‘I have 3,032 steps on my pedometer so far today,” says Felicia Smith, director of human resources at Fox & Rothschild, the law firm 997 Lenox Drive, at well before noon on a recent weekday. After interrupting an interview to sprint down the hall to answer a managing partner’s question, she says she is having a jam-packed week, but is determined to make it to the firm’s lunchtime yoga session.

She is also happy to report that she spotted a new walking partner at 6:30 a.m. that morning. As she was getting ready for work, her neighbor strode purposefully by outside her window. “I wouldn’t normally get out at that hour,” she says, but she decided on the spot that her days would now start with a brisk turn around the neighborhood with a new walking buddy.

Not particularly active before becoming the first head of Fox & Rothschild’s newly centralized HR department in 2007, Smith is now a fitness “convert,” and she has the prominent law firm’s woeful demographics to thank.

One of Smith’s jobs at Fox & Rothschild, which has 950 employees, is to choose healthcare plans, and the minute she arrived she knew it was going to be a daunting task.

“The demographics!” she exclaims. She saw that the employees, most of them lawyers, were “getting older.” That’s natural, of course, she points out, in a profession that involves a lengthy education and values experience. But when you add age to the sedentary lifestyle and crushing stress that is practically part of the job description, you have a mix that creates the kind of health problems that tend to make insurance premiums soar.

Smith’s job was to obtain top quality healthcare insurance for the firm and she saw it was getting much harder to get it “at a price anybody can afford.” Premiums were soaring to an extent that even very well compensated attorneys were feeling sticker shock.

“I saw where medical inflation was going,” says Smith. “I knew we really had to take a longer-term view.” She promptly instituted a multi-pronged initiative to keep the firm’s rates from rising into the stratosphere. A big part of her strategy was the creation of a comprehensive, extensive health and wellness program.

Smith speaks at the 2012 Healthcare Symposium sponsored by the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, September 27, at 8 a.m. at the Conference Center at Mercer County Community College. Call 609-924-1776 for more information. The half-day event features a CEO roundtable, presentations by Colleen Woods, NJ Health Information technology coordinator, and Neil Sullivan, NJ Banking and Insurance Commissioner.

There will be three breakout sessions. Topics are Accountable Care Organizations, Workers Comp, and the topic on which Smith is speaking, “Wellness and Preventative Care: Effective or Not?”

An attorney and a professional with decades of HR experience, Smith knows that fitness at work involves much more than pedometers and group yoga sessions. In fact, when she mentioned her plan for a health and fitness program at a regional meeting of law firm administrators, she was practically laughed out of the room. “They said it would never work with lawyers.”

She knew what the administrators were saying. “Lawyers’ focus on client service and billable hours is so great that they tend not to pay attention to anything else,” she admits.

Smith had her work cut out for her when the program launched in 2009, and she laid the groundwork carefully. “I read more and more,” she says. “I went to seminars.” Armed with knowledge of workplace fitness practices as well as with marketing savvy, she created branding for the program, naming it “Fox Fit & Well” and setting up a website for it on the company intranet.

Elements in the program include group salad lunches, sneaky vending machine pricing, advanced biometric testing — and exciting prizes. Smith’s budget for the health and fitness program is $175,000, an amount she acknowledges is generous for a firm of her size. Giant corporations may spend much more, but she is convinced that the main elements of “Fox Fit & Well” can lead to large changes in health — and in healthcare insurance premiums — at even the smallest companies.

Work your insurance provider’s tools. “Aetna has incredible wellness help,” says Smith of the carrier her firm has chosen. It will provide fitness assessments, track progress, answer questions, and provide help on everything from nutrition to workout routines. She suggests that any firm start a health and wellness program by checking what its insurance company offers. The help is free and, she says, and is available from every insurance company, making it an especially big help for small companies.

Get physical, together. Fox Rothschild has a number of group fitness activities in addition to the yoga classes Smith attends at her Philadelphia office. The firm has 17 branches nationwide, each with its own culture. What works at one office, she knows, may not be a good fit at another.

“We did yoga in San Francisco first,” she says. “San Francisco is very health conscious. They all like to ride their bikes to work. They love this!”

Other offices needed a slower start. Some have two types of yoga classes — chair yoga for the beginners and mat yoga for the more fit. Some have zumba. At the Palm Beach office, “salad bowl Wednesdays” have been a big hit. “Everyone brings in ingredients and they make and eat salads together,” says Smith. Philadelphia has recently added Tai Kwan Do classes, while the firm’s Bucks County office is broadening the scope of health and fitness even further by bringing in speakers to talk with “sandwich generation” employees about coping with elder care issues.

Next on the menu is a nutrition program that will be kicked off by Will Clower, a “fitness guru” who impressed Smith at an event she attended. He will give a webinar that will be followed up by a series on a variety of nutrition topics.

Not only do all the activities get Fox Rothschild’s employees moving, but Smith says they also create an “esprit de corps.” Partners and receptionists working out on adjacent yoga mats, she says, tend to come away with a different view of one another.

Deep six the donuts. “We still have bagel Fridays,” says Smith with a barely perceptible sigh. And the events still include bagels, but the muffins, pastries, and donuts that used to sit beside them are gone, replaced by fruit and “healthy spreads.”

Smith’s director of health and fitness is in the process of drawing up suggested menu protocols for firm meetings — “fruit instead of cookies,” for example. But she knows that just yanking the goodies all at once will not work. “I still get E-mails asking `where are the donuts,?’” she says.

Tinker with the vending machines. Again, Smith says, people tend to get edgy when their snacks are attacked. This could be particularly true late at night as a big deadline looms. So, the offices that have always had vending machines still have them. But they look a little different.

Before, the firm just let the vending machine companies put whatever they wanted in the machines. No more. The high calorie energy drinks are gone, replaced by many varieties of water. Chips are still there, but the lower fat variety is predominant.

“We changed positions,” says Smith. “We put four rows of water on top. You have to hunt for the unhealthy stuff.”

She then hesitates. “Maybe I shouldn’t say this,” she adds, “but we tweaked the pricing. It’s higher for higher calories.”

Get serious. At the beginning of the health and fitness program, in 2009, employees were being given $100 a year for any fitness item they purchased. “They would write and say `I bought sneakers so I could start a fitness program.’ Everybody took advantage. It was like throwing money out the window.”

Take that money, add some to it, and get an integrated personal health and fitness program that really works, Smith told the firm’s managers. They agreed, and after an extensive search the firm signed a contract with Vitality.

The fitness company provides personalized plans that are integrated with Aetna’s health data for each employee and with the results of biometric tests done by Quest labs that measure things like heart disease and diabetes risk, kidney function, liver health, and iron and calcium levels. (The firm does not get results by name or even individual results, Smith stresses. It only gets aggregated data.)

Vitality gives each participating employee customized goals and suggestions. One of Smith’s goals, for example, is walking 5,000 steps a day, using a pedometer that links to Vitality’s website. E-mails and reminders are sent to keep employees aware of their performance.

“It really works,” says Smith. If goals aren’t being met, “you’re really disappointing yourself.”

Provide meaningful rewards. Fox Rothschild had been rewarding participation with a yearly gift of $300. The amount was taxable, and, says Smith, it was really not enough to get the attention of many firm employees. “Our lawyers are well paid,” she explains.

Vitality has ratcheted up the rewards. Employees’ progress puts them in one of four categories — bronze to platinum. Reaching goals at each level lets them choose gifts from Vitality’s catalog. “There are really good things,” says Smith. “High end electronics and travel. You can stay at a Ritz hotel for almost nothing!”

Seeing results all around the firm, Smith says that employees are becoming enthusiastic. Busy people, Fox Rothschild’s employees are beginning to make time to create healthier lives.

Smith herself is an example. If she can make time for fitness, anyone can. Asked about her household, she draws a breath before beginning to enumerate its many members.

There’s her husband, Albert David Smith, whose careers have included Foreign Service, the military, and IT. After stints with IBM and EDS, he was laid off “in his early 50s” when GE Financial Assurance bought out the company he was working for. Always interested in medicine, he became a nurse and now delights in a career in rehabilitation medicine, while at the same time indulging another passion.

“He wanted to own his own business,” says Smith. When a neighbor asked advice on selling a hydroponic and organic gardening supply company, he bought it. The couple now own two Healthy Gardens and Design stores, one in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, and one in Pensacola, Florida.

She has also had an extraordinary life. Her parents, Israel and Dora Zeltman, escaped from Warsaw during World War II as a 17-year-old engaged couple. Her father ended up in a munitions factory in Siberia, her mother in a factory in the Ural Mountains. After the war, in which most of their family perished, they were reunited with an aunt who lived in Brussels. From there they immigrated to the United States.

“I was eight. I remember it all,” says Smith. “I saw the Statue of Liberty. We landed in Hoboken. We had left everything behind.” Her parents went to work in Manhattan’s garment district, where her father, a handbag manufacturer, eventually opened a small factory. Her mother worked as a seamstress.

Smith’s parents didn’t live very long after reaching the United States, so her older sister helped to raise her. She started college at Hunter, then continued her studies at the University of Brussels, married, traveled around the world with her husband, who was then in the military, and graduated from the University of Maryland in 1978. She earned her law degree in 1991 from the Delaware Law School, now part of Widener University.

A career in employment and labor law combined with a number of top HR positions in large companies culminated in her job with Fox Rothschild, where, she says, the answer to “Wellness and Preventative Care: Effective or Not?” is a resounding yes.

This is a period of rapidly rising healthcare costs, yet, at Fox Rothschild, says Smith: “Premiums have been dropping steadily.”

Beyond substantial monetary savings, employees throughout the firm are beginning to feel the benefits of the wellness program, forming lunchtime gym-trip groups, proposing new fitness classes, meeting goals, and in at least one case telling Smith that they owe their very lives to the interventions.

“You have to be ready to make the change,” says Smith. When that time comes, she has seen, an employer with a strong health and fitness program can make the crucial difference.

#b#Other Events#/b#

“Employers’ Key Considerations and Value Based Insurance Design (VBID).” A workshop hosted by ACHRM on Thursday, September 20, at Dow Jones at 4300 North Route 1 in South Brunswick at 8 a.m. Cost: $50. Go to achrm.org/events/event-9-21-2012.php to register.

The speaker at the event is Kathryn Spangler, of VBID Health, based in Washington, D.C. She is the former deputy health policy director of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and also senior advisor to the University of Michigan Center for Value-Based Insurance Design.

Under the VBID concept, patients out-of-pocket medical costs are based on the value of a service to their health rather than its price. For example, a company could offer certain drugs to its employees for free, while reqiring higher payments for certain proceedures

Health Reform Update. At the end of September, the Stratford Financial Group in Wayne has planned two free seminars featuring information about the Affordable Care Act.

Topics include: the employer mandate; the small employer tax credit; affordable employee contributions; qualified plans; minimum essential benefits; employer plan maximum deductible and out-of-pocket; medical loss ratio rebates; and the Cadillac Tax.

The seminars begin at 9 a.m. with a continental breakfast served a half hour before. They will be held on Thursday, September 20, at the Mountain Ridge Country Club, 713 Passaic Avenue, West Caldwell, (register at www.rsvpbook.com/healthcare); and Thursday, September 27, at the North Jersey Country Club, 594 Hamburg Turnpike, Wayne (register at www.rsvpbook.com/stratford). For more information call Daniel Ritter at 866-217-9053 x 202 or E-mail DRitter@stratfordlink.com.

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