Change for life: Wellness wins over employees

Hospital promotes healthy competition

Promoting health is an obvious goal for a hospital; but often the efforts extend only outward, to the community, not internally to the hospital's own employees.

Garden City (MI) Hospital (GCH) decided to broaden its mission of wellness. After all, about half of the hospital's 1,427 employees are between the ages of 40 and 59. Staying fit would mean a higher quality of life as they age — and a better working life as well.

The GCH campaign — Great Changes for Healthy Employees — provides employees with annual health screenings, stress management programs, and the "Pedometer Challenge" that promotes walking as exercise. It has identified employees with serious medical conditions, such as hypertension, and enabled others to make lasting lifestyle changes.

"We thought we could not only boost morale with something fun and different for employees but improve health," says employee health nurse Michelle Schulze, RN, BSN. The participation and enthusiasm from employees has been even greater than she expected.

"We feel like we've been able to make a difference," she says. "There's a direct effect on employee job satisfaction, injuries, and [reductions in absenteeism]."

GCH began with a wellness fair, a basic wellness tool offered by many hospitals. What made this fair extraordinary was its scope; the hospital offered much more than the standard blood pressure and cholesterol screening and health assessment.

A podiatrist brought a computerized mat on the floor that indicated the pressure points as a person walks. It can be used to identify any dysfunctions. "If you're weight-bearing on your foot in an unusual way, they can develop orthotics," Schulze explains.

The cardiology department conducted EKGs and scheduled follow-up visits if there were any abnormalities. A massage therapist provided free neck and shoulder massages. The hospital-affiliated home health agency offered information on services that employees might need for an elderly relative. Employees also could receive bone density evaluations.

Every hour, Schulze and her colleague, employee health nurse Catherine Chamberlain, RN, BSN, drew a ticket for door prizes, such as a gift certificate to a local restaurant or a water bottle with the GCH logo. Hospital administrators visited the fair to show support for employee wellness.

Employees loved it. "It was so exciting to read the comments because they were so positive," Schulze says.

The fair was just the beginning. "After we did the wellness fair, we were trying to figure out how to increase employees' activities," says Schulze.

Schulze and Chamberlain wanted to create a true lifestyle change, so they devised the Pedometer Challenge. The goal: Each participating employee would walk 5,000 steps a day for 100 days. The program was inspired by the American Heart Association recommendation to walk 10,000 steps a day, and the Michigan Steps Up campaign promoted that and other healthy lifestyle changes.

The employee health nurses promoted the Pedometer Challenge as a healthy competition for individuals or teams. They planned to track the "steps" on a road map to show how far the employees had collectively walked. They bought about 75 pedometers and put the sign up in the cafeteria.

Within 45 minutes, the pedometers were gone and more employees were arriving asking to enroll. In all, 382 employees participated — or about 27% of the staff. "We really were not prepared for the volume. It was overwhelming," says Chamberlain.

Throughout the challenge, participants received small rewards to encourage them to keep walking. At the end, there were more prizes, including awards for the teams and individuals that had "traveled" the farthest. In all, the employees logged 101,777.2 miles.

Partnering for success

Creating a wellness program has been a challenge for two part-time employee health nurses who job share. They must plan and manage the events while still managing the usual pre-placement exams, TB screening, immunizations, and injury prevention activities.

How do they do it? With a little help from fellow departments; they have learned to partner with others in the hospital and make use of other resources. For example, when they wanted to sponsor a program on managing holiday stress in December, they called upon the Employee Assistance Program. A psychologist who provides counseling to employees developed a special "lunch and learn," and a pharmaceutical representative provided the food.

Different departments donated gift baskets for the prizes at the wellness fair. For example, physical therapy offered lotions and a massage. The fire department, whose emergency responders work closely with the hospital, donated smoke detectors.

The budget had been slim. It only cost about $5,000 for them to coordinate the Pedometer Challenge. (Employees purchased the pedometers.) Schulze and Chamberlain created the marketing for their program and even have developed their own posters.

The payback has been rewarding, literally. Both Schulze and Chamberlain have been honored as employees of the month. And the employee health department has gained a higher profile, both among administrators and employees. Some employees come by once a week for a blood pressure check.

"We've become involved in their lives and their health issues," says Schulze. "We feel like all our efforts have been so well received."