As the song goes, “Spent the last year the rocky mountain way, couldn’t get much higher…”
I’ve spent the last 24 years living and working the rocky mountain way in the health and wellness field serving the hard working residents and public servants of Montana and Utah. I am currently Wellness Manager at Public Employees Health Program (PEHP) which is the medical insurance provider for Utah state government and some local governments and school districts. We provide medical benefits and wellness programs to 260 groups, totaling 135,000 covered lives. I oversee PEHP Healthy Utah, the employee wellness program available to our members and spouses. Our Wellness staff consists of 16 people who deliver wellness programs and services to our eligible population. We have an in-house biometric screening staff that travels around the state providing on-site health screenings. Our home-based staff consists of health coaches, dietitians, exercise specialists and health educators who develop and implement various programs including our rebate incentive program, tobacco quitline, health challenges, weight management programs and resources and referrals for our high risk members. I enjoy the challenge of serving such a large and diverse population. My goal is to help these people reach retirement in the kind of condition - physically, mentally and emotionally - that allows them to actively enjoy all the beautiful state of Utah has to offer.
-MPH, University of Utah
-BS - Health Promotion, Brigham Young University
-CHES certified (1993)
-WELCOA Faculty Certification
-ACSM Certification: Physical Activity in Public Health Specialist (PAPHS)
(on credentialing board)
Some of my family members have suffered from chronic illnesses and I’ve always had a desire to help others, leading the way in reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. This field appealed to me because of the balance between the arts and the sciences. I can work creatively, but also like being able to rely on the latest science to direct me.
When working for the state of Montana, I authored federal grant applications to secure funding for two state-level chronic disease programs; Obesity Prevention and Cardiovascular Health. Seeing that there was a lack of state-level emphasis on worksite wellness, I sought the support of Governor Judy Martz in forming the Montana Council on Worklife Wellness. I led monthly council meetings and organized a wellness training featuring nationally-recognized experts in the field. During this time I also initiated a statewide inventory of worksite wellness programs across various industries and leveraged resources to assist businesses who desired to develop worksite wellness programs.
In Utah I had the opportunity to lead the statewide effort for obesity prevention as Manager of the Physical Activity, Nutrition and Obesity (PANO) Program. I also wrote and managed federal grants that provided the funding to implement the programs. In that position I was able to develop partnerships at the state level that support population-based health programs that were implemented in communities, schools, daycares and worksites.
During my work with Montana Dept. of Public Health, I worked on a project to increase awareness of signs and symptoms of heart attack among state government employees. There were 563 employees who responded to the baseline survey and at the end of the 6-week awareness campaign which included messaging and signage at key work areas, knowledge of at least 5 of the signs and symptoms increased from 69% at baseline to 89% at the time of follow-up survey. Results of this intervention were published in CDC’s Preventing Chronic Disease in July 2004 http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2004/jul/03_0029.htm.
This year, my colleagues and I partnered with Utah Department of Health to organize the "Governor's Choose Health Challenge". With support from the Governor's Office, we extended a challenge to all state government agency directors to engage their employees in forming and/or maintaining wellness councils and mobilizing them to create a culture of health at the worksite. The 60 participating departments and divisions used our web-based tracking system to mark achievements over the 10-week challenge in categories such as physical activity, nutrition, tobacco cessation, etc. The challenge resulted in 20 new wellness councils and increased awareness of the Governor's Workwell Recommendations. Having the support come from "top down" combined with grassroots support was a reason for the positive response. The fact that we have created more demand for technical support for developing and maintaining wellness councils is indicative of the success of the program. The top three winning agencies were recognized by Governor Herbert at the annual Governor's Health Summit.
The Framework for Healthy Utah addresses the 7 benchmarks. As seen in the examples mentioned above, Capturing CEO Support, Creating Cohesive Wellness Teams, Collecting Data to Drive Efforts, Creating a Supportive Environment, and Carefully Evaluating Outcomes all played an important part.
The examples described above demonstrate the experience I’ve had as a leader in worksite wellness.
This field is a balance of people, partnerships and policies. Those seeking to be leaders must gain experience working individually with people who need assistance making lifestyle change, developing positive relationships with key partners who can influence decisions, and understanding policies that impact our efforts. We are change agents and can be most effective in that role if we know how to influence people and policies.
As I mature, my motivation for being active and eating well evolves. Now I am active so I can "stay in motion,” have energy and a positive outlook that helps me cope with challenges and enjoy life as a mother and professional. My favorite quote summarizes how I feel about living a healthy lifestyle: Exercise and application produce order in our affairs, health of body, cheerfulness of mind, and these make us precious to our friends. - Thomas Jefferson
As an insurer, we have access to a large amount of claims data and also have access to biometric data that we collect in our testing sessions. With administrators and IT staff, we have developed a way to house biometrics within our claims database, allowing us to analyze the data for disease management purposes and to inform our members about their numbers and health risks in innovative ways. In July we launched the "Your Health Snapshot". Our members access their personalized health snapshot that includes their most current biometrics originating from lab data from physician office visits and biometric data we collect. A member can log in to their secured mypehp account and view their biometrics with recommended guidelines and information about most costly medical claims and recommended preventive screenings. This is becoming a more popular feature that we promote through our Know. Plan. Act. campaign.
My former college professor predicted that worksite wellness would not last as a career field because wellness programs will be the first to go when budget decisions need to be made. Contrarily, more and more employers can see the value of the wellness programs independent of financial returns. More job seekers look for employers with wellness benefits. However, I think that as wellness professionals we will need to be better prepared to respond to inquiries about cost/benefits of what we do. I see more honest self-evaluation taking place in the wellness field. These conversations will help us open up a new dialog that can be hard but needs to happen.
Changes in federal law present opportunities and challenges. Specifically, the wellness provisions of the ACA present a challenge to interpret and implement, especially with HIPAA regulations and possible discrimination claims, but the provisions also indicate support from the federal level.