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Wellness Programs Shape Bodies, Attitudes and Teams

Several local companies participating in corporate wellness programs are seeing the payoffs, not only in the form of stabilized health insurance costs but also in improved physical well-being of their staff and the intangibles of better teamwork.

Sandee Rugg, director of human resources for the downtown insurance agency Cavignac & Associates, said participation among its 40 employees in Sonic Boom Wellness’ program for the past several years has led to richer relationships.

“At one point every single employee was actively participating in it,” said Rugg. “Some of the outcomes of this from an HR standpoint are that we have a healthier, happier workforce as measured by lower absenteeism and it’s fostered closer camaraderie between co-workers.”

Cavignac & Associates uses Sonic Boom Wellness’ Web-based program that enables employees to participate in daily challenges and encourages employees to participate in exercise or nutrition activities, such as dancing the electric slide for five minutes. The Web program also offers employees the opportunity to monitor their health by precisely keeping track of water and food intake.

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Great Start

“When I come into the office I can see employees early in the morning on the Sonic Boom programs — filling in their tracking, looking at the challenge of the day and teeing up the day in a health-related way,” Rugg said.

Contests help keep the staff engaged in wellness, and they add an element of fun. Sonic Boom provides pedometers so the staff can not only track the number of steps they take and how far they walk in a day, but they also compete against each other or as teams to see who had the most activity in a given period of time. From Halloween through New Year’s Day the company’s wellness committee organizes a separate contest to see who can maintain their weight the best.

Results of the program were seen this year by the small percentage increase in health insurance renewal cost, which was the lowest it’s been in six years at 8.7 percent, according to Rugg.

“The health of the members of the agency is much improved. People have quit smoking; they’ve lost weight; and we rarely have people absent anymore,” she said. “That’s wonderful. It’s just really nice that people are not sick. It’s nice that they’re healthy and feel good.”

Life Technologies Corp., a global life sciences company based in Carlsbad that offers a range of products and services from instruments to everyday lab essentials, is in the process of switching its wellness provider to LiveHealthier of Bethesda, Md., starting this December.

For 2013, the company’s wellness programs will focus on five behaviors: managing stress, improving physical activity, quitting smoking or tobacco use, improving diet, and preventing illness. Now in its third year of health and wellness program participation, Life Technologies wellness program manager Erica Ullman said the staff has significantly improved its health status and improved upon health risks while reducing average blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol levels.

“We put responsibility on the employees to be good health care consumers and we provide a lot of incentive for engagement and participation and are now focusing on outcomes the employees have shown to prove their health is in good status,” Ullman said.

Ullman said payoffs have been demonstrated by employees, who number 1,500 locally and 10,000 worldwide, getting preventive care more often. They’re heading off risks for certain chronic medical conditions, and they’re seeking urgent care services, instead of emergency room visits, which result in lower overall medical costs. She said that the company has not had to increase insurance premiums for its employees for the three consecutive years.

At Encore Capital Group, a financial services and debt collection company with 3,000 employees globally including nearly 400 at its Mission Valley headquarters, the local wellness program is run internally by a three-person benefits team.

Breakfast of Champions

Various activities include competitive walking programs in which teams of employees track their mileage and are rewarded by executives cooking breakfast for the winning team. Kasey Belyea, director of Total Rewards for Encore Capital Group, said one of the more valuable programs is onsite health and wellness screenings in which health screeners visit office locations or the homes of remote employees. Through licensed providers, blood draws are done to measure such things as body mass index and glucose levels to identify risks such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity or diabetes. Results of the screenings are used to offer discounted medical premiums that are based on a points system. So, for example, if an employee reduces his or her body mass index toward a stated goal, that person can earn points that are used to determine which category they fall into for the discounted medical premium.

“We hope employees will use the results and go to a health care provider and seek out how they can prevent these illnesses from taking place,” said Belyea, adding that the company offers to pay 100 percent of preventable care pharmaceuticals.

The impact of the wellness activities can be seen in the number of staff who are taking classes such as yoga because of reimbursements and those using the stairs to get to Encore’s 10th and 13th floor offices, Belyea said.

“Because of the screenings and other wellness programs we’ve put in place, we’ve not had to increase employees’ contributions to their medical costs in over three years,” she said.

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