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New motivation: Nurses get healthy through employee wellness programs

Monday June 18, 2012
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Janelda Minor, RN, MA, watched her mother’s sedentary lifestyle limit her ability to do simple activities, such as walking to the mailbox. "I decided that I didn’t want to end up like that," said Minor, manager of continuing medical education at Orlando Health.

That motivation helped Minor lose nearly 30 pounds with the weight lifting and cardio exercises she learned from Orlando Health’s Wellness Center. "They really helped me tackle my goals," she said.

Orlando Health Wellness Center’s personal training helped Minor design her exercise program and change her lifestyle to include healthy eating. But not all hospital wellness programs offer such specialized attention. A survey of 876 hospitals showed that "more intensive one-on-one activities such as personal health coaching and a 24-hour nursing hotline are rare," according to the January 2011 American Hospital Association report, A Call to Action: Creating a Culture of Health.

The American Hospital Association used that report to call on leaders to create cultures of health, including wellness centers that could improve employee health and reduce costs.

Seeing the savings

At Baptist Health South Florida, the Wellness Advantage program prevented about $17 million in costs in 2011, said Leah Holzwarth, MS, ACSM, CWPM, the program’s corporate director.

With the 12-year program, the health system watched its rate of diabetes among employees drop from 12% to 5% in the past 10 years. And smoking rates, improved through a tobacco-free campus initiative, dropped from 15% in 2008 to the current 4% rate, Holzwarth said. Wellness Advantage also pays half of the fees for employees to participate in Weight Watchers, and about 900 have taken advantage, she said.

At Orlando Health, two people lost 37 pounds each during a weight loss challenge from January to April. Participating team members at the winning hospital lost 3.4% of their body weight in pounds, said Lee O’Donnell, BSE, corporate manager of Prevention and Wellness at Orlando Health.

Employees also can see personal financial savings through wellness programs. About 35% of the team members who have Orlando Health’s insurance earned a $5 discount every pay period for participating in BMI, cholesterol and blood pressure screenings, O’Donnell said.

Baptist Health South Florida employees can earn a $150 premium credit each on their medical plan by completing an online health assessment, having screenings done and participating in two Wellness Advantage programs, such as a recent pedometer challenge.

More than assessments

Wellness programs extend beyond just health screenings at many hospitals. Baptist Health South Florida, whose Wellness Advantage program has the goal of creating the healthiest workforce in America, has nine 24-hour fitness centers at its hospitals and corporate offices, Holzwarth said. It also provides subsidized, prepackaged meals that are healthy and cost employees $3 plus tax and include a bottle of water. About 180,000 meals were sold in 2011.

Orlando Health has a similar program in which a $4, portion-controlled meal includes a protein, vegetable, fruit and bottle of water, O’Donnell said. The organization also color-coded its salad bar, ranging from green for vegetables and healthy choices to red for items such as bacon bits.

Orlando Health also started free nutritional counseling for employees that includes three face-to-face sessions with a registered dietitian within eight weeks. Employees call for appointments, and "within 24 hours, we were booked three months out," O’Donnell said.

Programs for high-risk employees

The My Unlimited Potential program at Baptist Health South Florida focuses on employees with chronic diseases or the risk of those illnesses based on health assessments completed online, Holzwarth said. The 12-week program includes exercise for three hours each week with an exercise physiologist, meetings with ARNPs and nurses, and home visits. Employees receive fruits and vegetables, as well as guidance on how to cook them from a dietitian. "We try to make the healthy choice the easy choice," she said.

Patients who have been in the My Unlimited Potential program have decreased A1c levels, eliminated need for some medicines and stabilized chronic illnesses, Holzwarth said.

Minor’s personalized exercise program also has helped her husband. "He adopted the same dietary restrictions I have," she said.

She has stuck with the program for six years. "I just love it," she said. "They really made a believer out of me. I feel less stressed and happier."


Karen Long is a freelance writer. Post a comment below or email editorSouth@nurse.com.