By SCOTT AUST, FCEDC Director of Communications
Finney County employees are taking advantage of a wellness program through St. Catherine Hospital that is helping them improve their health.
The county has contracted with the hospital for the past four years. Health experts with the hospital provide wellness program services for county employees.
“Basically, through the wellness program we want to create a culture of health. It’s more about behavior change. That’s what we really work on,” Bridget Clarke, health and wellness specialist at St. Catherine, said.
Jenise Zickefoose, motor vehicle supervisor in the Treasurer’s office, got involved in the wellness program because of a concern with her weight and a desire to become healthier and in better shape.
“The program makes you accountable,” Zickefoose said. “It has helped me because I am more aware of my activity or non-activity. And we have challenges, which I love!”
Jessica Pacheco, records deputy at the Finney County Sheriff’s Office, was attracted to the wellness program because she could try it for free without needing to sign up for a membership at a health club.
“It has helped me become more aware of my activities, as well as what I eat and how much water I am drinking,” Pacheco said.
Nora Shultz, senior office deputy at the sheriff’s office, said a several reasons played into her decision to become involved with the wellness program.
“I have family history of heart disease and diabetes so I knew that I had to do something to on my part to take preventative measures to stay healthy,” Shultz said. “The wellness program is free to county employees and their spouses so I decided to give the workout sessions a try. After a week, I became hooked!”
Participants go through a biometric screening and complete a wellness profile. They are urged to go over those initial results with their provider, and encouraged to see the employee clinic provider at the county health department.
By completing the biometrics and wellness profile, county participants can receive a savings on their insurance premiums, and can also earn paid time off depending on how involved they are in the program.
The biometrics screening involves testing total cholesterol including HDL, LDL and Triglycerides; A1C level; blood pressure; and Body Mass Index. Clarke said the BMI measurement can provide much more information than it used to, and uses a special scale that provides information about body fat mass, muscle mass and body water percentage.
“Your weight alone isn’t a good indication of your overall health,” Clarke said, adding that in addition to looking at muscle to fat percentages, it’s important to consider whether a person is in a healthy fat range and are drinking enough water.
“Ninety percent of the population is dehydrated so we try to increase their water intake and do water challenges. That’s a big thing for the county. We have had different departments try to drink more water,” Clarke said.
Pacheco indicated the monthly water challenges were an eye-opener.
“Bridget sends us logs that we fill out and document how much water we are drinking each day. When we first began that challenge, I was not drinking very much water on a daily basis, but didn’t realize it. Once I started tracking, I began to make more of an effort to drink water,” she said.
Encouraging a Healthy Lifestyle
The wellness program’s mission statement is to establish and maintain a work site that encourages an environment and social support for a healthy lifestyle. The program also offers diabetes classes and wellness coaching for diabetic and pre-diabetic populations; cognitive therapy classes such as best diet solutions and ways to change mindsets to create healthy habits.
Through nutritional counseling, Shultz learned the importance of reading the nutrition labels on food, and learned about meal planning, prep and portion control.
“I was eager to discuss the different ‘diets and fads.’ My husband and I will be attending the Sugar Detox class. We are both excited to learn more on this topic!” Shultz said.
Wellness coaching involves one-on-one time with Clarke, who guides participants through making individual action plans for improving their health, which includes setting realistic, achievable goals. Accountability is the key, she said.
Clarke also teaches group exercise classes and there is a fitness facility at the community service center that is fully equipped with some funding provided by the county and some employee-donated exercise equipment.
Both Pacheco and Shultz are enthusiastic about the exercise classes and fitness area.
“These classes were awesome,” Pacheco said. “(Clarke) would lead a workout two to three times a week and did her best to adjust her workout times to work with as many different employee schedules as possible. Bridget would show us how to use the equipment properly and would make sure our form was correct so we didn’t injure ourselves while working out.”
Shultz said she loves the way Clarke explains the exercises and which muscles would be sore afterward. At first Shultz wore knee braces due to pain and discomfort but Clarke modified Shultz’ workouts. Now, Shultz said, she is brace free and feels so much better both physically and mentally.
“I have been amazed that after participating in the workout sessions for several months now, I am still feeling the soreness but I’m not complaining because it sure is an awesome feeling. As they say, “No pain, no gain!” Shultz said.
Shultz particularly enjoys Clarke’s ‘Body Pump’ workout, noting that when she first started she could only lift the minimum amount of weight to get through the workout. Now, she and others have doubled or tripled their lifting weight.
“I have enjoyed witnessing the progress we have all been making and appreciate my accountability partners. I can only imagine how Bridget feels knowing that she, as our Wellness Coach, is responsible for getting us where we are today. So much healthier!”
A new contract for renewal of the program is currently awaiting approval from the county. Clarke said some changes have been proposed to make the program simpler, with more departmental challenges and a less complicated system that organizers hope will encourage more employee participation.
Zickefoose, Pacheco and Shultz all said they would recommend the wellness program to other county employees, calling it a great resource to help lead a healthy lifestyle.
During the Finney County Commission meeting in December, several county employees were presented with wellness program jackets to commemorate their hard work in becoming Wellness Champions.
Wellness Champions, offered through the LiveWell healthy communities initiative, recognizes people who have been great role models for wellness in their departments, according to Beth Koksal, wellness program supervisor.
“They are people who completed the program and have gone above and beyond the requirements of their wellness incentive program and earned the maximum amount of points possible. They do that by participating in classes, participating in challenges, those sorts of things. Really, they’ve made some substantial changes to their health, too,” Koksal said.
Measuring program success can include looking at how individuals have improved their personal wellness numbers over time; For instance, looking at the aggregate numbers in the biometric data and determining how those numbers improved.
“There are also some things you really can’t put a number on,” Koksal said. “Like what are we seeing people do now that we weren’t seeing them do five years ago? Are we seeing people walking on their breaks? Are we seeing a change in the food people bring in for office celebrations? Those sorts of things.”
County employees who received jackets included Blanca Bribiesca, Shaila Bonilla, Ashley Kramer, all with the health department; Penny Medina, with the Juvenile Detention Center; Nora Schultz and Jessica Pacheco, with the Law Enforcement Center; Jenise Zickefoose, Treasurer’s office; and Shonda Sauseda, Appraiser’s office.