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Ventura County Invests in Employee Health and Reduces Health Care Costs

Case Story

Community: Ventura County

Population: 797,740


Seeking ways to help curb rising medical claims and costs, the County of Ventura’s Board of Supervisors approved a recommendation by the Labor Management Committee to establish a wellness program for employees. Starting in 1985, the Wellness Program has evolved and expanded to provide a wide variety of programs and services that are effective in improving the health and wellness of employees and their families. With the goal of controlling increases in medical costs, the program provides education and resources to employees and follow-up and assistance to high-risk employees in order to assist them with their health needs, encouraging more effective, efficient use of health care services.

Health Connection

Employers can reduce the burden of healthcare costs by supporting employees in their efforts to combat obesity and overweight—the primary contributors to the preventable diseases that account for more than 75% of health care expenditures.

There are many ways local agencies can lead the way. Some ideas include: pass a resolution that focuses on employee wellness, have a Wellness Committees assess health impacts within the workplace, develop policies that promote and protect employee health, limit or restrict access to unhealthy foods in vending machines and at meetings, and make healthy food available to support a healthy diet.

Program Highlights

  • Recognition and awards for improving employee health, specifically identification as one of “California’s Healthiest Employers”, multi-year recipient of California Fit Business awards, NACo Achievement Award recipient.
  • Of those employees that received individual follow-up, 88% reduced their fat intake and 100% increased their fruit and vegetable consumption.
  • Conservative estimates of the average preventable cost per participant are calculated at $2,049 per year, which translates to a return of over $3 on every dollar invested in the Wellness Program.

Lessons Learned

  • Having an Employee Health & Wellness Policy provides a framework for evaluating and assessing other decisions that impact healths. For example, the County of Ventura used their employee wellness policy to help guide the process of selecting a cafeteria vendor.
  • The program turned the challenge of budget constraints and limited staff time into an opportunity to develop more efficient strategies to reach employees. For example, by allowing staff to submit online requests for dieticians to come to meetings to conduct evaluations and provide presentations, the Wellness Program was able to expand its reach and use the dieticians’ scarce time more efficiently.
  • Involving employee unions and the Board of Supervisors in the development of the employee wellness policy and program ensured greater support to continue the efforts through tough financial times.

Resources to Learn More

The Rest of the Story…


A 71% increase in medical claims at the County of Ventura in 1983 drew attention to the need to contain health care costs. In 1985 the County of Ventura Wellness Program was established. Despite several cut backs since its inception, the program has gone on to –become a four-time winner of the California Fit Business Award.

Originally, the program offered a $300 incentive to encourage employees to participate and allowed employees 14 hours of work-release time to attend Wellness Program activities. As the program has evolved, some of these original incentives have been reduced or eliminated. Even as tough financial times have challenged the program, it continues to provide an outstanding example of how a public agency employer can set the standard for both California’s private businesses and local agencies to follow.

While the stated goal of the Wellness Program is to control medical costs, the goal is accomplished through the creation of workplace environments that support healthy living. Through the provision of health education and resources that aid in identifying and reducing health risks the County is realizing both improved employee health and reduced costs.

Wellness Program activities, accessible to employees and their families include:

  1. Wellness Profile Program (screens blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose, etc.)
  2. Health Track (individual follow-up and health coaching for high-risk participants)
  3. Classes for chronic health conditions (diabetes, depression, asthma, back pain)
  4. Risk reduction classes (nutrition, exercise, stress management and more)
  5. Eat Well campaigns (web resources, cafeteria and vending projects)
  6. Move More campaigns (health club discounts, stairwell campaign, walking)

Applicability to Other Communities

Workforce productivity, business success, and employee health are interconnected. As local agencies seek ways to keep costs down and retain productive workers, implementing small strategies to improve employee health can pay off. Whether agencies develop a comprehensive program – like the County of Ventura Wellness Program – or pass more discrete policies to support worksite lactation or improved nutrition standards for food vendors, improving employee health helps the bottom line.

Compiled December 2009


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