Thursday, July 31, 2014

Davis School District gets moving, saves lives

By Wendy Leonard, Deseret News

Published: Sun, Jan. 19 3:13 p.m. MST

 Davis School District office employees walk in Farmington, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014, to improve health. At front are Diane Cummins and Tim Best.

Davis School District office employees walk in Farmington, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014, to improve health. At front are Diane Cummins and Tim Best.

(Ravell Call, Deseret News)

BOUNTIFUL — When the Davis School District implemented its wellness program in October, officials thought it would make a difference to some employees.

They had no idea it would mean the difference between life and death for at least one employee.

"I was totally shocked to find out I had really, really high blood pressure," said Tracy Leavitt, a second-grade teacher at Adelaide Elementary School.

Leavitt was counseled to go directly to a physician to obtain the proper treatment that would prevent imminent heart attack or stroke.

"I didn't think that would ever be me," she said.

Leavitt discovered the ailment during a general health screening that was required under the new Davis Moves program.

"We told employees right from the start that our main objective was to have them become more aware of their personal health status," said John Robison, healthy lifestyles supervisor for the Davis School District.

Of the 4,200 employees insured through the district, 2,900 participated in the program this year. Regardless of participation, however, each employee has to pay an additional $6.25 per month with their insurance premiums. Only those who complete two simple requirements of the program receive a $60 cash incentive in return.

Robison said having 70 percent of participating employees complete the health screening and online risk assessment exam is indicative of people taking a stand for their own health.

"It's all about awareness," he said. "And people are making their own changes."

It is anticipated that having healthier employees will also bring down future medical costs for the district, Robison said.

Upon joining the program, Janna and Scott Zigich, both of whom work for the district, decided to make a few changes. The husband and wife became healthier together, losing 75 pounds collectively in just three months.

"It was little things like eating fruits and vegetables, drinking more water, walking more — all things I already knew would be more healthy," Janna Zigich said.

Albeit out of peer pressure, she joined a walking group at the district offices that met twice a day to get some additional exercise.

"If you didn't show up, people would ask about where you were," she said.

Janna Zigich also cut her daily diet soda, all sugar and most carbs from her diet and found that eating healthy made her want to work out and vice versa.

"I wasn't doing it to lose weight. I just wanted to feel healthier," she said.

The moderate changes signaled a better attitude about being healthy, and she and her husband both ended up losing weight and feeling less sluggish.

The same has been true for Leavitt.

"I feel lucky we have this program," she said, crediting it for her discovery of high blood pressure and ultimately saving her life. "I really had no idea."

Besides having hip replacement surgery last year, Leavitt, 50, said she thought she was "pretty healthy."

The Davis Moves program has resulted in Leavitt taking daily medication, which has dropped her blood pressure by about 35 points. She also replaces previously beloved caffeine with water, and her students have taken notice.

"I'm sleeping better. I have more energy. I just feel a little better," Leavitt said.

The simple program, she said, has added years to her life. And she's also realized that by taking initiative, she might stave off mounting health care costs that would have come with age.

"At least the Davis School District is trying something to contain those costs," Leavitt said.

Some employees are upset at the slight increase being taken from their paychecks, but Robison said in addition to Leavitt and the Zigiches, there's been nothing but positive feedback from participants.

"We want them to get healthier as individuals, and we want to get healthier as a district," he said. "It may even trickle down to the students and families in our district. And really, what could be better?"

Email: wleonard@deseretnews.com

Twitter: wendyleonards

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