COLUMBIA — Jeannie Headrick follows the same workout routine every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning — 30 minutes on the treadmill before heading into work. Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon, she does the same, but with an added 25 minutes of weight-lifting.
She has followed the regimen, which includes a health-conscious diet, for the past several months, and it has already become a regular part of her life.
“It is very rewarding to feel as healthy as I do,” said Headrick, who manages the Information Technology Help Desk at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla.
The exercise and diet are all part of Headrick’s participation in a pilot program by the UM System that, if successful, could lower health-premium costs while increasing productivity of faculty and staff, said Betsy Rodriguez, UM System vice president of human resources.
The wellness-incentive program, called Miners on the Move, is exclusive to the UM System’s Rolla campus. Headrick and a handful other Missouri S&T faculty and staff have already completed the program, which rewards participants with $150.
“This is in keeping with most national wellness programs in the workplace,” said Laura Schopp, director of the UM System’s T.E. Atkins Wellness Program. “Sometimes a small incentive can keep people going.”
To earn the money, participants must complete five tasks, Schopp said:
- A health screening, which assesses body mass index and risk factors, such as high cholesterol.
- An online health assessment, accomplished via health-assessment tools from Cerner.
- A tobacco-free pledge, or completion of a tobacco-cessation program.
- Meeting with a health-care provider once a year.
- A one-on-one coaching session and completion of a wellness program, such as logging a fixed amount of physical activity per week.
The physical activity requirements are liberal, allowing for day-to-day work, such as gardening, or more intensive activity, such as exercising at a gym twice a week.
At Missouri S&T, participants are offered free membership to the campus’s gym in the spring semester, but only if they go twice a week during the fall semester, Schopp said.
Participants have until June 2011 to complete the program’s five components to receive the $150 cash incentive.
Of the Missouri S&T faculty and staff, 486 attended a November wellness fair, where they were able to receive health screenings, flu shots and take advantage of other wellness opportunities, Schopp said. An additional 93 received screenings at other on-campus events.
“Not everybody will be interested in the program, but some who joined were unaware they had high blood pressure and can correct health issues with early detection,” Headrick said. “It’s definitely made me conscious of my health.”
After Miners on the Move is completed in July, the UM System will examine the possibility of expanding the program to all four campuses, Rodriguez said.
The program comes as health premiums for UM System employees are set to increase in January for a third consecutive year. According to a previous Missourian report, the 13 percent premium increase would translate to roughly an extra $40 per month for family plans and $14 per month for single employees.
One contributing factor to the rising cost is employees’ wellness — or lack of it. A faculty and staff survey on benefits during the spring showed that 35 percent of respondents were admittedly failing at maintaining good health. An additional 21 percent said they were “trying” to improve their health.
When Rodriguez met with MU’s Faculty Council on Sept. 16, she was blunt about how worrisome the results were, saying: “We really need to do something about this. Would an incentive help you do something?”
If faculty and staff become healthier through programs like Miners on the Move, the university could lower overall health expenses, Rodriguez said.
“We’re basing this on national data, but probably the conservative estimate is that if you invest a dollar, you save three,” she said in an interview. But, she noted, “it takes a few years to see that benefit.”
A focus on wellness among faculty and staff could also improve productivity in the long term by lowering the incidence of preventable illness and absence from work, she said.
But while the UM System is working to promote wellness, it is not filling positions within its wellness program because of budget constraints and a system-wide hiring freeze that has been in place since 2008. The result, Schopp said, has been some creative restructuring.
“We’ve been able to utilize volunteers as much as possible,” she said. “That’s helped us to weather the fiscal crises. It’s made us be very innovative in how we do our work.”
Headrick, for example, previously has been involved in wellness programs and was brought in to help out the Miners on the Move program as what she called a wellness ambassador.
The cash incentive hasn't been the source of Headrick's motivation; getting healthier has been its own reward. Because her diet and exercise have lowered her weight and blood pressure, she has been allowed to eliminate medication and lead a "more active life."
“I only take vitamins now,” she said, “and the program helped.”