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The City of South Bend is reaping the benefits of upgrades to its five-year-old Healthy City program for municipal employees, implementing several new benefits in 2011 without any additional cost to city budgets or employees’ wallets.
In 2011 for the first time, employees who actively participate in the health and wellness program are eligible for several benefits — deductions in out-of-pocket health premiums, free membership to O’Brien Fitness Center and lunchtime educational sessions to heighten awareness of healthy lifestyles.
|O'Brien Fitness Center|
These changes mean the City of South Bend offers a state-of-the-art wellness program for municipal governments, which is even ahead of the curve for many private companies, according to Gibson Insurance and Anthem Healthcare.
Among 1,150 employees, nearly 1,000 have health-care benefits and more than 900 participate in the enhanced wellness program. These employees receive a confidential annual wellness screening or physical exam and complete a health-assessment risk questionnaire. More than 250 employees have participated in regular coaching with health professionals and joined O’Brien fitness programs.
“Employees are quitting smoking, losing weight, discovering better eating habits and becoming more physically active. For participating municipal workers, the bottom line is improved quality of life,” said Mayor Stephen J. Luecke. “For the City and taxpayers, the results are evident — getting control of health-care costs, reducing claims and having a healthier workforce that is more engaged and loses fewer days to health concerns.”
At a time when most companies face double-digit annual increases in health-care costs, the City of South Bend has implemented these positive changes with no increase in expenses, according to City Controller Gregg Zientara.
In 2006, the City of South Bend launched a Healthy City campaign to provide free, confidential on-site health screenings to employees. After several years of slowing the rate of increases in health-care costs, the City made additional improvements to encourage employees to increase activities to promote healthy lifestyles.
Employees participating in the wellness program receive a discount on the cost of health-care premiums. They have attended health-awareness sessions dealing with nutrition, exercise, stress, weight and other health-related issues. Future plans include online tracking of wellness participation and an employee wellness advisory committee.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 70 percent of all medical costs are related to smoking, physical inactivity, food choices and portion size, or stress.
“If you convince people to cut smoking, increase physical activity, make better dietary decisions, and help them manage their stress, you can reduce health-care costs before an employee ever steps into a hospital or doctor’s office,” Zientara said. “It’s exciting how the City has been able to improve employees’ quality of life and save tax dollars by acting creatively.”