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Wellness at Work helping Mississippians attain healthy lifestyle

When it comes to healthcare and fitness facts, Mississippi is number one in the nation in several categories — none of them good. We lead the country in obesity rates, diabetes and cardiovascular disease and on average spend more of the gross state product on healthcare expenses.

Government and healthcare leaders, employers and employees are taking initiatives to bring down these unhealthy numbers.

“Mississippians aren’t getting any healthier. Obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and other health problems are at crisis proportions,” said Gov. Haley Barbour, who is leading the charge for lifestyle changes. “We instinctively know the importance of healthier lifestyles — lower costs, more job creation and a longer and better quality of life for all Mississippians, especially minority populations who are more at risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. But, we need to turn instinct into action.”

In the lead

Many state employers are at the helm of instituting healthy changes through Wellness at Work programs.

Singing River Hospital System in Pascagoula and Ocean Springs is off to a great start with 236 employees — approximately 10% of its workforce — involved in Summer Stroll. Participants represent clinical and non-clinical departments and all share the same desire to improve their level of physical fitness and overall health, according to spokeswoman Alexis Williams. Employees use a clinical grade pedometer to track how many steps they take each day with the goal of adding steps each week.

“Participants who successfully complete the eight-week program increase their daily physical activity level by 4,000 steps or approximately two miles,” Williams said. “The focus of the program is to gradually add more steps to one’s day, which participants soon learn to do. They may take the stairs instead of the elevators, park farther away from their destination and walk on their breaks instead of sitting down to rest.”

She said employees enjoy the instant feedback the pedometers provide and are able to monitor their progress throughout their day. They receive prizes as they reach certain goals throughout the program and earn t-shirts when they complete the program. To keep up enthusiasm, they’ve also set up competitions within departments as well as with other departments.

“Summer Stroll is a great program for our employees in that it helps them become more active,” said Richard Lucas, director of communications for the hospital system. “Since we are a healthcare institution, it is also appropriate that we represent ourselves as leaders in having healthy lifestyles.”

Mississippi Blood Services’ employees are participating through WellnessPlus. “It has been a great success,” said Kelly Scrivner, communications manager. “We’ve had it in place for almost a year.”

The program was developed by a volunteer wellness committee that researched and planned the initiative. An annual budget for the project in excess of $200 per employee was established.

“Our first year, we focused on awareness and making participation in the program easy and fun,” Scrivner said. “Our goals were to achieve 70% participation in the health risk assessment and we achieved 80%.”

Other goals included increasing participation in the annual flu shot campaign — which tripled — and to have 60% of the workforce successfully meet 10 of the 12 wellness goals defined by WellnessPlus.

“As we are approaching the end of our first year, we conducted a survey resulting in 24% participation,” she added. “The responses were overwhelmingly positive and indicated increased knowledge. We believe we are making a positive difference in our employees, especially with respect to current risks of serious illness.”

On a quest

With 1,300 employees, Chevron Pascagoula Refinery has safety and health as core tenets and demonstrated this belief through an employee-driven effort that resulted in the creation of a 10,000-square-foot state-of-the-art wellness center on site. Called Health Quest, the center is complete with first-class cardio equipment, weights, aerobics studio and a skilled staff that spokesman Steve Renfro said is the pulse of the refinery’s health promotion efforts.

“The Health Quest program uses an integrated approach to employee health and offers employees a variety of programs and services to meet a wide range of ever-changing objectives,” he said. “The program operates with the belief that ‘the process is the goal.’ One of the main driving forces behind the prevention and wellness program’s success is the fact that all Health Quest programs are strategically targeted to fit the unique employee population at the Chevron Pascagoula Refinery, remaining attuned to the changing needs of employees.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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