Toni Naramore believes the workplace is a great place to focus on fitness and health. “Coworkers can be important motivators for better health,” she says. “It improves employees’ success when they know they’re not on the journey alone.” Naramore is the wellness leader for the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care, a 43-year-old health care improvement organization with campuses in both Little Rock and Fort Smith.

For the third year, AFMC has won the Healthy Workplace Award from the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce. AFMC won in the medium-size business category.

“Workplace wellness creates a more positive and productive work environment,” Naramore says. “Because we spend the majority of our time at work, learning about and adopting different ways to be healthy at work make it easier to take healthy habits home to our families.”

AFMC’s mission to “improve health care; improve lives” is very real to the personal lives of its employees. The company’s comprehensive employee wellness program has something for everyone: fitness challenges, fitness rooms, monthly health newsletters, noontime lectures, a wellness committee, health assessments, health insurance reductions when employees meet physical benchmarks, and team participation in community fitness activities.

Management support essential

“Practicing what we preach at AFMC is the operative term,” according to AFMC President and CEO Ray Hanley. “Improving health care starts with each of us as individuals. By participating in AFMC’s wellness program we can help ourselves, our families, inspire our colleagues and be consistent with the mission of the company.”

AFMC’s wellness emphasis would not be possible without the encouragement and financial support of AFMC’s Board of Directors and management. Generous incentives are available to lower health insurance premiums in exchange for meeting designated benchmarks of health, including blood pressure and cholesterol readings, waist circumference, and/or participation in fitness challenges. Employee participation and progress towards better health have decreased AFMC’s health insurance premiums by 15 percent.

The Board created the first full-time wellness leader position in 2013. Naramore, the current wellness leader, works with the Wellness Committee, tracks health risk assessment information and launches several health challenges each year. She is most popular with employees for her personal coaching in nutritional and workout plans, ongoing encouragement and individual support in developing personal fitness goals.

All wellness activities are available to all employees, regardless of status, and their spouses. Currently, about 150 employees (75%) and/or spouses have met with the wellness coach. About 100 have established goals and are actively participating in regular coaching.

Something for everyone

Here are the highlights of AFMC’s wellness program:

Health and wellness challenges include:

  • Simple Steps Walking Challenge – employees compete on number of steps walked daily; the company provides pedometers and cash prizes
  • Half Your Plate Fruits and Veggies Challenge – encourages more plant-based foods in the diet and promotes healthy recipes
  • Lean Machine Strength Challenge – employees learn how to use free weights and do exercises that build muscle
  • Stress-less Challenge – raises awareness of stressors and ways to relieve stress
  • The Holiday Challenge runs in November and December to help employees maintain their weight through the holiday season by being aware of serving sizes and over-consumption of holiday foods

About a third of all employees committed to one or all of these competitions. Gift cards and bragging rights were awarded to first, second and third-place winners.

The Wellness Committee is chaired by Naramore, who has bachelor’s degrees in exercise physiology and health promotion, and is a certified personal trainer. Committee members are employee volunteers who work to maintain an active interest among employees in wellness through education and a variety of activities. It brainstorms employee health needs and challenges, and develops initiatives to meet them.

Participation in community fitness and fundraising events in both Fort Smith and Little Rock include the Little Rock Marathon, Komen Race for the Cure, Central Arkansas Heart Walk, Fort Smith’s True Grit Bike Ride, the Blue and You Fitness Challenge and other team events. Employee walking groups are encouraged before and after work.

A smoke-free environment has been AFMC policy since Nov. 2011. The company no longer hires tobacco users. Employees who smoked when the policy was implemented were “grandfathered in” and offered smoking cessa­tion assistance.

“Lunch and Learn,” mini lectures are held during the lunch hour to explore a variety of health and nutrition topics. Posters placed in the offices’ common areas, email blasts to employees and a new wellness website are additional ways that AFMC keeps wellness up close and personal for its staff.

WellNEWS, the employee newsletter written by Naramore, is circulated electronically at the first of each month. It includes short wellness articles, recipes, exercises, health observances and showcases photos of employees and their family engaged in exercise, sports and other healthy activities.

Annual health risk assessments, implemented in 2011, include medical data and self-reported lifestyle information. AFMC receives an aggregate report on these assessments that is used to establish the wellness focus for the coming year.

The assessments show that individual progress is being made toward better health. Anecdotally, employees report that they feel better, have more energy and take less medication. For example, employees with borderline to high blood pressure dropped from 71 to 60 percent in 2015. Nicotine users dropped from 15 to 12 percent for 2015. The obesity rate dropped from 46 to 35 percent for 2015. Free flu shots are provided annually and most employees get one.

Free work-out rooms are available on both campuses. The Fort Smith office recently moved to new offices in a local shopping mall. In addition to a new workout room, the enclosed mall provides a safe, convenient, indoor location to walk during lunch, before or after work. The Little Rock office has a dedicated gym area in the building that includes exercise machines, treadmills and locker rooms.

A work/life room is available in Little Rock and includes a blood pressure monitor, first aid kit and comfortable lounge chair if an employee is not feeling well. It can also be used as a lactation room for nursing mothers.