Health-focused partnership grows in La Farge

A health-focused partnership between Vernon Memorial and Organic Valley has grown in the past 11 years.

Starting in 2006, Vernon Memorial began with on-site services at the Organic Valley headquarters in La Farge, providing services such as blood pressure readings; cholesterol screening; health and fitness activities; and support for smokers who want to quit.

“Based upon the positive response we received from that, in 2010 we implemented the Value My Health program at Organic Valley,” said Kyle Bakkum, chief executive officer for Vernon Memorial. “That program is really a program where it gives incentives to the staff to lead and live healthy lifestyles and participate in the programs we have in place.”

Today, more than 70 percent of Organic Valley employees participate in the wellness program, and the company has an on-site gym, an employee garden, a walking path and bikes to rent for lunchtime rides.

Amber Wendorf is the wellness program manager at Organic Valley, which employs around 600 people in the Coulee Valley. She calls Vernon Memorial Healthcare “an invaluable resource for us, in terms of their expertise.”

“For us as an employer, it means improved productivity,” she said. “People aren’t having to leave for hours on end — especially in our small communities, a lot of peoples’ doctors are an hour away.”

And, she added, with health services available on-site rather than hours away, employees are much more likely to take advantage of them.

“And that’s been proven,” she said. “Not just with our clinic but with other clinics we’ve researched.”

Wendorf says she’s been seeing improvements in “a lot of different areas” of worker health in her four years working at Organic Valley.

“For example, we saw an increase in smoking cessation attendance and a decrease in the number of smokers, which obviously correlates,” she said. “And we’re seeing a decrease in the number of employees who have diabetes.”

Importantly, the program can be tailored each year to fit the changing needs of a dynamic employee population, she added.

The surrounding community offers a wealth of opportunities for staying active, either on biking or hiking trails or out on the water, and Wendorf says many Organic Valley employees take advantage of those outdoor adventures.

In fact, the company was named in the Top 100 Places to Work by Outside Magazines in 2015.

“Together, we can improve these communities, to not only make these communities healthier, but also for our own benefit, help with our retention and recruitment,” Wendorf added. “Because if we’re hiring employees who follow our mission — in other words, they care about the health not only of the environment, but their food and themselves — we need to provide them with those opportunities when they come to work here.”

This story appeared in the Wisconsin Technology Council’s recent health report titled “Taking the Pulse: How Quality Healthcare Can Build a Better Bottom Line.” See the full report here: