2010-05-27 / News

Town wellness program earns award

By Phil Zahodiakin

Jamestown has been acknowledged for its efforts to encourage healthier lifestyles among its municipal employees – and there may be additional wellness opportunities for town workers down the road.

The Worksite Health Awards are co-sponsored by the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce and R.I. Blue Cross & Blue Shield. This year, the award was given to 15 towns and municipalities, 13 school districts and 67 businesses.

The Worksite awards are given in recognition of wellness programs offering seminars, printed materials and activities demonstrating a commitment to wellness policies. The recognition levels are “exemplary,” “superior,” “outstanding” and “achievement.”

Jamestown was awarded a plaque for “outstanding” wellness efforts. Parks and Recreation Department program supervisor Jill Goldstein accepted the award for Jamestown on May 17. The recreation department has led the fledgling wellness program available to town employees.

Chamber spokesperson Bethany Costello told the Press that “this is the 16th year that we’ve given out Worksite Health Awards. [The Chamber and Blue Cross] invite people to apply for the awards in early March, and their application scores determine their level of recognition.

“But, the primary goal of every recognition level is just to show that people are encouraging their workers to be more healthy,” Costello continued. “Statistics have shown that healthy workplaces have less absenteeism and health care costs. We’ve also found increased morale in worksites with wellness programs.”

Recreation Dept. director Bill Piva told the Press that Jamestown was urged to apply for the Chamber award by Amy Chandler, the East Bay representative for MuniBlue, which provides municipal health insurance for Jamestown.

“Amy told us, ‘You should put in for this because you’ve been doing a lot of great things for your employees,’” Piva said, adding, “We’ve only been doing this for about a year.”

The wellness opportunities that the recreation department has offered town employees were picked from MuniBlue recommendations.

One of the opportunities that Piva selected was the “wellness van,” which came into town for employees to avail themselves of Dermascan screening for susceptibility to skin cancer – along with educational materials to prevent that type of cancer.

“The Dermascan was very popular,” Piva said. “We also offered a [MuniBlue] stress seminar right around Christmastime, which was also popular. We had an hourlong weight management seminar to show people how to eat healthy. That was less popular than the other seminars. We’re also planning to offer diabetes and smoking [cessation] seminars in the future.

“In addition,” Piva continued, “once a month, Amy comes to Town Hall and makes herself available for ‘wellness drop-by’s’to talk privately about any health issue. That is really positive.”

Asked if MuniBlue offers insurance premium reductions to the towns deploying its wellness recommendations, Piva said, “Not directly. But, what happens, over time, is that people who lose weight, quit smoking and manage their weight will be using Blue Cross services less. So, the town will be paying less for prescriptions and other [copays]. They do offer membership discounts to employees who join a qualified gym, but not direct [insurance premium] discounts.”

Currently, Piva is developing a survey to query town employees about other wellness program opportunities they would like to have.

“We really want to expand our program into something greater,” Piva said. “So, we’ll be asking people what they’d like to have available – whether it’s a Pilates class, an exercise class or whatever. We’ll also be asking them when they’d like those classes available – whether they’d prefer to have them during their half-hour lunch break, or before or after work. We also need to find out if they’d be willing to pay for an instructor because the town doesn’t have a line item for wellness programs.”

Piva said that towns without wellness program line items in their budgets don’t qualify for “exemplary” worksite awards. However, he added, wellness policies don’t necessarily have to cost a town anything.

“We want to encourage people to think about going for a walk during their lunch breaks,” Piva said, “and we’re going to look at providing space at the rec. center for [town employees] to come in and shoot hoops, or whatever, during lunchtime. We think that if you sit at your desk all day, day after day, and never leave the office, it can affect your health.”

Piva said that one employee suggestion has already led to a class, although it won’t be limited to town employees.

“One of our employees suggested a Zumba class,” Piva said. “So, because of that suggestion, we found an instructor and we already have 12 people signed up. Now, it’s not an employee class. It will be a rec. department function available to everyone. But it shows that there’s a lot of interest in wellness programs on the island.”

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