Proof in Prevention
How screenings, a nutritionist and big helping of support are shrinking waistlines and changing a government agency for the better.
With New Year’s around the corner, employees at the Palm Beach County Tax Collector’s office are celebrating their successes in 2013 and nudging the bar a little higher for 2014.
Thanks to the “Journey to Good Health” program implemented by Tax Collector Anne Gannon in 2011, employees better understand their risks of chronic disease and are discovering tools to make significant lifestyle changes. “Health care is a major expense for any organization and we’re doing what we can to lower our agency’s risk of major claims and provide our employees with excellent health care,” says Gannon.
The Journey to Good Health
The elective program, first initiated in 2011, has seen increased participation year after year and improved employee results. In this past year, 80 percent of eligible employees participated in the screenings. Screenings include clinical laboratory values, biometric measures and a risk factor questionnaire. Screening results track risk factors associated with cardiovascular diseases and type two diabetes. These diseases can be reversed and by doing so, risk factors for hypertension and certain cancers can also be significantly reduced. Following screening a health report card is sent to participants with lab results and risk level indicators and ideal levels to aim for.
Of the 224 screened in 2013, 169 participants were invited to attend classes to learn to manage their risks in one or more of the three areas of focus: cholesterol, diabetes and weight. The classes feature a registered dietician to educate employees on diet choices and new ways to prepare old favorites. At risk participants can also receive one-on-one counseling with the dietician to address specific concerns and eating habits. All participating employees are welcome to attend the classes and in 2013 new elective classes were added to reach new levels of wellness beyond diet and exercise. The classes included, Life after 40, A Roadmap for Fitness, A Healthy Cooking Class, Stress Management and more. In 2013, participating employees also received a discount on healthcare premiums.
When you look at Anne Gannon, a marathon runner and yoga lover fueled by a plant based diet, it’s pretty clear she knows the value of a healthy lifestyle. She wants her employees to reap the same benefits of good diet choices and frequent exercise, as well as lower their risk of a major health event. “The Journey to Good Health program has become a part of our agency culture and we’re seeing more and more employees embrace a healthier lifestyle – and they’re doing it together. A doctor may tell you that you need to lower your cholesterol, but the program not only shows them their risk, it shows them their ideal level and gives them the tools to get there,” says Gannon.
The results from the past year alone have been significant:
- 53 participants of the 8 week program lost a total of 455 lbs.
- 69% of the High Risk Total Cholesterol Group decreased their risk with an average reduction in total cholesterol of 11%.
- 18 lost an average of 19 lbs.
- 67% of the High Risk Diabetes Group lost an average of 8.75 lbs.
- 15 identified as “pre-diabetic” were removed from the “pre-diabetic” classification at re-screen.
- 9 with elevated Triglycerides were identified as “within normal limits” at re-screen.
- Only 1.9% had “slightly” elevated blood pressure (either systolic or diastolic) compared to a national average of 31%
The Journey to Good Health not only helps employees take back their lives, but it underlines Anne Gannon’s commitment to Palm Beach County. The program is intended to minimize her agency’s risk of major healthcare claims, “it’s an investment we’re making in our employees and its return results in not only better health but also a reduction in preventable major health incidents in our future.” Since the program’s inception the agency has seen a significant reduction in prescription medication claims and while the long-term healthcare savings is not known, they’re confident that major incidents from complications with preventable diseases has been reduced, now and in the future.
To change the agency’s risk factors, the Tax Collector’s office had to reach beyond traditional wellness programs to offer employees attainable goals, measurable results and most of all support. What can’t be seen in the numbers are the lives that have been changed as a result of the program. The true results are in the smiles of healthier, happier employees, who are proud of their accomplishments and are now advocates of a healthy lifestyle, impacting their family and friends.
“I was aware before the tests that I was at risk. Initially I wasn’t interested in taking the health classes, but deep down I knew I needed it. My first thought was, ‘Oh Gosh! I already know this. ‘I’ve had nutritionists in the past and I learned this type of stuff.’ I thought it would be boring. Instead, I learned new, interesting things and it turned out to be fun. It was beneficial learning how to cook healthier too.
The health classes made me stop and look at myself. I had to revisit what I learned before. It was important for me to stay on track with my eating habits. Now, I am actively more conscious of what I do, what I eat, and how I prepare it. I eat healthier snacks and I’ve cut down a lot on fried food. I share what I have learned with my friends in my personal life and at work. They watch me eat healthier food and I explain to them why. I think one of the best things about the health classes were how valuable the nutritionists were to us and how kind they were to give out gifts like a scale and a steamer. My steamer sits on my counter and reminds me how to cook my vegetables better. “
“At first, I thought I would attend the health classes just so I could get the $300 in credit. My husband and I were not particularly interested in a healthy lifestyle. We love food and were pretty sedentary. I was pleasantly surprised that I got on a roll, lost weight, improved my cholesterol numbers and got healthier. I was able to convince my husband to eat healthier Monday-Friday (we’re not saints.) He has also lost weight and feels way better.
I think this program worked for me because I appreciate the TCO for caring enough about the employees to offer this program to us. I know that healthy employees translate into lower premiums but not all companies care enough to do anything about it. The classes were well organized, highly informational and our instructor, Judy was very sympathetic to our cause.
One thing that was particularly good for me was finding out that my blood-pressure was high … 2 years in a row. That will be addressed in a few weeks by my physician.
Since the classes, we have introduced healthier foods in our diet like steamed carrots and nuts. We don’t eat fried foods any more. We set up an elliptical machine and weights for both of us to work out on. We both drink a lot of water and are as active as we can be given the demands of our jobs.
Another benefit to me has been that my wardrobe has doubled. I kept all my skinny clothes many of which are now coming back into rotation.”
“I am so pleased with my progress that I try to encourage others around me to take the first step to better health. Use the success from your first step to achieve the next goal. My first step was eating healthier – I lost 15 lbs. making small changes. Once I saw that progress, becoming physically active was much easier. My cholesterol is now in the healthy range and I feel better about myself and the example I have set for my family.”
“I first want to thank Anne Gannon for allowing us to take the Health Classes and the benefit it has to our employees. It means so much that my employer values my health and making my life easier. I have brought back what I learned to my family, it makes dealing with insurance and doctors easier, and I feel a closer connection to my co-workers. If it wasn’t for her, this wouldn’t have happened and wouldn’t have impacted my life so greatly.
I really enjoyed that we were divided into small classes and met once a week. Our nutritionist, Judy, kept us highly motivated. She was non-judgmental, real, and had open communication with us. She shared recipes and brought in different healthy options each class so we could open our minds to something new, tasty, and healthy. She geared lessons towards what was really going on in our lives such as being on the run, having kids, and the holidays making being healthy relatable and a possible reality. I benefited a lot from learning how to substitute non-healthy to healthier options rather than just giving something up all together. It made being health conscious easier to maintain. I even brought home the “Bean Brownie Recipe” and made it for my daughter. She enjoyed it so much and didn’t even know what was in it.
It’s awesome that Anne did this for us. Initially, people were scared. They didn’t know what this meant for them. But, now we know that they really do care for us. It’s not only giving back to our organization by saving health care premium costs, but giving back to our employees and to our families- really enriching our lives. I can’t say thank you enough to Anne for giving me the opportunity to make a lifestyle change in a healthier direction.”
“I was aware of my risks before the health screening so it was not a major shock. I wanted to learn how to make healthier decisions and improve my overall health so I decided to take the nutrition classes. The classes worked well for me because the food and recipes shared were actually delicious! I didn’t feel deprived and enjoyed the variety of options. The vegan recipes were quick options for working folks and their families which made it easier to eat healthier. I’d share what we learned in class with my family and they too have made significant changes in their food choices based on health issues. I eat less meat and dairy now and am more open to trying new foods.
Chris, the nutritionist was very engaging and I enjoyed her classes. The materials given were a welcome surprise. I would advise if the classes are offered again for anyone to take them. You can learn a lot about your eating habits and then you can adjust to begin a healthier lifestyle.”
“I truly thought I was eating fairly healthy. The Journey to Good Health program was enlightening. I learned that a lot of my beliefs about eating healthy were misinformed. Learning the right foods to eat and the appropriate serving sizes helped turn bad habits into good habits. I knew my blood pressure was high and that was bad for my heart but I didn’t connect the dots to the impact on other vital organs such as the brain and kidney. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect but I enjoyed the program. I’m now eating healthier, walking and riding a bike on a regular basis. I never thought I would say this but the instructor brought in black bean brownies and they were yummy. It’s great to work in an agency that offers its employees a no-cost program with an opportunity to earn some extra money in a health savings account.”
“The 2011 Health Classes were a life changing experience for me. This was the first time I have had the opportunity to attend these classes. I had no idea what to expect and was pleasantly surprised with each and every class.
I knew I was overweight, stressed and not eating properly or exercising. I ended up in the hospital a couple of weeks before our 2011 screening. The day I left the hospital was my turning point in making the decision to live a healthier lifestyle. I was awakened to the realization my family only has one Mom, one Wife and one Daughter. I knew that I had to do this for myself versus doing it for everyone else!
The nutritional education and approach of our exceptional instructor, who shared several ways to change our eating habits with recipes and portion control, was exactly what I needed. We also learned different ways to purchase and prepare healthy foods on a budget. I always thought eating healthy was out of my price bracket. Now, I read boxes when I shop to ensure the nutritional value, calorie count and price will work for me.
I was introduced to veggie burgers, broccoli slaw, fiber bars, and recipe substitutes like apple sauce and sweet potato for baking. They make cooking and eating fun again.
My eating habits have completely changed which has resulted in my 25lb. weight loss since my classes began. There is no white bread in my house. I cook with only healthy ingredients and have added almond milk, rice milk, veggie burgers and broccoli slaw to my daily menu. I walk 3 to 4 miles every day. My family does try my new recipes even though they are not always 100% sold on some of my choices.
My confidence continues to build as my dress size decreases and the expressions of pride in my success from my family, friends and doctors increase. To top it off, I received a clean bill of health from my doctor in mid-December.”