For more stories of "The Shape We're In," visit wvgazette.com/theshapewerein/
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- About 10 years ago, George Farley was packing on pounds as he moved from project to project as an electrician for the city of Charleston. "If you'd seen me in my hoodie back then, it looked like I was pregnant," he said.
"Back then, I took two pills, a blood pressure pill and another pill because my heart was skipping," said Farley, 50. "I just thought, well, if you have a problem, you take pills. It didn't occur to me to fix it by exercise or what I ate.
"Hey, I come out of the construction field," he said, laughing. "We eat fast food and get heavy, and we don't worry about it. I'm serious!"
With high blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure, Farley -- now city construction manager -- was a prime candidate for diabetes.
But then in 2007, the city started requiring insured employees to get health risk screenings so they could catch diabetes and heart problems before they happened.
"They sent you back color-coded screening reports, green, yellow and red," Farley said. "Mine looked like a fire alarm."
"It was a real wakeup call," he said. "Doctors had told me this stuff before, but I'd never seen it right there in front of me, on paper, in color, one thing after another. All that red really hit me. I mean, my wife, she works for the city too, and she got back all green."
That really bothered him, he said. Then his teenage daughter really
got his attention. "She told me my weight embarrassed her. You know, teenagers tell it like it is."
He signed up for a checkup at the city's new health clinic in the ballpark building on Morris Street.
Any city employee can visit that clinic on work time at no cost. It has its own bloodwork lab.
"We wanted to make it as convenient as possible to take care of yourself," said City Manager David Molgaard. "This is about prevention. And if people are healthier, the city saves money. Everyone wins."
About 1,200 employees use the clinic, said Maria Jones, city claims manager. "A lot of our employees have no other doctor," she said. "The clinic is their medical home. Matter of fact, it's my medical home. I'm that satisfied with it."
"We schedule appointments far apart enough that people aren't rushed, and we can accommodate walk-ins," Molgaard said. "We want people to have time to talk about what's going on and find out what they can do about it."
Farley talked "a long time" during his first visit with David Miller, the physician's assistant who operates the clinic. They talked about what could happen if Farley kept gaining weight ("not a pretty picture") and how he could prevent it.
"He didn't just hand me a pill," Farley said. "He explains what you can do for yourself, without medication, if you do this, this, and this."
On Miller's advice, Farley changed his diet and started working out at the gym the city installed in the city building. The gym is part of the wellness plan. So are lunchtime zumba and yoga sessions.
Farley also joined a Weight Watchers group meeting in city hall. "The guys on the construction crew harassed me about that at first. Even my wife, she said, 'George, isn't Weight Watchers for women?'"
He lost 60 pounds in six months. "The guys saw that, and they quit teasing me," he said. "Some of them started coming too. They said, if George can go to Weight Watchers, we can too."
More important, Farley's blood pressure and cholesterol fell into normal range. He dropped his triglycerides from 179 to 81. So he figures the city saves money on him. "I don't take those two pills anymore, so Dave Molgaard doesn't have to pay for that anymore, and my knee trouble disappeared after I lost weight."