A healthy employee is a more productive employee, and some of Wilmington's largest employers are taking strides to help their employees get fit.
New wellness initiatives at GE (see sidebar), PPD and New Hanover Regional Medical Center have employees sweating together, building camaraderie and celebrating successes.
A place to shrink
From the gutted remnants of the building that once housed Port City Health Club & Spa has risen NHRMC's Employee Fitness Center, a modern, comprehensive gym that can compete with the best commercial gyms in the region. It's the keystone in an overall wellness plan that is transforming the employee population of the hospital and its affiliates.
Under the watch of CEO Jack Barto, NHRMC spent more than a million dollars to completely renovate the facility. Fitness center manager Jason Albertson equipped the gym with 40 cardio machines with iPod compatible touch screens, weight machines and a new rubberized track. The facility includes a child-care room (staffed 61 hours per week), a spin room (with 17 bikes), an exercise room (where some of the facility's 64 weekly classes are held) and a massage room. It does not include a pool -- one feature of the old facility that wasn't economically prudent, said Karen Curran, director of benefits and compensation.
After the facility opened, Barto approached Albertson and asked, "Do you need anything else?"
Albertson still smiles incredulously when he recalls that conversation. The corporate boss had given Albertson everything he asked for, including a staff of 13 full-time employees. Then, Barto asked him if he wanted more.
That leaves little doubt as to NHRMC's dedication to improving their employees' health.
"I wanted it to be a really positive experience for the employees," Barto said. Their satisfaction would be key to their continued participation.
NHRMC is tracking its success. They have established a goal of 5,000 pounds lost by the end of 2012. More than 2,400 employees are paying the modest price of $5 per pay period ($10 for a family membership) to join the fitness center. About 22 percent of those members use the facility at least twice a week, so the goal isn't unrealistic.
NHRMC is in the health business, so they want employees to exhibit the healthy lifestyle they encourage their patients to adopt. The initiative began three years ago with the senior management team's challenge. Barto lost 31 pounds. Altogether, the group of 11 lost 176 pounds. They still work out as a group once a week and nearly all of them still use personal trainers.
"The overall idea is that we want to improve our employees' health for a variety of reasons," said Erin Balzotti, media relations coordinator. "We're in a position to help the community, so it made sense to start with our employees."
PPD, the pharmaceutical research company headquartered in Wilmington, has a similar philosophy.
With its own gym and an on-site medical clinic, PPD wants healthy employees. The company also sponsors the annual Beach 2 Battleship Triathlon and conducts the Transformation Challenge, in which select employees are given a trainer and a program to help them become healthier. Eighteen participants in 2010 and 2011 lost more than 355 pounds. Employees apply for the program and are selected based on need and potential for success.
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