ENTRY FROM: The Top 100 Health Promotion Professionals

Nominee: Elvira Garay

Step It Up: invigorating health one step at a time

Since 2005, Elvira Garay has been on staff with Kaiser Permanente, a national nonprofit integrated healthcare organization with 192,000 employees serving eight states. Ms. Garay works at the Los Angeles Medical Center as a Health Educator and Health Education Worksite Consultant implementing workplace wellness programs.

Smoking Cessation Interview

Elvira Garay providing a smoking cessation interview in 2013 representing Kaiser Permanente on the Spanish-language show ¡Viva el 22 Los Ángeles!

1. Professional Development

As part of a large immigrant family, public health was a personal passion that led me to join the field. In 1997, I completed my Bachelor’s degree at Occidental College and in 2000 received a California Endowment student scholarship. In 2001, I earned my MPH from the University of Southern California. I expanded my skills further as a Certified Health Education Specialist (2003) and a Certified Personal Trainer (2009). My certifications make me a well-rounded practitioner. However, WELCOA’s training and my MPH are most vital to my career. Both function as the compass guiding me to deliver effective wellness interventions.

2. Demonstrated Success

I have the privilege to work with many companies within the Los Angeles area that partner with Kaiser Permanente as their healthcare provider. Many companies aim to get their employees more fit to reduce obesity rates. On behalf of my organization, I designed and implemented a successful walking program that gets employees to travel miles and melt pounds.

This program is simple, fun, and low-cost because many companies have limited resources. It’s adaptable to different work settings, low-tech, and delivered in English and Spanish. Although the main focus of the program is to increase physical activity; the organic byproduct is weight loss. Prior to implementation, I meet with the company’s leadership, human resources department, and often, work directly with the employee wellness committee to secure buy-in.

The program timeframe is between six to twelve weeks and participation is voluntary. I teach the health classes on site and recruit a few employees as wellness champions. The program includes pedometers, paper-based tracking logs, and a closing award ceremony. Participants can choose any type of activity to track. Their log is self-maintained and submitted to me on a weekly basis. They track activity completed at work, at home, and on the weekends. The program is designed to reach beyond the workplace to also create behavior change at home.

Outcomes have been outstanding! Regardless of company size and its unique demographics, the program produces positive outcomes. Between 2010 and the present, I have implemented the program with five different companies. The majority of employees that complete the program lose weight. One company had 63 employees (73% of participants) lose weight in eight weeks. As a group, that amounted to 204 total pounds melted away. Another company had 19 employees (79% of participants) lose weight with their top three performers shedding between nine to ten pounds in eight weeks.

Employees have collectively taken millions of steps; which translates to thousands of miles traveled. For example, one employer had 193 employees collectively take more than sixty million steps in eight weeks, which is equal to 42 roundtrips between Los Angeles and San Francisco! Another company had 96 employees collectively take over 25 million steps which is the equivalent of 12,900 miles journeyed. Employee behavior change occurs as they watch the number on their pedometer increase and the number on the scale decrease.  

I collect data and provide a written report post each intervention to the company. Program outcomes are measured through step logs, weigh-in data, attendance, class evaluation forms, and employee/employer feedback. Due to high program popularity and positive outcomes, several companies re-launched the program to further shift their work culture to make wellness a priority. Participants report feeling energized, fitting better in their clothes, less physical pain, and involving family in their activity. Some employees have purchased their own pedometer and created self-sustained walking groups. The most profound outcome is creating a partnership between employer and employee that empowers individuals to take ownership of their own health one step at a time.

3. Leadership

Being a leader and role model in this industry is my top priority. I lead the way through a deep responsibility to guide new professionals by mentoring a Public Health intern yearly. I am a member of Kaiser’s Healthy Workforce Committee to energize colleagues. I co-coordinate an annual Women’s Health seminar open to the public and last year did a smoking cessation interview on the Spanish-language show ¡Viva el 22 Los Ángeles!  This October I presented a poster at the National Institutes of Health 1st National Symposium to Advance Total Worker Health to share the walking program with other practitioners. Next year I will be a conference faculty at the 25th Annual Art & Science of Health Promotion Conference.  I stay fit by chasing after my toddler and competing in marathons, most recently completing the Pasadena Sprint Triathlon. I stay balanced through laughter. Self-care and relentlessly seeking ways to create the best wellness strategies is my advice to fellow practitioners.

4. Innovation

I have contributed to the advancement of our industry by designing a simple, low-cost intervention that produces the same positive health outcomes regardless of employee demographics. As a bilingual practitioner, I saw a great need for wellness programs to reach marginalized employees due to language barriers or a late work shift. What I did different is say “YES” to employers trying to help this hard-to-reach population. By first securing support among company leadership, I have been able to deliver a program that produces weight loss among the majority of program participants. Some of these employees have never been given the opportunity to participate in a wellness program. I have had the honor to be part of a program that creates behavior change and witness employees take ownership of their health. Company support, a pedometer, and a small nudge, is all it really takes to improve employee health.

5. Compelling Vision

My vision for the whole industry is to be fluid and energized. The Healthcare Reform Act is the greatest opportunity. This legislation has brought wellness to the forefront. I am excited by the changes this law brings because it opens the door to welcome more employers into the wellness world. The Act also sparks meaningful dialogue with colleagues, friends, and family about the importance of being a champion of health for all. Currently, I support employers through this journey by being part of Kaiser’s Learning Circle, a hands-on program that educates companies on wellness fundamentals. As the industry transforms, it’s important to pursue training to respond to those changes. This year I became a Certified Wellness and Health Coach. In the coming years, I plan to expand coaching to the companies I work with and will seek out an academic partner to conduct a robust evaluation of the walking program.

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Elvira Garay, nominee photo Elvira Garay, poster presentation at the National Institutes of Health Elvira Garay, finish line at the 2010 LA Marathon
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Elvira G.
Elvira Garay is a health education worksite consultant with the Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center. Ms. Garay earned her Master of Public Health (MPH) from the University of Southern California and received her undergraduate degree from Occidental College. Ms. Garay is a Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES) through the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc., and a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) through the World Instructor Training Schools. Ms. Garay is also a Certified Wellness & Health Coach through Real Balance Global Wellness Services, Inc. These specialties allow her to deliver high level wellness programs at the workplace. View Elvira G.'s Profile.
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Elvira exemplifies character and commitment in all facets of life. Her professional accomplishments speak for themselves but it's her caring nature that has really led her to this career path. And many benefit from her direct involvement in the healthcare community. Bravo for nomination Elvira!

K C. on 11/25/2014

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