edouard added.

All of this is important because, on average, Americans working full-time spend more than one-third of their day, five days per week, at work, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“These local businesses have created an overall culture of health in their workplaces,” Edouard said.

In order to get more Manatee businesses to sign up, in September Health Links Florida launched an expansion to the program called “Kick-Start,” which allows businesses to connect with Health Links and receive free, one-on-one, on site support and assistance by way of the Health Links partnership, Edouard said.

“Pascale is going to walk them through essentially a certification,” said Kim Stroud, division manager of employee health benefits for Manatee County government. “The employer will answer some questions about the services they offer and then Pascale and the Department of Health will work with that employer on setting out a menu or benchmark of, ‘Here’s where you are and here’s where you can go.’ ”

Manatee’s Government’s wellness program a model

Stroud is asked about twice a year to speak to other employers about Manatee County government’s award-winning workplace health and wellness program, which she notes has become a model for other public and private sector programs around the nation.

“It is critical for us always to be mindful of the fact that our very best resource is our employee and we best be making sure we are taking care of them in the best way we can,” Stroud said when asked to describe the county’s wellness philosophy.

The list of what a Manatee employee can do to improve his or her health and wellness is vast.

▪ The county has roughly 39 group fitness classes going on every week at the center and different worksites, Stroud said.

▪ The county has “lunch and learn” educational sessions where employees can pick up knowledge on the importance of sleep, cardiovascular risks and other topics.

▪ The county offers health coaches with whom employees can consult on specific issues, such as diabetes, Stroud said.

▪ The county has on-site mental health providers, including a psychiatrist who is available every Thursday through a partnership with Centerstone of Florida, Stroud added.

▪ The county has a tobacco cessation program which has whittled smokers down to 11 percent of the county’s workforce, well below the 16 percent national average for workplaces, Stroud said.

Marks is one of 3,200 Manatee County employees who receive these benefits.

It started at YourChoice Fitness Center

Marks said his transformation began when he starting working out at the county-provided YourChoice Fitness Center at 1012 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

He first participated in a class offered free to employees called Graham’s Boot Camp.

Marks said he saw changes in his body and he liked them. He decided to add strength training to his weekly routine, adding trainer Anna Neal’s “Rapid Toning Class,” which is also offered free weekly at the center.

“Anna doesn’t accept negativity, comparisons, or anything short of your best effort,” Marks said recently.

Marks said Neal also helped him adjust his nutrition and helped him finally achieve a healthy body mass index, a feat he said he never thought he could do.

Is all this ‘wellness’ worth it for Manatee businesses?

Wellness plans seem great, but do they offer a return on the business owners’ investment? Are the numbers really there?

Stroud says “Yes.”

In 2005, Manatee County, which operates a self-funded health plan, where the county pays its employee’s medical claims, decided to go full bore into wellness and health management, encouraging all employees to go to their doctors and take advantage of on-site resources to get healthier, Stroud said.

In 2006, the county’s employee health plan trended upward by 18 percent due to employees taking care of existing medical situations, Stroud added.

“But since then it has completely dropped and we have far made up that 18 percent and then some,” Stroud said. “And our employees are healthier as a result.”

Manatee County now pays out roughly $32 million in annual claims for employees, which Stroud said has been steadily decreasing.

The health care coverage is not free for county employees, Stroud said.

“They pay premiums every month for their coverage, but, because of their efforts, the premiums have not increased as is the case across the country,” Stroud added.

The premiums have, in fact, gone down for the last eight plus years, Stroud said.

“The national trend for employers and health plans across the nation is about a seven percent increase every year in premiums or costs,” Stroud said.

“This means that county employees are rewarded for their efforts with more money in their paychecks and a healthier lifestyle,” Stroud said. “It’s a win-win-win for the county, the employee and the taxpayers.”

Because of its health and wellness program and the employees embracing it, Manatee County government hasn’t had to get to the point where “we have to shift health care costs to the employees,” Stroud added.

To learn about Health Links of Florida’s healthy business certification call Pascale Edouard at 941-748-0747, Ext. 1324 or pascale.edouard@flhealth.gov.

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