Innovative Programs Improve Physical and Mental Health

When Robin Wilkes promoted wellness programs to her fellow employees, she also lost 24 pounds and 23 inches. As human resource director at BMS Direct, Wilkes realizes the importance of healthier workers.

“Employees seem to be more engaged, more constructive and have more energy,” she said. “It is addictive, once you see the results in others.”

One employee reported losing more than 40 pounds, while others quit smoking with help from smoking cessation classes. Only about 10 percent of their employees still smoke. More impressively, the company kept health care costs to only a 3 percent increase last year, she said.

BMS Direct, a marketing firm, pays entry fees for employees to one or two races each year and provides fresh fruit in the break room and water in the drink machines.

The company is paying for two teams to compete in Face the Forest at Poplar Forest, a 5K obstacle race on August 18. Employees will also participate in this year’s Live Healthy Lynchburg 100-mile walking challenge. All employees have been given pedometers to keep track of their mileage.

Out of 72 full-time employees and six part-timers, more than 20 regularly keep Wilkes informed about their exercise programs. “They are very, very engaged,” she said. “We have an awesome culture here.”

BMS Direct is one of the companies that helped kick off the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance Work Healthy Lynchburg initiative seven years ago.

Christine Kennedy, chief operating officer and executive vice president of the Alliance, coordinates Work Healthy Lynchburg. More than 150 local employers are participating in the program, which aims to reduce health care costs and improve employee health and morale.

“Companies have got to stand out when it comes to culture and benefits,” Kennedy said.

Wellness programs also impact economic development, she said. Companies want to locate to communities where quality of life is high, which includes opportunities for physical activity from hiking and biking to beautiful natural surroundings and quality education.

The Alliance is now working on a strategy to reach employees who are not currently participating in wellness programs. Kennedy said they are interested in the Blue Zones movement, which is based on the lifestyles of people from the longest-lived cultures. The organization uses a systematic, environmental approach to well-being using policy, urban and building design, and social networks.

As a personal trainer and certified nutritionist, Katie Stevens understands the range of issues that impact human health. She has been the wellness coordinator at Moore & Giles for nearly six years.

Employees can participate in three 30-minute exercise sessions a week, while on the clock. Moore & Giles provided a small gym six years ago and added a large group exercise room in the warehouse three years ago.

The leather company also adds incentives to participate in a 12-week challenge to earn tickets for cash incentives. About 75 percent of the employees have taken advantage of the programs at some point, Stevens said.

As a creative alternative to the gym, she started a community garden three years ago with 16 raised beds. Employees can participate in the spring, summer and fall plantings, maintain the beds and then take home the fruits of their labor. “It’s very unusual,” Stevens said.

She also plans to offer cooking classes this summer, noting that many employees have lost weight and at least four have stopped smoking. Every other month Stevens offers a lunch-and-learn program on stress and anxiety that comes with a chair massage.

“It’s a special program, and we’re really proud of it,” she said.

At Bank of the James, employees have formed “A Healthier You” committee, which creates incentives for employees to take charge of their health. Graham Evans, who chairs the committee, says participants earn points by participating in local races, like the Virginia 10-Miler or 4-Miler, having an annual health screening, getting a flu shot or giving up something unhealthy for 30 days. They can even get points for volunteering at a nonprofit.

Anyone earning 300 points can get a paid day off, while those with 150 points receive $50 gift cards. Other prizes are awarded at an end-of-the-year drawing.

The bank contributes $20 a month toward a gym membership or other fitness classes. They also periodically have 12-week “Biggest Loser” contests, and a recent winner lost 18.5 pounds. Evans said about 30 percent of employees participate in the fitness incentives.

Shirley Deen, human resources director at Bank of the James, said about 20 percent of their 150 employees have stand-up desks, while tellers, who normally stand, can get a break on a stool.

Bank of the James offers workshops on beating stress and gives employees their birthdays off to do something they enjoy. The bank also encourages employees to select a high-deductible insurance plan, and in return, the bank contributes to a Health Savings Account.

Smokers face a surcharge on their insurance plan, but the bank provides free smoking cessation classes and pays for prescription drugs that help break the habit. “We are firm believers in educating on the cost of health insurance,” she said.

In 2007, BWX Technologies, Inc., launched a new wellness program at Mount Athos with its first onsite wellness center, operated by PTC (Physicians Treatment Center) Wellness.

The center is staffed by a physician, nurse practitioner, physician’s assistant, and nurses who work to provide convenient, high quality medical and health services to employees.

The center’s primary role is to provide acute medical care to the employees working at Mount Athos while engaging them in wellness activities.

In addition, the entire Mount Athos site is a tobacco-free workplace. While employees are not required to quit smoking off-site, they do pay an additional $50 a month for health insurance.

BWXT’s Mount Athos onsite fitness center includes a fully equipped gym, two personal trainers, and a staffed physical therapy clinic. The fitness center hosts a variety of classes, such as kettlebell, yoga, and boot camps.

Just half a mile away from the manufacturing facility, the company has a sports field complex for intercompany activities, including softball, flag football, soccer, and sand volleyball.

In 2012, due to the overwhelming success of the Mount Athos Wellness Center, BWXT opened a second location in the Lynchburg area on the second floor of the Physicians Treatment Center facility on Candler’s Mountain Road.

In addition to providing urgent care, the office offers BWXT employees and family members access to convenient preventative care and screenings, as well as wellness, nutrition, and fitness coaching.

BWXT Nuclear Operations Group, Inc., provides a complete range of nuclear components and services, including the manufacture of nuclear reactor components for U.S. Navy submarines and aircraft carriers.

Altogether, the company’s Lynchburg operations employ approximately 2,600 people. Dave Ward, manager of environmental safety, health and safeguards, said more than 1,000 employees are members of the fitness center.

BWXT’s goal is that of many employers. “We are trying to create an environment to help our employees make healthy choices,” he said.