"Suddenly we got our renewal rates for the health insurance premiums and because of the efforts our employees had made to be healthier, our health insurance premiums decreased 15%. And with that windfall we were able to pass that along as a 2% pay raise for our employees. Very literally employees' healthy practices gave themselves a pay raise."
Hernando was named the healthiest hometown in the Magnolia State in 2010 by the BlueCross BlueShield Foundation of Mississippi. Johnson says he's using that honor as an economic development tool.
"When I want to recruit businesses to come to my town, I need to be able to show them that when they move here they are going to have healthy workers who will show up for work every day, and that that they will have workers whose health insurance premiums will be lower, which will go straight to the bottom line," he says.
"We are seeing that people very literally are moving to our town and our county because they perceive it to be a healthy town. That is the best compliment one could get, when people say 'I am moving to your county or city because I want to be in a place that is healthy.'"
It is refreshing to see that Johnson and the city of Hernando have an unabashed willingness to think small when it comes to wellness. There is not some grand, etched-in-stone master plan built by pricey consultants to promote health in Hernando, MS. Instead, there is a commitment to an idea of wellness that they're convinced works. From that commitment come the incremental steps that make Hernando a better, healthier place to live.
"Some of these things may sound small, but it is these small things that build up to a culture of health," Johnson says. "These things just tend to build on one another."