PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. - It's being billed as a first of its kind program. The Pinellas County Sheriff's Department is footing the bill for medical weight loss for every employee who needs it.
The Sheriff's Department says the money isn't coming out of its tax payer provided operating budget, but rather its self-funded health insurance program is paying for it.
The bottom line, according to the Sheriff's chief deputy, is that the medical weight loss program could actually be a money saver -- and a life saver -- to out of shape officers.
"Sometimes things happen and people let themselves go a little bit," says Deputy Sheriff Bob Gualtieri
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Department has hired weight loss specialist Cesar Lara.
Since the program started in February almost 800 Sheriff's Department employees have lost a combined 14,000 pounds through Lara's program of behavior modification, nutritional supplements, and exercise.
"We have specific education we provide them. And we have a support system and we have delineated numbers and targets for each individual,” says Dr Lara.
The cost depends on the length of the individual's program. Six weeks is $600, while a 12 week program is $1,100.
The Sheriff's Department insists taxpayers, in these tough economic times, are not directly paying to keep deputies svelte and that the weight loss program actually cuts costs.
"In the long run since we are self-insured and we manage our own health plan. The high dollar claim is the most expensive claim and are largely driven by poor diet, not exercising and people not taking care of themselves,” Gualtieri tells us.
No one we talked to knows any other area law enforcement agency paying for a weight loss program although Lara says he's talking to several.
Jim Diamond of the West Central Police Benevolent Association believes it's a great idea.
"I'd like to see it at all agencies. To develop a clinic or program to aid the officers is definitely a boon to longevity of the employee and cost savings to the agency, Diamond says.
The Sheriff's Department says of the almost 800 employees who have participated in the weight loss program only around 10 have dropped out.
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Dale Mabry Highway is closed from Columbus Ave. south to at least Spruce Av. after a man was hit and killed by a fuel tanker truck while crossing the highway Friday morning. The roadway remains closed.