Milwaukee County Employees Embrace Health
More participate in health and wellness program, with encouraging results.
On any given day across Milwaukee County, staffers might be seen taking a stretch break at the zoo, buying produce from Growing Power near the courthouse or taking a class on mindfulness at a local provider.
These activities are part of a ramped-up effort aimed at promoting the broad principles of health and wellness, according to county officials. Hoping to lead by example to the community-at-large, a nearly five-year-old program is touting all facets of a healthy lifestyle.
“We have a lot of opportunities (for employees),” says Claire Schuenke, wellness coordinator within Milwaukee County’s human resources department. “It’s about more than just eating your fruits and vegetables.”
Nowadays, insurance companies providing coverage to public and private employers are putting more emphasis on health and wellness programs with the hope that these preventative measures will better the health of enrollees and lower their medical costs.
Milwaukee County joined the fray in early 2013 after leaders in both branches of government offered hearty support. County Executive Chris Abele and then-County Board chair Marina Dimitrijevic were behind the program’s rollout.
Four years ago, as the health and wellness program was in its infancy and up and running, employee participation was at 51 percent, Schuenke says. Today, she notes, it has climbed to nearly 70 percent.
Insurance companies might add incentives to take part in a health and wellness program, including a reduction in the monthly premium.
“We want people to be excited about health,” Schuenke says. “But it’s a completely volunteer program. We tell the employees, ‘It’s your choice.’”
While no exact statistics are available, Schuenke says the feedback to the program has been positive. Her office has learned of employees who have moved down the ladder of assessment rankings, toward more optimal levels.
Some employees, for instance, have gone from a “very high” to “high” risk level in overall health. Others have moved as far down as the desired “low” risk level.
But whenever she interacts with employees, Schuenke says she emphasizes the importance of taking any specific goal one day at a time.
“We’re not going to force people to change. That doesn’t work,” she says. “Change doesn’t have to be drastic either. The important thing is to take one step in the right direction.”
While most of the health and wellness programs and efforts are outside the public eye, there are times where it is in full-on display. Last month, for example, the county held its fourth annual Walk for Wellness 5k at Whitnall Park.
In a Facebook post, Abele proclaimed that more than 160 persons took part in this year’s walk. While employees led the event, it also was open to the general public.
As the health and wellness program rounds the bend to a half-decade since implementation, Schuenke is quick to point out that many of its offerings came to life through survey responses.
Mindfulness classes are one such offering that came to be as a result of employee feedback.
“People have a lot going on in their lives,” Schuenke said. “These classes have been a huge success for us.”
Schuenke and other staffers within the county also have caught the attention of the Wellness Council of America, which has issued a workplace wellness award to the county on two occasions. The second such award was presented this week.
“It’s wonderful to receive this kind of recognition,” Schuenke says. “I feel very lucky to be here. It’s great to work in a place where there’s so much support for something like this.”