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Georgia Southern helps Evans County move toward improved health

Four employers in Evans County are blazing a trail to better health for their employees and ultimately, for their county. Pressed by rising health care premiums, they looked for a way to improve their employees’ health status, and they found it with help from Georgia Rural Economic Development Center at East Georgia College and Georgia Southern University.

Ron Gilliard, CEO of the Evans Memorial Hospital and chair of the Evans County Health Collaborative, recently accepted nearly $50,000 in program support from Regional ICAPP, Georgia’s Intellectual Capital Partnership Program, to fund Wellness in the Workplace, an effort among four employers to get a wellness program operating in Evans County. The project is co-sponsored by Georgia Southern University in Statesboro and the Georgia Rural Economic Development Center at East Georgia College in Swainsboro.

The Evans County initiative evolved from research funded by the Georgia Rural Economic Development Center and conducted by the Bureau of Business Research and Economic Development.

‘Finding ways to help firms provide affordable and effective wellness programs is important to regional economic development efforts,” said Phyllis Isley, director of the Bureau of Business Research and Economic Development at Georgia Southern and a project participant. ‘We have just begun to examine the critical links between investments in health and economic development.”

Working with Dr. Stuart Tedders, associate professor in the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health and director of the Center for Rural Health and Research, the four employers”Evans Memorial Hospital, Claxton Bank, Evans County government, and the Evans County School District”created a new program, Wellness in the Workplace. Tedders, an expert in health promotion program planning, listened to the employers’ concerns and came up with a two-pronged plan that takes a wellness approach to health and gets the community acting on its own behalf.

‘Wellness in the Workplace is a beautiful example of a community making change and solving problems at the local level,” said Tedders. ‘They are not expecting someone to solve their health care problems for them, they are taking the lead.”

‘We started Wellness in the Workplace with a survey of the employees to find out the aspects of health that are important to them,” Tedders said. ‘Although the group wanted to lose weight and change poor behavior, we found they had issues related to getting healthy, such as lack of motivation and lack of time.”

The survey also took a snapshot of the employees’ current behavior. In addition to finding high rates of blood pressure, cholesterol, and obesity, Tedders found that few were screened regularly for these problems. He also found that many made poor nutritional choices and had inadequate physical activity.

Evans Memorial Hospital, a member of the coalition, is taking the lead in developing a wellness model that the other coalition members can use. To motivate their employees, the coalition members”and Tedders”agree that each employer must develop an approach that’s unique for them.

‘We’ve created a program at the hospital called ‘Change Your Weighs,” said Gilliard. ‘We had a June 1 kickoff, and we have plans for speakers, promotional events, rewards, and a Web site that employees can use to get wellness information.” He expects Claxton Bank’s program will kick off August 1, the school district’s to kick off at the beginning of the fall semester, and the Evans County kickoff will be soon after that. The hospital will break new ground with its collaborating employers by doing health care screenings at a reduced cost.

‘Motivation to improve health will be different for each group of employees,” said Tedders. ‘If lower health care cost motivates you, then OK. Some people are motivated by time off, some by monetary rewards, some by recognition. Each employer will have to determine what works.”

Once a wellness model is in place for each group of employees, Tedders will collect pre- and post-program health data. He will evaluate each program’s effectiveness from an academic standpoint, then write up the process. His goal is to develop a template that could provide structure for healthcare reform in other communities.

‘I’d like to see a workbook develop from this project,” he said. ‘It would document everything we’ve learned, and it would be a catalyst for other communities looking for the same outcomes.”

The four Evans County employers are a subgroup of the Evans County Health Collaborative, a community-wide organization that includes not only these employers, but also the county health department, medical professionals, the Chamber of Commerce, and many concerned citizens. The group is a non-profit organization aimed at improving health for everyone in Evans County. The American Cancer Society recently presented the Collaborative with a $10,000 grant to encourage smoking prevention among young people, a grant that will put health promotion dollars into the county’s public and private schools. The ACS grant also stresses proper nutrition and physical activity. Last fall the Collaborative conducted a diabetic screening for the community, and last spring hosted a health fair with the Chamber of Commerce.

‘Better health for Evans County will require a sustained commitment,” said Gilliard. ‘The collaborative, and the employers encouraging health promotion among their employees, are all steps in the right direction. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished in a short time, and look forward to keeping wellness efforts moving forward in Evans County.”

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