ASHEBORO — Health and wellness were identified as important enough by Randolph County stakeholders to be included in the Strategic Plan adopted in 2016. The result is the Corporate-Municipalities Wellness Coalition, with Sam Varner as administrator.
The coalition was started about 18 months ago with 14 members, including the county government, the City of Asheboro, Randolph Health, Asheboro City Schools, medical agencies and several businesses. It’s grown since with the addition of six more municipalities, the Randolph County School System and more businesses.
Varner gave an update of the coalition to the county commissioners at their Oct. 1 meeting. He listed for them the benefits of creating a culture of wellness in the community, besides just fulfilling a key tenet of the Strategic Plan. He said it also improves the health and well-being of the community, reduces healthcare costs, contributes to a healthier workforce, and attracts businesses and enhances the economy.
As for reducing healthcare costs, Varner said in an interview that the average increase for municipal health insurance is about 10 percent per year. But for Randolph County government employees, that increase has averaged 3.5 percent.
Those lower annual increases can be attributed to wellness programs available to employees, such as weight management, tobacco cessation, a diabetes academy and health coaches. Randolph Health provides some of the programs and Randolph Community College has instituted a health coaching course.
Randolph County government provides coordination and facilitation through Varner and Susan Hayes, director of Public Health. Varner said he and Hayes “went to all our municipal leaders to let them know, ‘what we can do for you.’ We had great response.”
Another boost to the Wellness Coalition, Varner said, was the merger of A3 and Healthy Randolph to form the 501c3 nonprofit, Healthy Communities.
“The mission of both organizations fits perfectly into the overall aim of the Randolph County Strategic Plan for a healthier future,” said Varner. “A healthier community equals a healthier workforce leading to economic development.”
Other initiatives of the Wellness Coalition are trail development, nutrition classes, and help for those suffering from mental health issues or substance abuse. The group is also expanding the employee health fair and helping self-insured municipalities reduce their healthcare costs. They’re in the early stages of establishing a possible insurance cooperative. Varner said the coalition is looking at working with churches as well as employers and schools.
“People get this,” said Varner. “It’s a team effort focused on making the county better. The county commissioners are very supportive and see the connection with economic development. A healthy workforce keeps healthcare costs down and attracts new businesses.”
Varner said he’s seen what other cities and counties are doing and noted, “We are ahead of everybody.” He said he took a health coaching class at Duke University, where people had come from all over. “A man from the Mayo Clinic had heard about Randolph County.”
With local governments competing for new businesses, Varner said, the health and wellness of the workforce is a factor in attracting jobs.
“What makes an area better?” he asked. “A healthy workforce and outdoor activities. Wellness is about economic development.
“There’s a lot going on here that’s contributing to a culture of wellness,” Varner said. “The healthier we are, the better we are. We inspire people to be in better health and give them options to do that.”
Varner was asked what to do if an employee’s company isn’t in the coalition. “Have the manager contact me,” he said. His phone number is 336-318-6601 and his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
What stakeholders have to say
The following stakeholders commented on how the Wellness Coalition is working.
* Hal Johnson
Randolph County manager
The Randolph County Strategic Planning process focused on the need to enhance the economic development recruitment capabilities of Randolph County. It also stressed the connection between improving our community’s health and improving prospects for new and existing industries and businesses.
I see the main goal of the Randolph County Wellness Coalition as empowerment. By the Randolph County Wellness Coalition making wellness programs available through employers, schools and community groups, our citizens are empowered to make lifestyle decisions that promote their own physical health, and also the economic health of our Randolph County community. It is certainly much cheaper to keep people healthy than it is to take care of them when they are sick. Business and Industry controls cost by keeping their workforce healthy.
If Randolph County is known as a healthy county, that becomes a positive thing for economic development recruitment. If our county is known as a county that thinks about the health of our workforce, then that is a positive for both new and existing industries and businesses. Randolph County and our municipalities are undertaking a range of prevention efforts which include access to natural trails, supporting community programs, workplace wellness efforts, and school-based wellness initiatives, that will all work together to help our citizens make healthier choices.
I am asked all the time as county manager what I see as one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. People are sometimes surprised when I say that public health and health education will be a major challenge of the 21st century. I hope the history of Randolph County will record that we recognized this challenge and tried to be proactive in addressing these issues.
* Zeb Holden
Archdale city manager
A healthy workforce often reflects a happy, productive work environment. So the City of Archdale has actively engaged in employee wellness initiatives over the years. As a result, employees get better access to healthy living resources and the city saves money on health insurance coverage.
Local governments and businesses around the county have all been pursuing wellness strategies for these very reasons. The Randolph County Wellness Coalition is an effort to unify these programs and shed light on best practices for workplace wellness. On a larger scale, however, the County Wellness Coalition is intended to be a driver of economic development in Randolph County. Companies want to invest in communities where citizens are educated about wellness and take healthcare seriously.
We have a wellness team headed up by our Human Resources Director Rob Welborn which plans city-wide wellness initiatives each year for our staff to earn wellness points. Once a predetermined number of points are earned, the employee is eligible for a discounted insurance rate. Specifically, we have several lunch and learn type of events throughout the year to educate staff about important healthcare topics. Topics have included healthy eating, the importance of sleep, stress relief techniques, etc. Staff can also earn points by getting annual physicals, completing an online health assessment, and attending a health fair administered by the wellness team.
* Melissa Thomson
MERCE Family Healthcare
Community outreach coordinator
MERCE joined the coalition in January and has seen a big difference in the employees’ culture of wellness.
“We expect to continue to create a culture of wellness in the workplace,” she said. “We use the coalition as a resource to figure out what other businesses are doing. Sam (Varner) is full of great information and we learn about programs for our employees or patients. And the employees take the information back to their families.”
Thomson added that MERCE has lunch-and-learn sessions for employees during which a guest speaker talks about some aspect of wellness. The also distribute Varner’s weekly emails concerning health and wellness.
MERCE has formed a team to compete in the Mayor’s Fitness Challenge, which started Oct. 8 and continues through Nov. 18. During the challenge, team members walk and keep up with their steps. Awards are based on the average number of steps for team members.
MERCE plans to host a program next year in collaboration with Cooperative Extension and offer it to patients. Extension agents will provide the information that revolves around healthy living.
Comparing this year with 2017, Thomson called the difference “huge. Employees are more involved in making healthier choices and living healthier lives. Blue Cross offers incentives for annual (physical) exams.”
Thomson said she took the health coaching course at Randolph Community College, finishing with the first group. That qualifies her to be a lifestyles coach.
“It’s amazing to see how much Randolph County has been willing to implement this picture of wellness,” she said.
* Marty Trotter
Assistant superintendent for operations
Randolph County School System
The Randolph County School System has participated in the Corporate Wellness Coalition for the last two years. I’ve attended each of those quarterly meetings.
Sam (Varner) came and spoke at our opening administrators (directors, principals and assistant principals) meeting in August. He shared with the group what he does for the county and the different ways he’s involved with other municipalities and corporations. He sends out a weekly “wellness tips” email to the county employees each Monday. He has been gracious enough to allow us to share these tips with our employees as well.
Sam comes and speaks to our school nutrition managers group for about 30 minutes at each of their monthly meetings. We are now in the process of scheduling three or four opportunities during this school year for our employees to participate in sessions about health and wellness (topics vary: diabetes, tobacco cessation, weight management, and health coaching).
Sam is not only a tremendous resource for Randolph County government but a tremendous resource for other municipalities and corporations in our county. We are extremely fortunate to have Sam Varner in our county.
Sam Varner bio
Sam Varner is the wellness administrator for Randolph County government where he oversees the health and wellness program for nearly 800 Randolph County government employees.
He is the former director of wellness at The Cliffs Communities of the Carolinas and former director of fitness for Pebble Beach, California.
Varner was the strength and conditioning coach of the Clemson football team — 1981 National Champions and 1982 Orange Bowl winner.
He has trained seven Olympic medalists in three Winter Olympics.
Varner worked on the staff of three National Coaches of the Year during his tenure.
He has trained numerous celebrity clients, including actress Faye Dunaway and actor Ed Ames.
He was a guest of President George Bush at the White House for the 2005 National Day of Prayer.
He is the author of four books and numerous health and wellness articles.
Varner is currently working on his next book, “Slimmer Younger Stronger II.”
Varner was born and raised in Asheboro and graduated from N.C. State University. He is married to the former Laurine Concutelli.