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City takes preventative health measures
by Garrett E. Valenzuela
Sep 20, 2013 | 1842 views | 0 0 comments | 26 26 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo by Garrett Valenzuela -- The City of Sparks recently launched a wellness program and opened a fitness center inside the Legislative Building at City Hall. The program is designed to cut healthcare costs and provide preventative measures battling heart disease.
Tribune photo by Garrett Valenzuela -- The City of Sparks recently launched a wellness program and opened a fitness center inside the Legislative Building at City Hall. The program is designed to cut healthcare costs and provide preventative measures battling heart disease.
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The City of Sparks launched an effort to combat the growing number of deaths from heart disease in the country with its new on-site wellness center and program for employees.

The endeavor was the brainchild of City of Sparks Human Resources Analyst Jill Valdez, who said seeing the fees being paid out for worker’s compensation in relation to preventative programs offered by the City spawned the fitness center idea. Valdez added that her personal experience with heart disease motivated her further.

“My grandfather was a police officer and he had his first heart attack at age 44 and he died of his second one at 49,” Valdez said Friday inside the Legislative Building at City of Sparks. “That personal connection also really makes me want to reach out to employees and help them to do prevention as opposed to the first time you learn you have a problem is when you have a heart attack.”

The evolution of the wellness program has swiftly progressed since the City Council handed out a small amount of initial funding for the program on July 1. Donated fitness equipment and space management inside the Legislative Building brought the program to life by Aug. 29, when the City hosted a kickoff party for employees, featuring a demonstration from Dr. Kosta Arger, a cardiologist from Northern Nevada Medical Center.

A small fitness center and a room for personal fitness and nutrition consultation comprise the tools for employees to take advantage of at City Hall, but Valdez said the most effective tools must be constant outreach and hands-on engagement.

“Across the country, we are seeing health costs skyrocket,” Valdez said, “And one thing that is maybe not as well known is that it is estimated that between 70 and 80 percent of things we pay for in disease management could have been prevented.

“The goal is to be hands-on and face-to-face with our employees. All of the department heads are supporting this goal and they made it possible for me to reach all employees because it is a wildly important goal of the city to bring this to employees.”

The excess cost for insurance claims in the City of Sparks has risen from $250,000 in 1995 to $2 million in 2012, according to a presentation given to the City Council. The program projects to reduce healthcare costs by 26 percent and reduce worker’s compensation and disability costs by 32 percent.

Valdez said the program has received great reception among city employees, including 40 percent of employees who have already signed up through the online wellness portal used for tracking goals, managing nutrition habits and more. The online tool adds to the personal connection Valdez has set up, which she said will help City employees get the help they need to remain healthy during their tenure with the City.

“In the past, we have had health fairs where people were able to come and get their blood drawn and get their health numbers, but often there was not anything to help them know what to do as a next step,” Valdez said. “We are trying to fill in that gap. We also want them to know why it is important to take a next step and not wait.

“Many of our employees work here 20 or 30 years and sometimes even longer and we value that longevity and why would we want to see them retire unhealthy after that many years with us?”
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