HCWs take first steps to better health

Wellness program logs two billion steps

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta asked its employees to take steps to better health. A billion steps, to be exact. And they responded.

In the two and a half years of the health system's wellness program, employees have surpassed the initial goals. On walking paths or in fitness programs, they have taken 2,208,523,000 steps, which helped with weight management (30,895 pounds lost) and improved cholesterol and other health measures.

The Strong4Life program provides a wide range of incentives, but the primary message aligns with the health system's core mission. "We're doing it for the kids," says Nancy Lloyd, RN, MS, program director of employee health, wellness, and work life. "In order to be strong enough for the kids, we have to take care of ourselves."

This begins with a basic health assessment. Employees who participate in the annual assessment receive a discount off their health insurance premiums of $10 per pay period, or $260 per year. New employees are offered a health risk assessment at their pre-placement exam.

In 2009, 88% of employees took advantage of that incentive and completed a health risk assessment that included cholesterol and non-fasting glucose screening. (The health system also has added an A1c diabetes screening test for people who had an elevated glucose.)

Strong4Life seeks to engage employees who are at different stages of wellness. Those who are already fit can get their work-out at work with a "stair gym" in the stairwell, walking paths on the campus, or in in-house exercise room. "If you're physically active, we want to keep you active, keep you engaged and support you," says Lloyd.

Those who need some help with behavior change can join Weightwatchers at Work or engage in one-on-one counseling with a nutritionist or fitness trainer. The You4Life program is an intensive, 17-week program designed for employees with the highest body-mass index. It provides customized meal replacements, a fitness program and wellness consultation and coaching. The cafeteria has increased its healthy food choices and labels its foods with calorie and nutritional information.

"It gives them the support and peer partnership that really helps to motivate people," says Lloyd.

"For those that really need the help we've got to keep designing programs that work for them," says Linda Matzigkeit, MBA, senior vice president for Strategic Planning and Human Resources.

No more cake and brownies

Children's Healthcare set a goal of having 40% of their employees in the "healthy" range of BMI — or a BMI of less than 25. Currently, the health system is at 39%, an improvement over the 2009 rate of 35.2% and the 2008 baseline of 33.6%. The health system also set a goal of increasing the number of employees with a normal cholesterol level to 65% from the 2009 rate of 59.8%.

Meanwhile, the paradigm has shifted at Children's. Gone are the cake and brownies at company meetings. "We used to be a culture that celebrated with food. Now we're becoming a culture that celebrates with wellness," says Matzigkeit. If there is food at a gathering, it is healthier — such as fruit or frozen fruit bars.

Employees have turned out to participate in specials walks or runs — 350 for a walk for autism, 250 for a triathlon, 700 for the Strong Legs Run, an event sponsored by the health system.

While there is comradery in the programs an events, Children's provides incentives to draw employees into the wellness activities. They can earn points through participation — and reaching goals, such as pounds lost — which can be used to "purchase" prizes. Winners of competitions in the You4Life program received a generous wellness-related shopping spree.

"Incentives do make a difference," says Lloyd, adding that "ultimately the incentive of just being well becomes enough."

The incentives keep it fun, she says. And it shows the continued commitment of Children's.

"You have to have that wellness culture all around them," she says.