Tracy Morris, an IT technician with St. Luke's, doesn't let the lack of time limit his exercise options. Here he does a few exercises on the picnic table outside his office.
By Sandra Wurdemann St. Luke's CommunicationsTracy Morris, a St. Luke’s IT technician, and his wife, Tuleshia, dreamed of having a child for years.
But both were carrying a lot of extra weight, and Tracy’s family had a history of early deaths related to stroke and heart disease.
“I didn’t want that to happen,” Tracy Morris said. “I didn’t want to leave my wife, I wanted kids.”
Tracy Morris was spurred to lose 110 pounds after discovering in 2010 through a St. Luke’ s Healthy U wellness screening that he had type II diabetes and hypertension. Behavior changes were a family affair. Tracy's wife Tuleshia Morris lost weight as well, when the couple followed Healthy U’s suggestions for eating, living and exercising. Both have kept off the weight, and adopted a son, Elijah John-Xavier, born in September 2012.
St. Luke’s Health System launched Healthy U in 2010 to help employees maintain and improve their health through programs, support and incentives, such as credit toward health insurance premiums for those who meet specific goals. The program targets obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and tobacco use, leading causes of chronic and life-threatening disease.
About 94 percent of St. Luke’s 10,000 employees participate, says Beth Gray, director of Employee Health Solutions.
That’s a significant jump from 45 percent of employees participating at the height of the former wellness plan.
Gray said the previous plan was not engaging the people who needed it.
“We weren’t motivating the right people,” she said. “There was some effort involved.”
One key difference is the financial benefits. In the old plan, employees accumulated incentives over several years that were capped at $350. With Healthy U, employees meeting key targets get $650 toward their insurance premiums to start. With adding targets, additional premium reductions will be offered.
“With tying it to the benefits, we got people’s attention,” Gray says.
Other incentives include a free Center for Spine Wellness evaluation for low back pain or aids to support quitting tobacco use. The comprehensive plan will be expanded this year to offer various incentives, such as free supplies for diabetics to support better condition management.
“Early indications are showing great success,” says Terri Landa, St. Luke’s wellness manager.
In the program’s first year, pre-diabetes was reduced by 70 percent, while 29 percent of participants who were diabetics were brought into acceptable blood sugar ranges. Pre-hypertension was reduced by 40 percent, hypertension was cut by more than half, and more than 19 percent of tobacco users quit.
In 2012, St. Luke’s entered into a pioneering arrangement with Regence BlueShield of Idaho. The partnership incorporates St. Luke’s Healthy U co-partner program and other innovative care management programs to manage Regence’s highest-cost, highest-utilization members in order to achieve better outcomes and lower the cost for this population of patients.
In 2013, Healthy U will be extended to dependent spouses. Those on St. Luke’s health plan will be invited to complete a “Know Your Numbers” screening and health appraisal to earn a premium discount.
“It’s constantly paying attention,” Landa says. “Anybody can make a change for a short period of time, but it’s the maintenance. It’s about creating a sustainable plan.”
Employees agree, though they say life and work challenges can make it tough.
Marilyn Edmondson, a coordinator of clinical integration for St. Luke’s, took advantage of Healthy U to begin exercising for improved strength and health, not so much for weight loss. She said exercise, including water aerobics and walking, helped her lower back problems and gave her stamina to keep up with her grandchildren. However, exercise has been getting bumped for work lately, and she can feel the difference.
“This isn’t that you lose a bunch of weight and you feel good. It’s a day-to-day thing,” she says. “I’m struggling. But because of Healthy U and other avenues, if I choose to take advantage of those, then there’s help out there. The difference between where I am now and where I was is I know what I want to do and I know what I need to do. I have more tools.”
Those tools include the Healthy U meals and healthy food choices in St. Luke’s MarketPlace 360 cafeterias, she says.
Tracy Morris says his challenge is juggling the new baby, a full-time job and a full load of online university classes.
“Right now, it’s really difficult,” Morris says.
But Healthy U has helped him break free from denial and make eating right and exercising a priority.
“They had the knowledge I needed,” he says. Like “when you eat processed food and those things aren’t natural, your body’s still hungry. Learn to slow down in eating food. Have a glass of water before you eat. It’s those little things you’ve heard a million times. It’s actually putting those into place and doing them.”
To see video stories about Edmondson, Morris and others who have benefited from the Healthy U program click here.
To find out more about the Healthy U program, call 208-381-8400.
Ken Dey served as Public Relations Coordinator at St. Luke's from 2008-2014.