Living Well

Wellness program promotes healthy living in Swain schools

lw swainSwain County schools are a little bit healthier following the conclusion of a trial wellness program this spring.

More specifically, the staff weighs 1 percent less, has 2 percent less body fat and saw a 10-point decrease in cholesterol — the average overall heart score went up from 7.5 to 8.9 out of 10.

“In four months’ time, I was really pleasantly surprised that we saw the shifts that we did,” said Melanie Batchelor, the wellness coordinator for Swain County Community Hospital. “That’s not a whole lot of time to see those changes occur.”

The program, Resolutions to Realities, sprang from a desire to get the schools’ emphasis on health institutionalized in some way rather than relying on sporadic initiatives throughout the year. So, Sonya Blankenship, assistant principal at Swain County High School who also chairs the School Health Advisory Committee, came to Swain Community Hospital for help. 

It was good timing, because Batchelor had been working on a general wellness program to ship out to whomever in the corporate world might be interested in such a thing. 

“I said, ‘This is really just a template. We can customize this for you guys,’” Batchelor recalls. “She (Blankenship) got really excited about that.”

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What they came up with was a set of wellness resources and activities that participants in the program — employees of Swain County School — could do to earn points. Different levels of point accumulations could earn an employee a pedometer or a full or half day off work, and overall winners earned cash prizes for their schools from funds put up by the hospital, and also earned some money for themselves. 

 Participants could earn points for everything from getting a wellness screening to participating in a health education program to going to the gym. The school even offered its own 5K. 

“They had all sorts of different things,” said Jenny Johnson, director of the Swain County Center for the Arts, who earned the most points at Swain County High School. “It inspired me to get my physical, which I hadn’t had in two-and-a-half years, and get some health things I needed done taken care of.”

These kinds of programs are important, Batchelor said, because being healthy often “tends to be the hard choice,” what with sedentary office jobs and fast food abounding at all turns. 

“We really are almost treading water, it seems like sometimes, to stay healthy,” she said. “It is my hope and dream that we can shift and that being healthy is the easy choice.”

For Johnson, the program certainly helped move her in that direction. 

“It was a motivator to better health, and I’m glad I did it,” she said. 

Johnson wasn’t the only one who gave the program a favorable review. The spring semester is over, but both Blankenship and Batchelor are hoping to revive the program in the fall. 

“Our hope is that we can expand the program, not only for staff but to students, and do more of a holistic thing,” Batchelor said. 

In a school, especially, it’s important that teachers be included, because seeing healthy behaviors modeled is an influential encouragement toward practicing them.  

“They’re (teachers are) absolutely role models for their students,” Batchelor said. “The students can see what they’re doing and practice those same healthy behaviors, and as the next generation they can hopefully continue that through to adulthood.”



Wellness programs abound

Many employers in Western North Carolina offer some form of a wellness incentive program to their employees. Here are a few examples:

• Angel Medical Center, as part of the Mission Health system, gives its employees a chance to earn points in a variety of ways, with 150 points qualifying them for a quarterly incentive of $75. Points can come from everything from keeping a food log to going for a physical to completing a health-focused workshop. 

• Mast General Store offers reimbursement for wellness-related expenses such as gym memberships, sporting equipment and dentist visits, and it also gives a monetary reward to employees who take alternative transportation to work. Employees can earn $2 per day for carpooling and $4 per day for walking, biking or taking public transportation. 

• Jackson County offers its employees a less expensive health plan in exchange for completing an annual health risk assessment, testing negative for tobacco use and participating in a disease management program if necessary. It also uses its Well @ Work program, in which employees who earn a certain number of points for healthy activities receive a $50 VISA gift card at the end of the year. Last year, 82 employees earned the gift card. 

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