Lead and Learn
Health and Wellness Services Team at Valley Schools Management Group
Apr. 28, 2023
About Valley Schools Management Group
Founded by Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Tom Boone in 2005, Valley Schools Management Group (VSMG) is a leading employee benefits consultant dedicated to serving the needs of Arizona’s school districts, municipalities, and other public entities.
With offices in Phoenix and Tucson, VSMG is committed to delivering expert advice, forward-thinking strategies, and cost-effective solutions to help clients attract and retain employees. But VSMG is more than an employee benefits consultant group.
In 2007, when corporate wellness programs were preserved for large private companies and primarily targeted employees with high-risk health conditions, VSMG saw an opportunity to improve individual and workplace wellness from the ground up, stepping onto the scene with WellStyles, a health and wellness program that meets every employee where they are in their health journey.
WellStyles differs from traditional health and wellness programs that simply address high claimant health. It listens and responds to the needs of all plan members and works with the larger healthcare community, including specialists in root-cause medicine, to treat the whole person right where they are.
More than 15 years after its inception, the WellStyles team continues to grow, innovate, and support more than 30,000 individual members across Arizona, so they can be their best selves at work and at home.
Going Back to Health Basics During COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic created extreme chaos for frontline workers, including school teachers and staff. Without hesitation, VSMG and its entire WellStyles team sprung into action.
“Our members were some of the people hit the hardest,” Kendall Taylor, Executive Director of Health and Wellness Services, said. “So, we provided them with as much up-to-date information as possible and took a hard look at how we were supporting them and what we could do to improve that support. We continuously asked ourselves, ‘What can we do better?’”
Within a matter of days, the primarily in-person wellness program became 100% virtual and focused on topics like how to manage stress, boost mental health, and strengthen the immune system.
“It was important for us to remind our members, in the midst of all these unknowns, that there were things still within their control,” Clinical Advisor of Health and Wellness Services, Dr. Lauren Bachman, remarked.
In addition to moving the nutritional lunch-n-learns and workout classes online, the team also started “virtual social hours,” where members could attend an online meeting room to connect with their peers safely.
“Though we transitioned our offerings to a virtual format out of necessity, we found it allowed us to reach more members than we were ever able to reach before in a safe, convenient, and effective way,” WellStyles Programs Manager, Kristen DeCosta, said.
Although everyday program offerings shifted to online, accessibility was not lost on the WellStyles team. 1 in 6 Arizonans is affected by food insecurity, and there are 43 “food deserts,” areas known for having limited access to affordable and nutritious food, in Phoenix alone.
While following state health and safety protocols, WellStyles teamed up with Local First Arizona and Sun Produce Co-op to distribute community supported agriculture baskets filled with fresh produce to its members.
During the pandemic, DeCosta remembers the team emphasized the “pillars of health” to help members adopt healthy habits that gave them the best chance against weathering the virus. These pillars include: maintaining a healthy sleep routine, eating a nutrient-rich diet fostering meaningful connections, reducing exposure to harmful toxins, maintaining a daily movement routine, and stress management practices.
“It’s all about getting back to the basics and honing in on those things you have control over,” Dr. Bachman said.
If self-advocacy and realm of control are the cornerstone of VSMG’s wellness program, its whole-person approach is the heart, and data is its lifeline.
“We are always striving to go the extra mile,” Taylor said. “We use health trends and internal claims data to determine our top health and wellness priorities.”
The health trends identified by WellStyles mirror many of the health trends across the state, including an increasing need for more mental health resources.
One way the team responded to this growing need is by compiling and continuously updating a mental health resource guide designed for human resources and benefits departments to easily distribute to staff.
Another response paved the way for VSMG’s in-office relaxation room, equipped with a full-body massage chair, treadmill, yoga mats, red-light therapy device, and other workout equipment.
“Since we unveiled the relaxation room at a recent employee town hall, it has been occupied throughout the entire workday,” Taylor said. “People are coming in early to work out. Others take necessary breaks to meditate or get a quick massage before their next meeting.”
VSMG’s efforts to encourage healthier choices don’t stop there. They also initiated the Green Team, a cross-functional group that creates environmentally-friendly processes throughout their physical office to reduce waste, improve individual health, and identify sustainable and regenerative alternatives.
In one program year, the Green Team successfully eliminated all single-use plastic water bottles by setting up Berkey water systems in both break rooms and providing each employee with an eco-friendly, reusable water bottle. They also provided reusable dishware and cutlery to eliminate other single-use kitchen items, as well as compostable and organic coffee pods.
Moving forward, the Green Team plans to replace all cleaning chemicals and fragrances with environmentally safe and health-friendly alternatives, install smart lighting, and switch to energy-efficient appliances.
“Giving to the Givers”
VSMG, and its wellness program, WellStyles, strive to set the standard of health and well-being within the industry. The best way they know how is by collecting hard data and marrying it with member feedback.
“Through data analysis, we’re tracking specific medical trends to expand our services, including musculoskeletal needs, autoimmune disorders, and metabolic health and weight management,” Taylor said. “But we’re also there to talk with our members and listen to their personal health struggles.”
In the past two years, VSMG hired a new marketing and communications team to strengthen their outreach efforts and to support the launch of cutting-edge medical solutions, like programs rooted in functional medicine and diabetes reversal programs.
These vetted medical solutions address common pain points for Arizona schools and other public entities, such as budgetary constraints and employee recruitment and retention challenges.
“Our data clearly show higher retention of and lower claims costs for employees engaged in our wellness program versus those who are not,” Dr. Bachman said.
According to the WellStyles team, the key to increasing program engagement sounds simple: get them in the door, and then keep them motivated to make a real commitment to their health. When in reality, they understand it takes a village listening to the unique needs of its members to provide better care.
This year, with the help of the newly established marketing and communications team, WellStyles is hosting its second annual health and well-being survey, where thousands of members can share what’s working, what’s not working, and what they’d like to see in the future.
“These employees work very hard, are very passionate about what they do, and are wearing multiple hats daily,” Taylor said. “We want them to feel empowered and ask for what they need when it comes to their health. Our main goal is to give to the givers.”
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