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FirstHealth of the Carolinas
Workplace Wellness

An employer perspctive

A healthy employee is a productive employee, one who is on the job and happy to be there.

What’s good for the employee is then also good for the employer. Rockingham City Manager Monty Crump knows that as well as anyone.

More than half of the 131 people who work for the City of Rockingham have been on the job for more than 10 years. Crump attributes much of that longevity to the great benefits package the city offers. “There’s no doubt that it makes a difference,” he says.

A lot of those benefits are related to FirstHealth of the Carolinas programs.

Rockingham’s employees are covered by FirstCarolinaCare Insurance Company, the FirstHealth of the Carolinas-owned insurance company. As FirstCarolinaCare subscribers, they are eligible to participate in regular health screenings where their cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, blood sugar and blood pressure are checked. In addition, males over age 40 are offered PS A tests for prostate cancer detection and females over age 40 get osteoporosis screenings.

City employees also get regular visits from FirstCarolinaCare nurses who provide education and guidance related to chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. “Folks have a tendency not to go to the doctor’s office,” says Crump, “so that’s a very important component.”

In addition, Rockingham participates in FirstCarolinaCare’s flu shot program and makes referrals to FirstHealth’s Employee Assistance Program. A number of employees have given up tobacco after taking part in FirstHealth’s FirstQuit quit-tobacco program, and the city’s workforce is eligible for reduced-rate memberships in the FirstHealth Center for Health & Fitness- Richmond.

“There’s no stronger proponent of FirstCarolinaCare and FirstHealth of the Carolinas than we are,” says Crump. “Their programs are second to none and cost-effective. Any time I have an opportunity to talk to other employers, I mention FirstHealth. It just makes good business sense to take advantage of the full range of health care services FirstHealth has to offer.”

Getting healthy the FirstFit Way

As a certified nursing assistant on the Palmer Hinson Care Unit at Richmond Memorial Hospital, Gwendolyn Hordge does a lot of walking during the course of a workday. But she needed to do more. “There would be days when I would feel tired, and I wanted to change my lifestyle and get off some weight,” she says.

Hordge heard about the Active Living Every Day (ALED) classes offered by FirstHealth and decided to enroll in the 14-week program that gives adults practical tips for putting more physical activity into their lives. “I learned a lot of stuff, little stuff,” Hordge says. “We don’t think it helps, but it does. Even light housework is better than nothing.”

Hordge has not only become more active—even wearing a pedometer to ensure that she takes at least 10,000 steps a day—but she has also lost weight. She has also enrolled in the Employee Health Improvement Program (EHIP) that offers a financial incentive to FirstHealth employees who complete personal wellness goals under the direction of exercise physiologists at the Centers for Health & Fitness.

Her current goals are to maintain or improve her weight, improve her back flexibility and substitute more water for the sweet tea and sodas she prefers. She’s also cut back on breads and is paying more attention to all of her food portions.

Hordge’s interest in improving her health dovetails perfectly with FirstHealth’s FirstFit program, an ongoing plan to promote a culture of employee health and wellness. Employees from throughout the organization comprised the steering committee that helped develop the program’s six areas of focus: healthy eating opportunities, physical activity, education, employee marketing, policy changes and environmental change.

As a result, employees are now taking the stairs instead of an elevator, making new choices at vending machines stocked with healthy snacks in addition to the more traditional fatty fare, and hitting walking trails—with FirstHealth-provided pedometers attached.

In its boldest FirstFit move to date, FirstHealth has for the past year been promoting healthy eating in its cafeterias by lowering the cost of healthy foods—while slightly increasing the cost of high-fat/ high-sodium items—and financially subsidizing the difference. Salad bar visits have skyrocketed, and cheeseburger, popcorn chicken and French fries sales have hit a new low.

Because education is also a FirstFit component, nutritional values of the foods being served are posted at cafeteria entrances and along serving lines so diners can see supporting information before making their selections.

Getting more fit with MooreFit

D’Shawn Russell started out her first year as an assistant principal at Moore County’s Southern Middle School in less than great physical shape. A school opening conference had her walking from the FirstHealth Center for Health & Fitness–Pinehurst, where the group had been meeting and doing some light exercising, up a hill to Moore Regional Hospital and then up a couple of flights of stairs to the next meeting place.

“I was exhausted,” she recalls.

The experience also convinced her that she probably wasn’t being a very good role model for the children at her school. MooreFit gave Russell the incentive to do better. Like hundreds of her fellow public school employees, she strapped on a pedometer to keep track of the number of steps she was taking each day. She also joined a gym, started watching her diet, lost weight and began to feel better generally.

“It’s really made a big difference,” she says.

A countywide fitness challenge, MooreFit targets Moore County employers in an effort to encourage more physical activity and healthy eating as part of a daily healthy lifestyle. The county’s three biggest employers—FirstHealth of the Carolinas, Moore County Public Schools and Pinehurst Resort—started the program by challenging each other, and any other interested employer, to a good-natured competition to rack up the most steps taken during a recent three-month period. (Actually, any physical activity from biking to mountain climbing could be translated into steps with the aid of a conversion chart on the MooreFit Web site.)

Even as that “Ready, Set, Walk!” competition concluded in early December 2008, MooreFit organizers were gearing up for a second phase, a healthy eating initiative to encourage a daily diet including at least five servings of fruits and vegetables.

The idea for MooreFit originated during a conversation between FirstHealth CEO Charles Frock and Dr. Susan Purser, superintendent of Moore County Schools, when they agreed to work together to help improve the community’s health. More than 500 people attended an August 2008 kickoff event and heard about business and individual incentives that included prizes and donations to charitable organizations. Some 18 Moore County businesses, comprising more than 3,300 employees, were ultimately involved.

“Our employees enthusiastically embraced Moore Fit,” says Dr. Anita Alpenfels, executive director for Human Resources for Moore County Schools. “Hundreds of our employees attended the kickoff before Labor Day, excited to make their first steps. Even more of our employees actively participated, logging activities, setting individual goals and celebrating when they met those goals.

“As an organization, we want our employees to feel well and to be well. We also are committed to our responsibility to be positive role models for our children. If we don’t model healthy choices for out students, how can we effectively teach them to make healthy choices themselves? MooreFit gave us an avenue to be the models we need to be for our student and improve our own wellness at the same time.” Carla Williams, executive vice president for Human Resources for Pinehurst Resort, heartily agrees.

“The friendly competition among employers participating in MooreFit focused on increasing physical activity and reducing health risk factors, in turn, to improve employee morale and productivity and help control rising medical costs and insurance premiums,” she says. “Pinehurst has encouraged physical fitness over the years through activities for our club members and Resort guests such as golf, tennis, lawn bowling, croquet and swimming. We even have bicycles available for Resort guests. We also want to encourage our employee partners to be active. One way to do that is through participation in MooreFit.”

Healthy Hospitals Initiative

Dr. Melva Fager Okun says she sometimes feels like she’s a proud parent with a favorite child when she talks about FirstHealth of the Carolinas.

“I sometimes feel people get tired of hearing me talk about FirstHealth,” she says.

Since February 2002, Dr. Okun has been with N.C. Prevention Partners, a Chapel Hill-based nonprofit that works with more than 1,500 partners across the state to improve the health of all North Carolinians. As director of the organization’s Healthy Hospital Initiative, Dr. Okun helps North Carolina hospitals develop healthy workplace environments for their employees.

FirstHealth of the Carolinas has been a leader in the Healthy Hospitals Initiative in several ways.

In 2004, FirstHealth was the first hospital system in the state to become 100 percent tobacco free. It was also among the first to share how the deed could be accomplished. “FirstHealth was a key leader in that area,” Dr. Okun says.

Most of the state’s 124 acute-care hospitals have since followed suit and now look to FirstHealth for leadership in a new step in the tobaccofree movement—educating all people who seek a hospital service about the risks of tobacco and then advising them about available counseling and support.

FirstHealth has also taken a lead in a Healthy Hospitals healthy eating initiative—not only by encouraging its employees to eat healthily but also by supporting the move financially by lowering the cost of healthy foods in its hospital cafeterias.

The result? Record salad bar use and record sales of healthy entrees, fruits and vegetables.

As one of four North Carolina hospitals chosen by N.C. Prevention Partners as a regional Center of Excellence, FirstHealth serves as a healthy eating role model for other hospitals and for its community. In September 2008, Moore Regional Hospital hosted a daylong open house for which all hospitals in the state were invited to send representatives and learn about all the different ways that FirstHealth supports its employees in making healthy food choices.

“You are not only a great hospital,” Dr. Okun says, “but you are committed to providing leadership to other hospitals. That’s part of your mission. We are your best cheerleaders. We gladly bring others to your door to learn about exciting programs you have at FirstHealth.”