BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Assumption Parish Sheriff Mike Waguespack is Chairman for the Louisiana Sheriff's Association's health advisory committee. That committee oversees the budget for health insurance and benefits.
"We were, lack of a better word, hell bent on reducing premiums and costs," said Waguespack.
With the help of an insurance consultant, the committee decided the best way to save on healthcare costs was to help their employees improve their health.
"Common sense tells you that if you have a healthier employee that they're showing up for work, and when they're showing up for work they're more productive," said Annette Dowdle, Senior Vice President for HUB International insurance services.
This year, the LSA rolled out a voluntary statewide health and wellness initiative. The committee hired on Sterling Wellness Solutions, a Louisiana company, to conduct yearly biometric screening for deputies. These screenings include blood pressure, BMI and an extensive blood panel. Wellness coaches then review the results with each participant. Participants also have the option of sharing results with their doctor. The coaches also work with deputies and staff year round to provide support in reaching health goals.
These screenings are free to deputies and staff, and are completely confidential.
"We want the participants to set goals for themselves. We're there to kind of support and encourage them, provide resources for them," explained wellness coach Cheryl Epps.
Although the LSA is footing the bill for the wellness services, Waguespack says that investment will lead to savings in the end. He says several studies indicate that for every dollar spent on wellness, there is a three to five dollar return on health cost savings down the road.
Also, high participation in the wellness program allows offices to reduce insurance costs. For each office that had a 75 percent or higher participation, they were allowed to drop their insurance rate down a tier.
"This tier adjustment to my office alone saved my office about $40,000," said Waguespack.
A total of 37 offices are participating, with most of those above the 75 percent mark. While it is still early in the program, Waguespack believes there will be more financial savings in the years to come.
However, the Sheriff says the most important impact is the one on his staff's health.
A year ago, Assumption Parish Deputy Ryan Simmons says he weighed over 300 pounds. He started losing weight on his own, and so far he's lost 95 pounds. With help of the program, he has been able to stay on track and continue to improve his health. In fact, he has gotten his blood pressure and cholesterol under control without medication.
"You may think that there's nothing wrong with you, but your blood work speaks," said Simmons.
Calcasieu Parish Deputy Gene Pittman is another success story. Pittman says he has always tried to stay fit and eat healthy, but his blood work revealed a problem with his thyroid. A follow up with his doctor revealed a benign tumor which had to be removed. Pittman says he never had any symptoms. His doctor explained that the problem would have continued for a year or more if he had not been screened.
"Eventually they said it could have caused some problems with my carotid artery," said Pittman.
Both deputies note that law enforcement is a physically demanding and stressful job, and that it doesn't always lend itself to a healthy lifestyle. Long shifts and odd hours leave little time for exercise or healthy food options. Waguespack says not every deputy has been excited about committing to healthy lifestyle changes, but he says it's vital in their line of work.
"If you're out of shape, you're overweight, you're diabetic it's hard to get through a 12 hour shift. They're creeping down the alleys to have a catnap. I know what's going on," said Waguespack.
Pittman and Simmons were more direct.
"When you're out there by yourself, if you're not in shape, you're literally sometimes fighting for your life," said Pittman.
The Sheriff and deputies all agreed that being healthier will allow them to better serve and protect their communities.