Employees in five Durham, N.C., schools hope to set an example for their colleagues across the state that will lead to healthier lifestyles and help curb rising health-care costs.
The schools are part of a project that is being piloted by the state’s new North Carolina HealthSmart Healthy Schools program.
Staff members at the schools will be offered free wellness programs focusing on physical activity, weight management, smoking cessation, and stress reduction.
Ultimately, program coordinators hope to expand the program statewide as one way to bring down the state’s health-care costs
“We have to save our [health] plan,” said Casey Herget, the director of health promotion and disease prevention for the North Carolina state health plan. That’s where the emphasis on healthier living comes in: “Seventy-percent of our dollars are spent on mostly preventable chronic diseases,” she said
And because school employees make up two-thirds of those enrolled in the state plan, state officials implemented the pilot project this month to begin providing educators with the tools for living healthier lives.
Participants will also receive health-risk screenings and have their weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure monitored.
Members of the department of community and family wellness at Duke University in Durham will administer the project.
Teachers appear to be responding enthusiastically to the voluntary programs. At Durham’s Hope Valley Elementary School, 81 of the 92 employees have already enrolled.
State officials hope to expand the programs to other Durham schools beginning in August 2006. Eventually, all schools in North Carolina will offer the programs. “We need to get a year under our belts first, in order to determine the glitches and calculate the returns,” Ms. Herget said.
Although the state does not expect to measure the project’s returns for three years, Ms. Herget estimates a $2 return for every dollar spent.
The project’s inaugural year will cost $400,000. The state will cover the cost initially. Officials hope that county governments and other funders will contribute as the program expands.
In a press conference unveiling the North Carolina HealthSmart initiative for state employees last June, Gov. Michael F. Easley said: “These programs are paying for themselves in the savings they generate.” He added, “An ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure.”
A version of this article appeared in the January 26, 2005 edition of Education Week