Assistant Surry County Manager Sandy Snow said the county’s wellness program, since its 2006 inception, has been changing lives in the ranks of Surry County employees.
According to Snow and her assistant Robin Buie the program is well utilized by county employees, with 665 of the county’s 700 or so person workforce taking part in the program. Snow said the county’s wellness program began as an internal program in the county’s health department in 2006. In 2008 county officials decided to expand the program to include all county workers.
A full-time wellness nurse was hired to manage the program. Registered Nurse Julie Davis now holds the wellness position and said that the program has been a hit with employees.
“It’s a totally voluntary program,” commented Davis. She went on to explain that each year employees are asked to complete a four-page questionnaire about their health. Davis said employees also have their blood pressure taken, are weighed and complete blood work.
Using all of the information, Davis places employees in three health categories. Then Davis proceeds with follow-up meetings and efforts at coaching employees toward better health. According to Buie there were 619 employee consults last year and 595 follow-up appointments as part of the wellness program.
Snow said one important benefit to the wellness program is containing the rising costs of health insurance. “It’s impossible to put an exact number on savings, but we know the program is helping to keep costs down,” remarked Snow.
Snow highlighted a recent case in which an employee, during a random screening, was found to have Melanoma skin cancer. Snow said that had the cancer not been spotted early the county would have incurred thousands in healthcare expenses for procedures such as radiation and chemo-therapy.
Employees who choose to commit to completing a wellness profile, get a flu shot, complete a physical and participate in three wellness events each year also see their participation in the program incentivized with a ten percent reduction in their insurance premiums. Snow said 295 employees took advantage of this cost savings last year.
The county also offers “green bucks” as an extra incentive for employees to stay healthy. Davis said that employees get “green bucks” when they participate in a wellness program. They can turn them in for prizes later.
However, cost savings aren’t what Davis and Snow say drives their passion about the program. “It changes the lives of our employees,” said Snow, before highlighting another success story.
Snow said that recently an employee was found to have extremely high blood pressure, high enough to cause a stroke. “Over one year later, I am here to tell you that my (blood) pressure) is well under control,” wrote the employee. “I owe this program my life.”
Snow said that healthier employees are also more productive employees and that many of the programs that are offered allow employees to complete necessary medical work without taking an entire day off work. Davis said mammograms are one such instance.
“A mobile mammogram unit comes twice a year. Rather than take an entire day off work employees can literally go on their break to get a mammogram done,” said Davis.
Davis said that other wellness programs include exercise, weight-loss and diabetes management classes. Pointing to a calendar, Davis said there is something going on in the wellness program nearly everyday. Snow also said Davis’ department runs other key programs such as CPR training and the county’s emergency response teams at each county building.
Snow said that the local medical community has also been extremely helpful in making the wellness program a successful one. “Many local physicians donate their time. They play a huge role in making the program a success,” said Snow.
Snow said she hopes the program will continue to grow in utilization among county employees. “We are changing the way people live,” said Snow. “It’s a program we built from the ground up, and we are so proud of it.”
Andy Winemiller is a staff writer at the Mount Airy News. Andy can be reached at (336) 415-4698 or [email protected]