The city of Ferndale in Michigan, like many American cities, was in need of cost cutting strategies. As reported by the Detroit Free Press Ferndale’s Human Resources Director, Jenny Longthorne, said that they had hit a plateau in union negotiations with what they could offer in their medical plans and had to come up with another way to save money. Jenny said, “We thought we might be able to do it in wellness on the back end, and assume some savings. We thought wellness would be a good way to start.” So she invited her fellow city workers to join her and go on a diet as a group. 30 employees signed up at the program’s start.
Jenny brought in representatives from Weight Watchers and started the program in September 2012. The group met once a week before work at city hall. At first the city offered to reimburse workers the $150 fee to participate as long as they attended 10 out of the session’s 12 meetings. Ferndale realized how popular and successful the program was and Jenny told WDIV Local 4 News , “After two sessions of that, employees who were here and participating were truly committed to the program. So we began just paying for it in full up front and it’s been very successful.”
In the last year the committed employees lost over 1000 pounds saving the city $131,000 in health care expenses. Not only that, sick days and absenteeism have declined. “You can visibly see and feel the difference in terms of employee attitudes at work,” said the HR leader.
There are many impressive accomplishments from the group but perhaps the most dramatic came from couple Cecile and Bob Thompson. Cecile is a Ferndale accountant and went from a size 20 to a 12 with her 100-pound weight loss. She lost the most weight of the group over the past year, but her husband Bob may just have transformed the most. He began the program at 279 pounds and needed oxygen due to emphysema, two heart attacks, a stroke. Bob lost 50-pounds, which allowed him to go without the oxygen tank and use less blood pressure medication. He said, “If I wouldn’t have done this program I know where I’d be right now,” feeling death was an imminent threat due to his condition.
The healthy lifestyle changes of the Ferndale employees appear to extend to their families and the domino effect has made positive impacts on their health. 88% of those in the program say that their family members are healthier, losing weight, and incorporating more exercise. For the city of Ferndale the cost savings are great, but best of all, each employee who participated in the program say their quality of life has improved and call the experience “life changing.”