Santa Cruz County employees, losing pounds, feel like winners
By JONDI GUMZ
SANTA CRUZ – More than 550 county government employees are participating in a one-of-a-kind pilot project to help them get healthier and reduce the county’s health care expenses.
A friendly competition has ensued since the six-month project, dubbed Cruzin’ to Health, began July 19.
County employees Marco Cabezuela,
Lisa Larkin and Anita Stoddart walk…
“We’re currently No. 1 of our 43 teams,” said Marty Riggs, clinical supervisor with the Health Services Agency and a member of the five-man Big Mac and the Shrinkwraps, which has collectively lost 61 pounds.
Riggs, 57, who was never one to diet, has met his goal of shedding 20 pounds, but remains an involved participant.
“I’m thinking about the team,” he said. “It keeps me going.”
The idea came from the California Association of Physician Groups, which contacted the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, a state agency that has been studying ways to lower health care costs. Premiums for family coverage through an employer have doubled in the past decade, from $7,061 to $15,073, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“We decided this is one we wanted to do,” said Bill Madison of CalPERS. “It fit because we focus on work-site wellness.”
CalPERS chose Santa Cruz County because of its close relationship with medical providers and a workforce ready for change, according to Leslie Goodfriend, the county’s senior health services manager. The 556 employees who volunteered comprise 28 percent of the county’s workforce.
The Institute for Health and Productivity Management, a nonprofit founded to maximize the impact of employee health on workplace productivity, connected CalPERS with Abbott Pharmaceuticals, which owns Changes That Last A Lifetime, the online program being used in Santa Cruz.
The project started with employees getting weighed, measured and tested at their work site, courtesy of the Physicians Medical Group and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.
“We want to do our part to enable positive change, person by person, healthy choice by healthy choice,” said Marvin Labrie, chief executive officer of Physicians Medical Group.
American Regent, a lab in Shirley, N.Y., sponsored the creatinin test measuring kidney function. Other tests looked at cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar and blood pressure.
“They gave you a very detailed report on your current state of health and the possible serious risks you face, and how much those risks could be reduced if you lost weight,” said Chris McCauley, 53, psychiatric and community liaison for the county Health Services Agency. “It was very motivational.”
Teams like “Girls (and Guys) with Goals,” “Mission Slimpossible,” and “Cruzin’ 4 Loozin” embarked on a 12-week fitness challenge Aug. 8, which concludes Oct. 31.
Employees involved in healthy activities earn points that can win them yoga and swim center memberships, sports shop gift certificates, massages, nutrition consultations and the assistance of a personal trainer. The grand champion will win a week’s stay in a condo in Hawaii.
“The hope is that, while the challenge lasts only 12 weeks, the lessons learned will last a lifetime,” Goodfriend said.
It’s working for McCauley, who has lost 20 pounds and is aiming to lose 10 more.
“There’s such comraderie, it’s raised morale,” he said. “Our team huddles at lunchtime.”
Participants weigh in at a kiosk where their photo is snapped and updated to the website to share with teammates.
McCauley likes the daily emails, which offer menu ideas and exercise regimens, and the ability to email questions to the fitness trainer.
Riggs, whose job is fairly sedentary, said he is using stairs more, exercising at home, and finding he no longer needs a midday soda for the caffeine boost.
“I’m sleeping better, and I’ve got more energy,” he said, thanking his supervisor for persuading him to participate.
Dr. Mike Conroy, Santa Cruz division chief of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, said the county and CalPERS deserve kudos “for the leadership they’ve shown in helping their employees become healthier for life.”
If the Santa Cruz pilot project is successful, it’s almost certain to be replicated elsewhere, in the opinion of Dr. Wells Shoemaker of the California Association of Medical Groups, who lives in Aptos.
“To do this on a larger scale would require some investment by the employers, likely to be a small percentage of the yield with improved productivity and reduced medical costs related to chronic illnesses,” he said.