The Jackson Laboratory Approach: The Jackson Laboratory’s Wellness Program

jax1Jackson Laboratory launched their wellness program JAXfit in 2007 to help provide employees with the ability to take control of their own health and wellness. They built a new fitness center, scheduled classes, lunch and learns, and other programming to boost employee wellness and participation.

JAXfit helped the non-profit organization rein in their insurance expenses. As a self-insured institution, it was especially important to controlling their health benefit costs but it also has an added benefit of healthier, happier and more productive employees.

The Laboratory also embarked on an educational and awareness building program to make employees more thoughtful consumers of healthcare. That communication effort, coupled with JAXfit and a thoughtful benefit design have contributed to healthcare savings that resulted in no increase in insurance cost for either the Laboratory or its employees for the past three years.

This substantial accomplishment took a lot of hard work and commitment on the part of management and employees. In 2010, the Laboratory added a deductible to its insurance coverage. At the same time, JAXfit provided a “Passport” incentive that allowed employees to reduce or eliminate the deductible by completing wellness activities and education.

jax1“The goals of JAXfit are to help employees become healthy, wealthy and wise,” says Ben Billings, the program coordinator. “We tried to design the program in a way that makes you ask ‘Why wouldn’t you want to do it?’ but it can be hard to change the culture to one that focuses on wellness and preventative care.”

Introducing a deductible where none existed before was a wake-up call or a slap in the face depending on your perspective but it got employees to begin to take responsibility for their health. The change in culture and attitude has been nothing short of remarkable.

Health care risks since 2007 are down sharply across the board—blood pressure by 35 percent, weight by 13 percent, tobacco use by 33 percent. The number of employees classified as low risk for health issues overall has risen by 50 percent, while those in the high risk and very high risk categories have fallen by a combined 83 percent. It’s no surprise then that, contrary to national trends, per person medical expenses at the Laboratory fell 10 percent between 2008 and 2011.

JAXfit programming continues to be refined, and activity programs remain the most visible part. An early walking program, in which teams vied to accumulate the most steps tallied on pedometers supplied by the program, saw enthusiastic participation. More recently, exercise classes— Zumba, yoga, core fitness—are regularly taking over space in the fitness center or in the dining hall. And an inter-institutional competition between the Laboratory and the University of Maine, named “Big Bears to Little Bears” in homage to the university’s black bear mascot, brought personal trainers to the Laboratory and raised the activity levels even higher.

For 12 weeks in late 2011, it was common to see groups of employees running up stairs or jumping around—a form of exercise called plyometrics actually involves a lot of jumping around—in the fitness center. It was a Laboratory team, Team Flabu-less, that bested all others from either institution to take top honors. But the individual stories were in many ways more significant, as employees, many of whom had never before consistently exercised, gained fitness and lost weight under the watchful eyes of skilled trainers. The program generated such a positive buzz that it was renewed for early 2012. Signups began more than a month before the program began again, and every team slot was filled inside of a week.

“We’re learning as we go with our wellness program but we’ve gotten employees engaged and excited about improving their health – and what could be better?”asked Billings.