Sally Hershey coordinates the Erie County Wellness Health Incentive Program (WHIP), which offers individual health assessments, screenings, and immunizations for all Erie County staff at 12 locations throughout the county. The WHIP program is an evidence-based strategy to improve employee health and wellness. According to Sally “employees like the option to come in and have free assessments done and they are glad to get the results right away. Participants love that I go to the individual offices where they work.” The WHIP program has improved employee health, productivity, and decreased long-term medical costs.
The focus of the WHIP program is on wellness, so Sally spends a lot of her time coaching county employees on managing chronic disease such as diabetes and heart disease, offering nutrition counseling, and smoking cessation resources. Also, every participant in the WHIP program can get immunizations at no cost to the employee. “These are important because they protect our employees against illnesses such as Flu, Hepatitis, Shingles, and Pneumonia.”
Managing chronic conditions helps to prevent major health events from happening in the future. “I had a male who came for an Individual Health Assessment with elevated lipids. He did have a family history of elevated lipids, so I educated the patient on proper diet and exercise to help decrease levels. He was also instructed to follow up with his primary care provider. The participant followed up with his primary care provider, and returned to me for a re-test about 4 months later with a decrease in his levels.” This patient was made aware of his chronic health condition at a routine WHIP health assessment, and was able to prevent a major illness.
Early detection of chronic conditions saves organizations money on health insurance premiums. “There was a female who had completed Individual Health Assessments through the Wellness Health Incentive Program for several years. She had a slow increase of abnormal blood glucose results over the years, but this specific year it was abnormally high. After confirming the participant had not eaten for 12 hours as instructed, a Hemoglobin A1C was completed due to her fasting blood glucose results. The results of the A1C were also abnormally high. When she was advised to see her primary care provider, she reported that she did not have one. This participant was able to schedule an appointment at the Erie County Community Health Center where she was diagnosed and treated for her diabetes. She is now maintaining a normal A1C and is feeling much better.” Early detection of diabetes prevented major complications and health care expenses down the road for this patient.
Many patients have no idea they have a chronic condition. “I had a young man in his 30s that came in with dangerously high blood pressure. He was not aware he had it, so I advised him to contact his primary care provider right away, and he was prescribed a medication to help. That patient returned to me on several occasions to have his blood pressure checked. With numbers still elevated, I suggested purchasing a home blood pressure monitor and monitoring his blood pressure daily and communicating with his primary care provider. This patient continued to monitor as suggested and with a few changes in medication, he now has a medication that is controlling his blood pressure and he is feeling significantly better.” Finding out he had a chronic condition was just the first step for this patient. Ongoing monitoring and recommendations from the WHIP nurse helped this patient to finally get his chronic condition under control.
The WHIP program also provides patients with resources for making healthy lifestyle changes that have a major impact on employee health and wellness. “I saw a middle-aged female who had smoked for 30+ years. I educated her on the importance of quitting and all of the benefits that come along with no longer smoking, for example: a decrease in blood pressure, increase in oxygen exchange, and increase in taste and smell. I suggested getting involved with a smoking cessation class for support and to speak with her primary care provider about medications that can help. The participant returned the next year to say she had successfully quit smoking for a year.” Her interaction with Sally is what finally convinced this patient to quit smoking.
Obesity is widespread problem in our Erie County with a 2015 Community Health Assessment revealing that 70% of Erie County residents are overweight or obese. Sally provides nutrition and fitness education to employees to combat the problem. “A husband and wife that participate in the program came in to see me with both of their body mass index over 30, which puts them in the category of obese. I educated both of them on proper diet and exercise. They were ready to lose weight. They took my suggestions, and when they returned 6 months later they had worked hard and were both a healthy body weight.” This couple was able to significantly improve their health and avoid health complications by following the advice of the WHIP nurse.
WHIP is a fundamental component of the Erie County Health Department’s Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP). The CHIP Steering Committee identified adult obesity and the chronic diseases associated with it such as diabetes and heart disease, as one of the main targets for improvement. The WHIP program gives many Erie County residents access to health care and wellness resources that can prevent these obesity related conditions, many of which are leading causes of premature death. Not only does WHIP keep employees healthy, it keeps them productive. Employees that have access to health and wellness care such as annual flu shots, blood pressure and blood sugar screenings, and nutrition counseling are less likely to miss work due to illness.