John Cobb felt as though he was getting old and flabby. He had always considered himself an average man — never too concerned about his weight and active enough. But he also sat a lot as a bus driver for Poudre School District, and as he neared retirement age, he started to notice he needed to work harder to stay healthy.
“I want to live long enough to spend all my Social Security — to die broke and having enjoyed life,” Cobb said.
What he didn’t want to do was to have to spend money on health care bills — and neither did his employer.
About three years ago, PSD partnered with UCHealth and Associates in Family Medicine to create a program that would provide district employees with an integrated health care option that could help improve employees’ lives while also saving the district in health care costs.
In its first three years, the district figured the program saved about $85,000 in avoided health care claims with its original 56 participants. The program now has more than 200 participants.
“The increased access to care is huge for our employees,” said Ashley Schwader, PSD wellness manager. “It has removed barriers and made staying healthy more convenient and affordable.”
UCHealth’s Corporate Health and Wellness provides several programs directly to employers, said Katie Shilts, program outreach manager for Corporate Health and Wellness.
PSD, a self-insured employer, has aligned with UCHealth’s employee health clinic and lifestyle health and wellness programs. UCHealth also provides an occupational health clinic model. Although these are the three main programs, Shilts said that because each employer’s needs are different, an a la carte design is available to ensure that all needs are met.
“Self-insured employers benefit by aligning with UCHealth by buying into a clinic model,” she said. “We can offer variations of on-site and off-site clinics, or like Poudre School District, a near-site clinic so their employees can have easy access.”
Cobb, after being a member of almost every health club in Fort Collins at one time or another, was intrigued by the district’s new program and what it offered him — for free.
“I would get into these health kicks and join a gym,” he said. “I’m not sure why I wasn’t able to stick with it — I always had excuses for not going.”
Because of the district’s integrated health plan with UCHealth, Cobb has services available to him through a Lifestyle and Wellness program. Cobb is in his third year of going to the gym regularly and working with UCHealth’s Lifestyle and Wellness team, which includes access to a registered nurse, dietitian and fitness expert. The fitness expert is provided through a partnership between UCHealth and Miramont Lifestyle Fitness.
“I think it helps having someone to talk to. I like having that person to go to if I have questions,” Cobb said. “I’ve been supported all along the way — you’ve got people looking after you, and I think that is important.”
That personalized approach is what sets UCHealth’s program apart from others, Shilts said.
“It’s a disease management program on steroids,” she said. “Most programs are passive, but ours meets face-to-face. Employees even sign an agreement to follow through with the program. It’s very outfacing.”
Lifestyle Health Manager and registered nurse Laura Dvorak said the one-on-one support is what most clients she works with say they find most beneficial.
Her clients are either referred to her by a physician, or like Cobb, are self-referred. She meets with both district employees and their dependents who are on the district’s health insurance plan.
First, her team completes a health, diet and fitness assessment with the new client.
“We look at all aspects of their health,” Dvorak said. “We talk about their current concerns, their knowledge about healthy choices, their habits — we get a picture of what their lifestyle is now so that we can create a plan for moving forward.”
Cobb learned from his first fitness evaluation that he had the physical health of a 73-year-old — he was only 63 at the time. But it took him only six months of following the plan the team set out for him to drop that physical health age to 57.
Cobb, who had also been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes two years before starting the district’s program, knew he needed to continue to address his chronic illness and saw the integrated health plan as a perfect opportunity. And now, his doctor has taken him off his diabetes medication.
“My health has kept me going [with the program],” he said. “I no longer have to take medication for my diabetes because of exercising, I’m more pleased with my appearance, and I’m now active with people my own age. I’m no longer the one falling behind, but I’m leading my peers. I feel I’m more fit and able to enjoy life. I’m more confident in myself.”
Cobb said he still stumbles occasionally, but he has the Lifestyle team right there to encourage him to get up. Recently, he’s found he is struggling with his diet, so he’s scheduled a time to meet with UCHealth’s Corporate Health and Wellness registered dietitian Brooke Floerke.
He’s even become what he calls a “yoga believer,” he joked.
“It could have been another program that they offer, but I needed flexibility — those were my worst scores on my evaluation,” Cobb said. “It’s not my best area, but it’s been my biggest improvement.”
Because a small share of the population accounts for most of the health care spending in the United States, and because 75 percent of those costs come from preventable diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, it makes sense that employers provide accessible opportunities for their workers to get and stay healthy, Shilts explained.
That’s been the case for Cobb and many others in the program, Schwader said.
“This [program] has been my fountain of youth,” Cobb said. “I plan to enjoy my later years of life.”