SFCC Gets Healthy with a Little Help from the Wellness Committee
Take a look around the campuses of SFCC and you may notice that some of your fellow employees are getting healthier. Whether it’s because they’ve begun eating better, exercising more, or even quitting tobacco, much of this is in response to the activities and programs initiated by the SFCC Wellness Committee.
Formed in 2003 by Rosemarie Strickland and Sandy Turke, the SFCC Wellness Committee’s goal is to help employees become more aware of their health. “The committee was first formed at a time when we were being urged to be more proactive than reactive about our health,” Turke said. “The government was stressing health initiatives, and it was urging people to take care of themselves and become knowledgeable about their own health.”
As a way to encourage SFCC employees to live a healthy lifestyle, the committee sponsors a number of various activities and programs. The largest of these, the Wellness Fair, began in 2003 as a two-day event. For the first few years, the event was held in the Panther Gym, and a wide variety of health tests were available for employees. “The lines were long, and some people waited for hours,” Turke said. “We’ve been able to condense it a lot since then.”
Now, the Wellness Fair limits its tests to high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good” cholesterol), total cholesterol, blood pressure, and glucose, but even just these few have proven to be lifesaving to some SFCC employees. “Every year a critical value is recognized in some participants that is recommended for immediate physician attention,” Turke said. “The most recent wellness fair discovered critical values in six participants.”
Results from the 121 participants that completed the personal health assessment during the 2012 Wellness Fair showed that the top four at-risk areas for SFCC employees are diabetes, nutrition, weight, and blood pressure, and the overall wellness score was 70. A score below 80 indicates an elevated likelihood that individuals will develop certain medical conditions. “These results give us an idea of what types of programs the committee should focus our efforts on,” Turke said.
Another benefit SFCC and its employees receive from the Wellness Fair is the opportunity to earn a $10,000 grant from Blue Cross/Blue Shield to use toward wellness programs and initiatives. The money SFCC was awarded from the 2011 Wellness Fair has been used to provide eight employees, who reached the third tier of the Blue Rewards Program, with a one-time reward of $75 in their paychecks, provide $10 gift card incentives for blood drive donors, purchase wellness fair door prizes including a Nintendo Wii Fit, sponsor and subsidize entry fees for employees in the Panther 5K and 5K Night Moves race events, reimbursed $60 each to 21 SFCC employees who completed the Weight Watchers at Work program, and purchased an automatic external defibrillator (AED) machine for the Panther Gym as well as training for some employees. “These funds can also be used for motivational speakers, CPR and first aid training, and free tobacco cessation medications for full-time employees,” Turke said. “Nobody has yet taken advantage of the free tobacco cessation medications, but they are available.”
Last year, the Wellness Committee introduced the Weight Watchers at Work program. The 17-week program brought Weight Watchers meetings to SFCC at a convenient time when most employees could attend. The Monthly Pass option was also included, which provided employees who could not make the weekly meetings with the flexibility to attend any other meeting of their choice at a special cost. Monthly Pass participants had access to Weight Watchers’ online e-tools through a portal that was set up for SFCC. “Weight Watchers is beneficial not just to those who are trying to lose weight, but also for those who want to learn about proper nutrition,” said Turke. “We had a great response and many who participated had great results through the program. We hope to have at least 20 people sign up to offer it again.”
For the past three years, the SFCC Wellness Committee has been taking part in National Walk at Lunch day. The event, sponsored by Blue Cross/Blue Shield, encourages workers nationwide to get out and take a walk during their lunch breaks. While a number of employees participate in the event each year, some SFCC employees have taken this one step further and have created their own daily walk at lunch group, with positive results. “I returned to SFCC a little over a year ago,” said Pamela Jessiman, Career Center specialist. “I was overweight and less energetic than I wanted to be. I also had high blood pressure issues. After a few weeks of being back on campus, I found out that a few women on campus were walking, and they motivated me to get started, too. It is a win-win situation. I have lost over 20 pounds since I started walking; I am getting healthier, and it’s a wonderful perk having the encouragement along the way.”
The SFCC Wellness Committee’s efforts have also extended out into the community. Every 54 days, the committee hosts a blood drive with the Florida Blood Center on the SFCC Highlands Campus. Through these efforts, SFCC has been recognized as one of the biggest donors in the county. Last year, SFCC employees and students saved 175 lives through blood donations, and a recent blood drive held on April 18 saved 84 lives in a single day.
Plans for upcoming wellness activities include Walking Works, a program through Blue Cross Blue Shield that will encourage employees to incorporate a thirty minute walk into their day; Strive for Five, a series of challenges to decrease fat and increase fiber; and reimbursed Zumba classes through SFCC’s Community Education Department for full-time employees who complete the class. The committee also plans to find ways to get SFCC’s students more involved with their health as well.
An added benefit to living a healthy lifestyle is cost savings. According to the article, Community College Employee Wellness Programs, published in 2010 in the Community College Journal of Research and Practice by L. Jay Thornton, Department of Kinesiology and Health Science, Stephen F. Austin State University, and Sharon Johnson, Associate Vice President for Student Access and Success, Texas A&M University, “the major causes of illness and mortality are chronic diseases related to lifestyle choices such as diet and physical activity. These preventable illnesses are estimated to make up 70 percent of illnesses and accrued costs for treatment estimated at over $75 billion.”
“It’s cheaper to be proactive than reactive,” Turke said. “And as community college employees, it’s our job to show that we are continuing to learn, applying that knowledge to our lives, and passing it down to others.”
“Without education, people are ill-equipped to make healthy choices,” Turke said. “We want to engage and empower people. We want people to be healthy and to be educated about health, and we want them to want it for themselves. Wellness programs don’t exist to try to tell people how to live their lives; we’re just here to help.”