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Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Allen County Public Library employees Courtney Pifer, left, and Jill Noll exercise in the library’s employee fitness center.

Library cuts costs, focuses on employee wellness plan

Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Allen County Public Library employees exercise in the employee fitness center. Most of the equipment was donated for the wellness program.

After 30-year-old Courtney Pifer started working at the Allen County Public Library 16 months ago, there was an unexpected benefit – she became more active and lost 15 pounds.

Pifer said her healthy lifestyle changes were a result of the library’s in-house wellness program coupled with an employee workout room.

“With participating in the wellness program, I’m trying to be more active and be more aware of the food I am eating,” said Pifer, who works on the material support staff. “The ACPL does a nice job promoting healthy living both at home and at work.”

Pifer joins in wellness activities a couple hours a week.

“The best advantage of having the program at my work site is that it makes it easier to have access to gym equipment without having to purchase a gym membership,” Pifer said.

The Allen County Public Library is cutting costs by promoting wellness. Besides reducing health care costs and premiums, employees have the opportunity to get healthier and collect a $520 incentive check at the end of the year.

Employees can get financial incentives while improving their well-being, which makes the program even more popular, said Human Resources Manager Kendra Samulak.

The workout room at the downtown branch is open to all 400 employees, although one piece of fitness equipment has been placed at the library’s technical services office on Cook Road. About 230 employees work at the downtown branch.

Of 245 benefit-eligible employees, there have been 188 who have reported activities with the library’s wellness app. Of those 188, 11 have reached the maximum number of points for the $520 participation bonus, Samulak said.

Exercise benefits

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regular physical activity is one of the most effective disease prevention behaviors and physical activity programs reduce feelings of depression, improve stamina and strength, reduce obesity and the risks of cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure and cholesterol, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

Physical activity programs in the workplace can range from simple to extensive – with varying implementation costs – but the primary focus should be on employee education and physical activity, according to the CDC.

The program began small in 2009 and has grown over the years, said Megan Bell, who works in Readers’ Services and is a two-year member of the Wellness Committee.

“Much of the (workout) equipment has been donated in the past year,” Bell said. “We’ve received some very nice equipment – all by people who heard about our program.”

Local businessman and former Library Foundation Board member Jim Vann donated much of the equipment when he moved out of state.

In addition to employees having access to the fitness equipment and workout room in the basement, an ongoing wellness awareness program is offered for those who are interested.

“We have an eight-week walking challenge, where employees can count their steps and win weekly fitness prizes like T-shirts and stress-reliever balls,” Bell said.

The program also hosts a Wii bowling tourney in the spring and partners with other organizations to participate in such events as the Heart Walk and Fort4Fitness walks in the fall, she said.

The wellness program also offers a 21-day challenge where employees are encouraged to develop one new behavior or way of thinking for 21 days – the amount of time it takes to practice something until it becomes a habit – to become healthier, more fit or lose weight. Partnering with the YMCA, the library also offers an open enrollment to Y programs every year.

During November, employees are offered a “Maintain, Don’t Gain” program for preventing weight gain during the holidays.

Personal choices

Each employee can decide whether to participate and to what degree.

“I’m more interested in getting the information and taking my own action,” said Evan Davis, 63, a librarian in the Business, Science & Technology Department.

Davis’ preferred routine is to lift weights twice a week along with walking.

“It’s a good idea,” he said of the program. “It raises employee awareness of health improvement opportunities.”

Some of the information he has received through the program has spurred Davis to make dietary changes over the past few years.

“I have a family history of diabetes and I’m getting older,” he said.

After reading that keeping weight down is a critical component in the fight against diabetes, Davis dropped 35 pounds and has managed to maintain his weight since then.

He also started lifting weights after discovering that strength training was important for maintaining muscle mass in older adults.

Davis spends half of his lunch hour walking or working out and takes advantage of the annual health screening the library offers.

Assistant Finance Manager Jill Noll thinks it’s a great program.

“It provides us with an opportunity to have blood work done once a year and flu shots at no cost to the employee,” Noll said. “Since Parkview comes right to ACPL it makes it very convenient.”

Noll likes to go to the workout room for a quick 15-minute break or for a longer workout on her lunch hour, she said.

Lower health costs

Library staff began talking about a program designed to lower health care costs and get employees involved in their own wellness almost nine years ago, Library Director Jeff Krull said.

“We wanted to save on health care costs, but encourage employees to have better lives,” Krull said.

The library is self-insured, which means employees pay a portion of health care premiums and the library pays a portion, Krull said.

The program began by offering employees premium discounts for achieving pre-determined levels related to body mass index, blood pressure and cholesterol. Incentives were also granted to non-smokers.

“People went for that but some argued that the set ranges were subjective,” Krull said.

Library staff decided to take a different approach with a program that awards employees based on points earned in wellness programs and activities.

A wellness point summary is available online and employees can log their time walking, working out, or participating in wellness classes or community wellness programs such as 5K races. Points are also awarded for smoking cessation, weight loss and preventive health exams and tests.

Krull is convinced the program is working.

“We have had two good years in a row (of lower health insurance claims),” he said. “Since we are self-insured, it allows us to capture the savings so even if we should have a bad year with some high claims, we would be OK and not have to jack up the cost of premiums,” he said.