MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Features

January 28, 2013

GP active in promoting wellness

— Georgia-Pacific knows that investing in employee health and wellness is smart business.

Through its “Get Well Stay Well” employee wellness program, GP Muskogee promotes chronic disease management, preventive care, physical activity, nutrition, flu shots, health screenings and other resources to encourage employees to make good health a priority.

This proactive focus helped GP Muskogee earn the highest Certified Healthy Business award this year from the Oklahoma Turning Point Coalition.

GP Muskogee took its employee wellness program to new heights in January by launching the interactive Virgin HealthMiles program, which is a popular product of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group. It is a company tool to inspire and incentivize employees to be more active and to focus on preventing costly health challenges.

In 2008, Georgia-Pacific spent $400 million on medical and dental benefits for its nearly 35,000 employees. That’s more than $1 million per day.

To reduce those costs, GP piloted the Virgin HealthMiles program in 31 of its  facilities in 2010.

“The company saw such a reduction in medical costs from the pilot program, it knew it was beneficial enough to roll out to all facilities,” said Megan Brown, the manager of GP Muskogee’s wellness program.

Within two weeks of the launch of the Virgin HealthMiles program this year, about 18 percent of GP Muskogee’s more than 970 employees joined the effort.

Enrollment in the program is ongoing, and GP hopes to reach more employees as word and enthusiasm spreads about this innovative wellness program.

Participants set up a Virgin HealthMiles online account and receive a pedometer to record the number of steps they take in a day. The pedometer can be connected to a computer to automatically record the information.

Employees also track other activity and participate in friendly health-promoting challenges with colleagues. With a social media component similar to Facebook, participants can support, encourage and hold one another accountable online as well as in person.

Employees in the program can earn up to $500 by reaching defined health and fitness milestones.

GP Muskogee set up a wellness station that includes a blood pressure machine, information about healthy living and a scale. It will soon have a broader health-monitoring kiosk.

Teddi Mitchell, a 23-year veteran at GP Muskogee, is excited about the Get Well Stay Well program. Her goals are to walk 10,000 steps each day at work, cut her sugar intake and maybe even lose a few pounds.

“If you’ve ever worked shift work, it’s so hard on your body,” she said. “Diet and exercise are even more important for your body if you do shift work.”

Mitchell also promotes the Virgin HealthMiles program with her colleagues.

“I’ve gotten half of the Flexo (large printing press) operators signed up and I have friends on other shifts emailing me quite a bit asking questions,” she said. “It feels like there’s excitement around it. Some people get dollar signs in their eyes when they see they can earn money for taking care of themselves.”

Mitchell already likes to run and exercise, and this gives her a way to encourage her colleagues.

“I think it’s a real positive move for the company and for health and wellness,” she said.

Brown said Get Well Stay Well seeks to educate employees about the services the company already provides and to increase participation in offerings such as free mammograms and prostate screenings.

With the Virgin HealthMiles component, she said, she’s heard amazement from employees about how many steps they walk in a day and an increase in camaraderie and peer encouragement.

Rodney Bond, the operating vice president of manufacturing and the Muskogee mill manager, said that investing in employee wellness is a “win-win.” The company recognizes benefits that include motivating and retaining employees, managing benefit costs and improving quality of life for employees and their families.

“A company wellness program can’t be successful without management support,” Brown said. “We are blessed to have support from both corporate and local management.”

It’s that ongoing commitment that earned GP Muskogee a rating of “Excellence” from the OK Certified Healthy Business award program.

Lisa Wade Raasch coordinates the Muskogee Wellness Initiative and directs the EOK Health Care Coalition. Listen to OkieCountry 101.7 for Wellness Wednesday in the 8 a.m. hour or visit www.MuskogeeWellness.org.

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