New wellness plan for employees puts health on the map

This past semester, handouts with lists of tips for decreasing stress were taped to bathroom stall doors. A local Zumba class became a weekly activity on campus. Even the grass looked greener. Thanks to a new wellness plan implemented for faculty, Goshen College is becoming a healthier—and happier—campus.

Goshen College unveiled a revised wellness initiative last April, teaming with Everence and other members of the Mennonite Educators Benefit Plan, as well as a program called Bravo Wellness.

Employees will now undergo a yearly confidential health screening in April to test blood pressure, BMI, body fat and cholesterol and nicotine levels. If an individual falls within healthy ranges, wellness points are earned. The points are used for managing health care costs. The more points earned, the less an individual has to pay toward health care. Employees can then work to improve scores and get re-tested the following year. The program is voluntary; however, employees who choose not to be screened are required to pay 20% of their health care premium rate.

Jim Histand, vice president for finance at GC, was one of the key decision-makers in implementing a new program.

“Everence is the third party administrator of our MEBP group, which includes Goshen College, Bluffton University, Eastern Mennonite University, Hesston College, Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries and Mennonite Education Agency,” Histand said. “We have been in this pooled group with these other institutions for two decades now. All six institutions made this decision jointly, and we are all in it together.”

Employees have had no specific wellness requirements in the past. The change is meant to improve health and create savings on health care expenses for both employees and Goshen College as a whole in order to use more resources for benefits and other priorities.

Histand said the program promotes health, which will lead to happier and more productive employees and longer and more enjoyable lives, while helping to keep health care premium costs low.

“This is our first year of the Wellness Plan, so we are just getting started,” Histand said. “Benefits should be even more pronounced as each year goes by, and the employees as a group continue to improve their overall health as measured by the four measurement factors.

One employee who has experienced the benefits of the new plan is Michael Sherer, director of Information Technology Services.

“People who work in higher ed value their independence a lot, so the idea of someone saying you need to do anything is going to create some resistance,” said Sherer. “But with the employee wellness program, I think it’s a matter of the institution encouraging us to do the right thing—take care of our health in a way that prevents or reduces chronic health problems and lowers costs for everyone.”

Sherer was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes a few weeks before the program was officially announced, so he was already thinking of ways to make some big changes.

“I didn’t just want to manage my diabetes; I wanted to beat it,” Sherer said. “I found a book called ‘Eat to Live’ by Dr. Joel Fuhrman that promised just that and put it into practice. Within six weeks I had an A1C test that was in the non-diabetic range, and I proceeded to lose 50 pounds over the course of the year.”

The year has had both successes and failures, but Sherer’s key to making a change work is to keep it simple. Sherer runs a mile a day and eats a nutrient-dense diet full of fruits and vegetables.

“If all goes well, at the April health screening I’ll make all my goals,” Sherer said. Most people would rank their health near the top of the list in terms of importance. The way we eat and take care of our bodies—that’s how we show that we’re truly living out our priorities.”

By Kate Stoltzfus

News Editor

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