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Life Connections: Life-changing

Jackie Lonero biked with her grandson from the Home Depot in Seaside to the Monterey Bay Aquarium on Cannery Row on a recent winter day. Two years ago, the 4-mile trip might as well have been 400 miles — beyond Lonero’s reach. Now, she does a good job keeping up, thanks to some major changes she made through Life Connections, a wellness program Community Hospital offers its employees and now provides in a modified version to the public.

Lonero signed up for Life Connections after attending an employee health fair at Community Hospital.

“I thought the health fair was going to be fun,” she says. “Needless to say, I flunked every screening.”

Her blood pressure was up, her weight was too high, and she was shocked to learn she had diabetes.

“I was in denial,” Lonero says.

A registered dietitian at the health fair offered comfort and assurance and told her about Life Connections. Clinical dietitians and registered nurses provide education, personalized coaching, and regular follow-up in four areas: diabetes; lipids (high cholesterol or triglycerides); high blood pressure; and heart disease.

Once participants complete a class, they have regular individual consultations with staff to personalize action plans and help them stay on track.

Since the program started two years ago, more than 270 employees or their dependents have taken part. They have achieved improvements in their personal lives and have also reduced their healthcare costs and the costs to Community Hospital.

“Our goal in starting the program was to help employees improve the quality of their lives by improving their health,” says Tim Nylen, a vice president of Community Hospital. “From stories like Jackie’s and the statistics we’ve seen, it’s clearly been a success.”

Employees who take part receive financial incentives such as waived co-pays on related medications.

They also tend to have fewer complications, meaning fewer hospital stays or Emergency department visits.

Community Hospital estimates it saves $500 per month in healthcare costs on each employee who participates.

“It really is a win-win,” says Janice Harrell, director of Nutrition Services. “Quality of life is better, employees save money, and the health plan saves money.”

Harrell says she frequently hears success stories, like the one from the woman who told her, “My husband has never managed his diabetes this well. We do things like go on hikes. Our whole life is better.”

Lonero says the information she received was life-changing, and the shared experiences of her fellow participants were invaluable. She learned to be more in charge of her health: She knows what her blood pressure, blood glucose, weight, and other health statistics should be, and she stays on top of them. She changed her diet, enjoying more frequent but smaller meals or snacks based on more educated food choices.

She exercises regularly, walking three miles a day or riding the bike she bought last year.

Her blood pressure and blood glucose are down, and she’s lost 25 pounds.

Regular meetings with staff members, including registered dietitian Lisa Holden, help her stick with the program and continue her successes.

“I just saw my endocrinologist, and he can’t believe my numbers,” Lonero says.

She retired from Community Hospital in 2010, after 39 years; and because of her improved health, she has truly been able to enjoy her free time, actively playing with her grandchildren and traveling with her husband.

“I’ve been able to have a good retirement,” says Lonero, 63. “I wouldn’t have been able to do that without the program.”

Jackie Lonero and Lisa Holden, clinical dietitian

LifeConnections is a FREE benefit that helps Community Hospital employees and families live healthily and save money. Community Hospital employees and families (including spouses, registered domestic partners, and children) must be on the Employee Health Plan to be eligible.

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