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Healthy Monday: Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce pushing employee wellness programs

POSTED: July 31, 2008 5:00 a.m.
For The Times/

Longstreet Clinic employees warm up before the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce's "Get Fit Stay Fit" 5K run on March 20 at Riverside Military Academy.

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There’s no question about it: Employee wellness programs can benefit a company’s bottom line.

"You’ve got more productive employees, because they feel good and they show up for work," said Linda Barrow, vice president of instructional services at Lanier Technical College. "Insurance premiums are lower. And morale is better because employees feel like the company cares about them."

Barrow is a member of the health care committee at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, which is launching the latest phase of its Vision 2030 HealthSmart Community Challenge.

The chamber soon will begin an e-mail survey of all of its members, asking about their company wellness initiatives. The goal is to find the "Most Fit Company" in the Gainesville area.

"Making it competitive will hopefully increase awareness and participation," Barrow said.

The survey, which also is available to nonchamber members upon request, will ask such questions as: Does your company have a wellness program? Do you have a tobacco-free policy? Do you offer healthy food choices in the vending machines? Do employees participate in fitness events? Do you make health screenings available?

"If we get enough response, we may choose two winners, a small company and a large one," said Barrow.

The corporate challenge comes on the heels of two previous HealthSmart events, a health expo last October and a "Get Fit Stay Fit" 5K run in March.

"We’re trying to promote wellness throughout the community," said Brittany Holtzclaw, project manager for the chamber.

Holtzclaw said next month she hopes to add yet another component to the program. Local restaurants will be invited to place "I’m HealthSmart" stickers on their menus next to healthy food items.

Barrow said the committee recognizes that people usually make lifestyle changes incrementally, and that even a small improvement is better than none.

At Lanier Tech, she said, they’re only in the early stages of starting a wellness program.

"But we have a daily e-mail memo that goes out to all employees, and it always includes a wellness tip," she said.

Obviously, companies that are in the business of providing health care already have a head start on other employers. Northeast Georgia Health System and the Longstreet Clinic, for example, both offer a wide spectrum of wellness benefits to their workers.

"We’ve had a wellness plan in place for several years," said Jullie King, spokeswoman for the Longstreet Clinic. "All employees that are on our insurance plan are screened for cardiovascular risk, and those at high risk are invited to participate in a risk reduction program."

King said the clinic also has a Weight Watchers program, and it offers occasional "lunch and learn" seminars on health topics.

Longstreet is one of the largest multispecialty physician practices in Georgia. But King said even a small company can find ways to help employees get healthier.

"You can create a culture of wellness without taking up a lot of management time or spending a lot on resources," she said. "There are things you can do for free."

Establishing a tobacco-free facility, for example, costs virtually nothing, and in the long run it can save the company money on health care costs and property maintenance.

The deadline for companies to submit their wellness survey is Aug. 29. Holtzclaw said the winner of the "Most Fit Company" award will be announced at a HealthSmart luncheon Oct. 8 at the Georgia Mountains Center.



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