Public Health, Employee Health – Denton County Prioritizes Wellness
By Julie Anderson
When it comes to “going the extra mile,” Denton County takes the phrase both figuratively and literally. In fact, Denton County issues a pointed challenge to its community every year in preparation for a special activity:
The Denton County Dash is a free community event to bring awareness to the impact of cardiovascular disease in Denton County. This event provides an opportunity to get out and move! Did you know cardiovascular disease is the #1 killer of Denton County residents, and many of the risk factors are preventable with regular physical activity and balanced eating? It’s time for Denton County to Stop Being Passive and Get Active!
The 3rd Annual Denton County Dash, set for April 1, is a product of the Denton County Healthy Communities Coalition, which is coordinated by Denton County Public Health. What began as a running/walking event to promote a healthy heart has now evolved into a large-scale affair including a health expo. The annual Dash takes place every April in honor of National Public Health Week. Approximately 600 attended last year’s Dash including 352 chip-timed as official race participants.
“We want people to see how many options they have to be physically active and contribute to a healthy life and take preventive measures to ensure the health of their cardiovascular system,” shared Kamilah Hasan, manager of Denton County’s Health Education Department.
This year’s Dash is a city/county effort, with the City of Lewisville Parks and Leisure Services providing park space, registration services, and other supplies such as bibs and timers. Denton County is overseeing event promotion and the health expo portion, which will include a showing from several hospitals and other health-related organizations along with giveaways, prizes and raffles.
“It’s a wonderful way for us to interact with the cities,” Hasan noted.
A Lasting Coalition
Denton County’s organizational goals are listed on page 27 of the 722-page 2016-2017 county budget. One of the county’s 14 primary goals is this: Retaining and expanding partnerships to improve the health of citizens.
“A healthy community is essential for the well-being of the county, and through partnerships we are able to draw upon multiple resources and build a team to accomplish the desired objectives,” observed Denton County Commissioner Bobbie Mitchell. “A healthy community contributes to attracting economic growth and a better livelihood.”
The Denton County Healthy Communities Coalition is comprised of Denton County Public Health representatives, university faculty and staff, local hospital representatives, health professionals, city of Denton representatives, local business owners, and concerned citizens.
Partnerships and coalitions come and go, but the Denton County Healthy Communities Coalition has stood the test of time, Hasan reported. The coalition was launched in 2002 and has regrouped multiple times to identify current needs.
The coalition, led by Denton County, focuses on bringing together different health agencies and community members, Hasan detailed, and serves as a resource bank. While a predominant focus is cardiovascular disease, the coalition is also making determined efforts in the area of mental health and tobacco usage.
“We aim these efforts toward the general community, but we also work with health professionals and other social agencies,” Hasan elaborated. “We try and find out what services are available throughout Denton County.”
For example, during a coalition event it may become clear that a citizen is not just in need of health care, but is also struggling with paying the family bills or buying food; the coalition shares resources to address these types of needs, as well.
“We try to reach as many people as we possibly can in as many ways as we possibly can,” Hasan summarized.
Along with attending health fairs, the Health Education Department makes presentations on:
- Cardiovascular Disease
- Diabetes Education and Management
- West Nile Virus
- Breast Health
- Infectious Disease
- Hand Washing
The department also maintains a Facebook page and makes regular posts, including information on Denton County Healthy Communities Coalition monthly meetings, which are open to the public.
Denton County’s oversight of and participation in the Healthy Communities Coalition is made possible through the county’s Health Education Department located within Denton County Public Health. Not every public health department has its own education department, Hasan said. This department allows Hasan to singularly focus on coalition activities and allows for a year-round concentration on health initiatives versus periodic events.
When it comes to fitness, Denton County also focuses on its own. In fact, the Public Employee Benefits Cooperative Wellness Plan Rally℠ has been revamped this year, according to Melody Graham, Denton County’s benefits manager.
The county is using an enhanced website provided by the county’s health care provider, UnitedHealthcare. This is the same wellness program offered in 2016 but with additional ways to help improve personal health, Graham noted. All employees enrolled in a Denton County medical plan can participate and earn $300, and spouses can earn an additional $300 if enrolled on the employee’s plan. Employees who opt out of Denton County’s medical plans can now participate in the wellness program, although they are not eligible to receive any monetary reward. They can, however, earn “coins” which can be used to enter sweepstakes for prizes.
As explained by UnitedHealthcare, “This online interactive experience is designed to make it easy to help you understand healthy behaviors and take any needed steps to help you live a healthier life,”
Donna Kearns, chief administrator for Denton County Commissioner Bobbie Mitchell, attended training on the new and improved system.
“My role is to help the county employees in our new building better understand how to use the system, remind them to use the system, and most importantly to them, earn their 300 points so that they get their $300,” Kearns defined.
The first step to using the system is to complete an interactive health survey; simply completing the survey earns the employee 75 points.
Employees and participant spouses may earn points in many different ways including wellness checkups, blood work, colonoscopies, mammograms, and even wellness phone calls to discuss health-related issues. The county also brings in health care speakers to address employees at different locations, with points offered for attendance at these mini-health sessions.
“Yes, it does take a little effort and time, but it is so worth it,” Kearns declared. Last year, Kearns had her wellness earnings moved to a “payflex” account and used them on other health-related costs such as dentist visits and prescriptions.
One can’t help but think that these countywide initiatives are paying off. For the second year in a row, Denton County has ranked among the top five healthiest counties in the State of Texas, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, www.countyhealthrankings.org.
“Health care initiatives are essential for the well-being of not only Denton County, but other counties as well,” Mitchell concluded. “Our borders touch each other, and sickness has no boundaries. As we travel to different places, it is important that every county have health initiatives that not only protect their county, but protect every county.”