By Deanna C. White
Four years ago, Beverly Rainford, accounting resources specialist for the Charlotte offices of Elliott Davis, PLLC, said she knew she needed to take charge of her health.
Still carrying excess weight from her last pregnancy, plagued by everyday aches and nagging back pain, and finally forced to undergo knee and foot surgery in early 2008, Rainford decided to develop a new "vision" of wellness.
So she turned to what some might consider a surprising source to help her on that journey – her employer.
Elliott Davis, a Greenville, South Carolina–based accounting, tax, and consulting services firm in the Southeast, has been named one of the "Healthiest Employers of Greater Charlotte" by the Charlotte Business Journal. And Rainford is one of the firm's "wellness wonders."
The second annual awards event, which honored the area's most outstanding health and wellness programs, was held at the Charlotte Convention Center March 21. The luncheon drew more than 350 people. Elliott Davis was recognized as a finalist for the second consecutive year in the medium-sized company category (100 to 499 employees), ranking eighth for 2012.
"As a firm, we have always tried to be very proactive on the issue of health care. We started by offering free clinical health assessments to employees in 2008 and it just blossomed from there", said Jill Schorr, human resources analyst for Elliott Davis. "Being proactive on health care and wellness issues is better for the firm, better for the people who work here, and better for their families."
The Charlotte office offers its more than sixty employees a full range of wellness options designed to suit people at all health and fitness levels.
The program begins with free annual health assessments, along with free health coaching provided by a registered nurse employed by the firm.
Rainford, who is also the mother of three children and a full-time student at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte (UNC), said that company-sponsored health assessment was the critical wake-up call she needed to spark her wellness journey and bring balance to her hectic life.
"All of my stats on the health assessment were at the critical level or the high-risk level", Rainford said. "When you actually see it on paper it is shocking. But once I processed it, I thought 'I can do something about this.'"
Rainford pursued her individual diet and fitness goals, but she also dove wholeheartedly into all the wellness, healthy living, and exercise programs offered by Elliott Davis.
In addition to the clinical health assessments, Schorr said, the Charlotte office also offers on-site group fitness classes, like Pilates, and sponsors friendly competitions, incentivized with small rewards that encourage employees to eat healthy, drink plenty of water, and eat home-cooked meals.
The office also encourages employees to participate in team efforts for fit-focused fundraising events like Charlotte's "Celebrate Better Health 5K", part of the Healthiest Employers program, and the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.
When the office relocated to a new building in 2010, employees donned Elliott Davis t-shirts and walked the one-a-half miles to their new digs where they celebrated with a healthy lunch.
Schorr says improvements to employee health throughout the entire Elliott Davis firm have been dramatic. Since the program began in 2008, participation has risen from 313 to 389 participants; the percentage of employees who reported themselves as low exercisers has dropped from 49 to 33.4 percent; and the percentage of employees originally classified as clinically overweight has dropped from 33 percent to 30 percent.
In 2010, the firm began tracking its health care premium increases against national averages and discovered that for the last two years, its increases have been less than half the national average.
But the intangibles, Schorr says, are just as valuable.
"I think it is a great testament to the Elliott Davis culture that people are so willing to participate in these things as a team", Schorr said. "When you have people in the office lying in a training room on mats doing sit ups together . . . it shows how supportive we are of one another. The wellness program has increased that."
Just ask Beverly Rainford, who says she feels like she "never misses a beat" since starting the wellness program.
She dropped sixty pounds in ten months, her 2010 health assessment revealed significant improvement to her overall health, and she made the Chancellor's List at UNC with a 4.0 GPA.
But yesterday, Rainford said, she reaped the best reward. "My twenty-one-year-old son told me, 'Mom you are such a strong woman. You can do so much.'"