The St. Lucie County Board of County Commissioners can count more than 1,200 reasons why its new Wellness Program is working. About halfway through the 12-week Weight-Loss Challenge to kick off the county’s new Wellness Initiative, more than 300 participants have lost more than 1,200 pounds.

In an effort to help reduce health-care costs and encourage its workforce to become more health conscious, St. Lucie County developed a new Wellness Matters initiative that provides financial incentives to employees that show they are working to improve their physical well-being.

“We have made it very simple so anyone can do it,” explained George Landry, St. Lucie County’s Safety & Risk Manager. “We didn’t want to create a bunch of rules to discourage people from using the program. Some of the rewards can be obtained just by self-reported results.”

Using funds from its wellness account, the county allows employees and spouses to earn up to $250 during a calendar year if they show that they are taking steps to improve their health. Employees have the option to take flex time in lieu of cash. The new Wellness Matters program is open to all employees (and family members) enrolled in the insurance plan, including those from other constitutional offices such as the Clerk of the Court, Property Appraiser, Tax Collector and Supervisor of Elections. Currently there are 600 enrolled in the wellness program with half of those competing in the weight-loss challenge. Overall, there are a total of 2,189 people on St. Lucie County’s self-insured health plan.

For example, if an employee agrees to undergo an annual Health Risk Assessment with blood work done at the St. Lucie County Employee Health Clinic, which is run by the county’s health provider CareHere; the employee will receive $25 or four hours of flex time. The exam and blood work is provided to the employee at no cost. If the blood work shows that the employee or spouse has high blood pressure or cholesterol issues and they agree to enroll in a management plan administered through the clinic, the enrollee will receive additional money or flex time – upon successful completion.

Furthermore, employees and spouses can earn up to $100 ($25 each quarter) or four flex days for employees if they exercise at least 12 times per month and turning in an exercise log (using the honor system) to the Human Resources staff. The Human Resources staff tracks the flex time and management plans, making sure employees receive their additional benefits throughout the year.

To kick off the new Wellness Matters program, a 12-week Weight Loss Challenge was initiated with nearly $2,000 available to the winning teams and individuals. Even though team members were required to attend at least 10 of the 12 weekly weigh-ins (held during work outs at county facilities); the focus of the weight loss challenge wasn’t just to shed pounds. Participants were required to compete in teams and obligated to take part in weekly health-related seminars, held at multiple times during work hours. Points are assigned to teams that have the largest percentage of weight lost and the highest participation in the workshops. These workshops, put on by dieticians from CareHere, focused on topics such as “Nutrition 101,” “Metabolism, Diet, Weight - How are they Linked?” and “Move More, Sit Less.”

“The feedback from the Wellness Matters program has been excellent. Even if some employees don’t reach their target numbers on the scales, we are seeing an increase in teamwork and encouragement as it relates to being healthy,” said St. Lucie County Administrator Howard Tipton. “Ultimately, a healthy workforce will result in an increase in productivity and a decrease in health care costs, which is a win-win for everyone.”

For more details about St. Lucie County’s Wellness Matters program, contact George Landry, Employee Safety & Risk Manager, at 772-462-1783 or landryg@stlucieco.org