Health and wellness fair connects employers to health resources

 

Representatives from area businesses network at the first Golden Triangle Health and Wellness Resource Fair at the Communiversity on East Mississippi Community College’s campus last October. The fair allowed employers in Lowndes, Oktibbeha and Clay counties to get an idea of health and wellness businesses and resources in the area they could partner with to encourage healthy habits among employees. Organizers Christie Lawrence of Surge Advisors in Starkville and Adrienne Morris of the Golden Triangle Human Resource Association both said they hope to organize another such fair this year.

Representatives from area businesses network at the first Golden Triangle Health and Wellness Resource Fair at the Communiversity on East Mississippi Community College’s campus last October. The fair allowed employers in Lowndes, Oktibbeha and Clay counties to get an idea of health and wellness businesses and resources in the area they could partner with to encourage healthy habits among employees. Organizers Christie Lawrence of Surge Advisors in Starkville and Adrienne Morris of the Golden Triangle Human Resource Association both said they hope to organize another such fair this year.
Photo by: Photo courtesy Michael Stewart (EMCC)

 

Representatives from area businesses network at the first Golden Triangle Health and Wellness Resource Fair at the Communiversity on East Mississippi Community College’s campus last October. The fair allowed employers in Lowndes, Oktibbeha and Clay counties to get an idea of health and wellness businesses and resources in the area they could partner with to encourage healthy habits among employees. Airmen from the Columbus Air Force Base speak with representatives at the fair.

Representatives from area businesses network at the first Golden Triangle Health and Wellness Resource Fair at the Communiversity on East Mississippi Community College’s campus last October. The fair allowed employers in Lowndes, Oktibbeha and Clay counties to get an idea of health and wellness businesses and resources in the area they could partner with to encourage healthy habits among employees. Airmen from the Columbus Air Force Base speak with representatives at the fair.
Photo by: Photo courtesy Michael Stewart (EMCC)

 

Representatives from area businesses network at the first Golden Triangle Health and Wellness Resource Fair at the Communiversity on East Mississippi Community College’s campus last October. Amy Billingsley speaks with a dental representative.

Representatives from area businesses network at the first Golden Triangle Health and Wellness Resource Fair at the Communiversity on East Mississippi Community College’s campus last October. Amy Billingsley speaks with a dental representative.
Photo by: Photo courtesy Michael Stewart (EMCC)

 

 

Isabelle Altman

 

 

When Christie Lawrence learned Mississippi Business Group on Health had not hosted events for employers in northern Mississippi, she wanted to change that.

 

The president of Starkville-based consulting firm Surge Advisors had worked with MSBGH, putting on resource fairs and seminars in Jackson and on the coast to help employers implement healthy habits in the workplace and connect with businesses in the health and wellness industry. Now, she wanted to give access to those same resources to Golden Triangle businesses.

 

"The whole focus of the Mississippi Business Group on Health is really just trying to rally employers to help drive change," Lawrence said. "[...] To learn more about health and wellness, because you can do a lot with your health benefits, the way the plan is set up, to foster and encourage more prevention, more focus on personal accountability."

 

 

Lawrence and representatives from MSBGH joined Golden Triangle Human Resource Association last October to host the area's first Health and Wellness Resource Fair at the Communiversity on East Mississippi Community College's campus. Lawrence said dozens of employers attended the event, where they sat through panel discussions and browsed more than 50 exhibits from area health care centers, gyms, yoga studios and more.

 

"The participants upon arrival could visit the various tables and get information from the vendors directly," said GTHRA President Adrienne Morris, "and be able to network, exchange contact information, find out what products, what resources they had available and what they could provide for their employees."

 

In a state that ranks 49th in health care, Lawrence said it's important to help business representatives find ways to encourage healthy habits among employees that could prevent health problems plaguing Mississippi, like obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

 

"It's all about, 'how do you provide better quality but also reduce the cost?'" Lawrence said. "[...] The employers are key, because their health benefit plan basically helps drive employee behavior."

 

Employers who filled out an exit survey after the fair said they were surprised at the number of health resources in the area. More than 85 percent said they would attend the fair again in 2020, while the rest said they would at least consider it.

 

For Charles Sylvest, education pastor at Fairview Baptist Church in Columbus, the fair was a good reminder of ways to stay active at work. In particular, he remembered a panel by a Mississippi State University Ph.D. student who showed them different exercises people can do at their desks.

 

"She said, 'Get up out of your chairs. We're going to practice what we've been preaching,'" Sylvest said. "She got up and (demonstrated) different sets of stretching. [...] So we physically went through some exercises that we could use in our offices."

 

Another panel on the negative health effects of sitting too much had a similar effect on Susan Hadaway, human resources manager at West Point-based trucking company Southern Ionics. "Sitting disease" stuck out in her mind particularly because truck drivers spend so much time sitting in their vehicles.

 

"If you're in a sedentary position or you're a truck driver, you're seated at work, let's say eight to 10 hours a day," she said. "And then people go home and are seated watching TV or eating dinner."

 

Hadaway said she used some of the information and tips from the panels she viewed in her "Wellness Wednesday" memos she sends employees every week. The whole fair impressed her so much she became a member of MSBGH to gain access to their "toolbox" of resources.

 

"My responsibility is to make sure that my employees have the best benefits and support and resources possible to be able to excel at their jobs," she said. "And wellness [...] allows people to excel. The healthier you are, the further you'll go."

 

Lawrence and Morris also emphasized networking opportunities available to the fair's attendees, suggesting businesses could partner with health care facilities or gyms to provide discounted memberships and other "perks" for employees.

 

They plan on holding another such fair this fall, with a few changes. In particular, Lawrence wants to hold the panels and exhibits at different times, while Morris said she wants to begin spreading the word about the event earlier, so more area businesses sign up.

 

They added the COVID-19 pandemic will affect how employers and health care professionals think about health benefits.

 

"The next conversation will definitely be, after COVID-19 is over with, how do you now view your health insurance programs or different wellness programs that you offer to employees?" Morris said. "Will you keep the same thing, or are you going to try to change it?"

 

Lawrence believes Mississippi will see renewed interest in wellness and preventing health issues before they occur -- but employers are absolutely critical in supporting that interest.

 

"If the employers got together and worked collaboratively, they could drive significant change," she said. "And based on the interactions that I've had with health care providers, they're willing to work with them."

 

 

 

 

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