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Photo provided by SHEILA BOWEN JONES
Photo provided by SHEILA BOWEN JONES

A Conversation With ... Sheila Bowen Jones

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Tell us about Missouri State University’s employee wellness program.
I have a lot of flexibility with this program, and to me, wellness includes basically anything that involves the human being. We have financial wellness, spiritual wellness, physical and emotional wellness, and relationship wellness. All of those things affect us, and any kind of stress in any of those areas can affect our health. We do a lot of free or inexpensive programs. I bring in a lot of contract workers to come in (to) provide massage therapy for faculty and staff. We have marathon training programs, a yearly 5K that we do. We have Start Walking programs several times a year, and we do team and individual (competitions) on that. … I’ll sometimes have dietetic students come do a presentation on healthy eating (and) there are also a lot of relationship courses.

What are the most popular programs?
Financial wellness. On campus, we haven’t had raises for a few years. The economy’s tight. The Missouri State budget is tight. People understand that if they have a job, that’s great, but they still have to pay the bills, so (we teach) them how to budget and manage their money.

A new one we’re doing is couponing. I filled that classroom three different times with people trying to stretch their dollars. I get e-mails all the time about how much (participants) saved at the grocery store.

Another one we just started our first group with is CHIP, which stands for Coronary Health Improvement Project. I’ve got 27 people (for) the eight-week course. We do all their labs, and look at their … cholesterol and blood sugar. We weigh and check blood pressure and heart rate. Then, it’s an education-intensive program that also includes a fitness component. At the end, we’ll redo everybody’s lab work and weight and see how they’ve improved.

Is Missouri State more focused on wellness because it’s a self-insured employer?
With any work force, whether you’re self-insured or you have an outside carrier for insurance, the idea is to keep those insurance costs low. To do that, you have to keep a healthy population. Just one incident of a massive heart attack with open-heart surgery and cardiac rehab can run into several hundred thousand dollars. We’re self-insured, but we still have to pay for that plan and all the care for our folks, so we want to keep them as healthy as possible so we don’t get to those outcomes that are so costly.

How do savings compare to upfront expenses of wellness programs?
Statistics show that for every $1 you spend, you’ll save $5 to $7 on health and wellness. It takes a few years to see that happening. … You look at your health claims cost over a period of time, and at your population (and) how often people are sick and don’t show up for work. You have to look at how you replace them to get the product out or the service made up. … Also, you have to look at presenteeism. … Basically, that’s when people are at work physically, at their desk or their workstation, but their mind is elsewhere. They’re not getting work done to their full capacity. When people are stressed out about their health or personal finances or whatever, there’s a lot of presenteeism, which can be measured a lot of times.  

What are the measurable wellness results you’ve witnessed at MSU?
We’ve seen people drop their insulin by half that they have to take, for those who are diabetics. We’ve seen a couple people get off medications already, just four weeks into (CHIP). … We have a Mayo Clinic tobacco cessation program that we offer free to faculty, staff and students. We’ve had about a 56 percent rate of going off tobacco at the six-month mark. For financial wellness … our first group about three years ago had 37 families that had a combined debt of $1.4 in consumer debt, not including home mortgages. … That group, in a 14-week period, was able to bring that amount down by $203,000, which was self-reported.

What recommendations do you havefor companies considering wellness initiatives?
The first thing is to lead by example. When you’ve got a leader (who) is interested in wellness, if they are an example, that’s a huge leap into the whole wellness realm. Also, incentivize (programs) for results-based wellness. … Employees are incentivized by all kinds of things, but studies show it’s usually financial incentives that motivate people to make changes.
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