ENTRY FROM: 2016 Top Health Promotion Professionals

Nominee: Tracy Mitchell

Lighting The Way To Wellness

I work for Valley Health, a hospital network, employing over 4800 healthcare professionals and am the Manager of Wellness Services overseeing a department of 7 health coaches, a registered dietitian, data specialist and registered nurses. I have been in the field for 24 years and have worked for Valley Health 19 of those years. I am responsible for our internal wellness program, Healthy U, and for community outreach and worksite health promotion. I chair an active Wellness Advisory Council of 17 members, oversee our health champion program and serve on our Community Health Needs Assessment Steering Committee. In addition, I am committed to ongoing learning and professional growth and am a current participant in our Top of Virginia Regional Chamber Community Leadership Program.

Lighting The Way To Wellness!

Professional Development
Combining a life-long passion for sports, health, and teaching led me to my Master's Degree in Community Health Education, my Certified Health Education Specialist credential, and my WELCOA faculty status.  My most valuable experience, the master’s training, helped me lead our department in receiving the 2014 Virginia Hospital Healthcare Association's Wellness Award, recognizing our program for its exceptional commitment to the well-being of Valley Health’s employees. In 2015, we were awarded the Work Healthy America Excellence Recognition, from the non-profit Prevention Partners, for reaching the highest standards in workplace wellness; we are the first in Virginia to achieve this designation.

Demonstrated Success
We know how we fuel our body matters! Through our annual needs survey and member health assessment we were able to identify that changes in the food we offered our employees and improvements in nutrition education were critical to a transformation in our culture and in the nutrition health status of our workforce. Through our partnership with onsite chefs, we started offering a Healthy U meal at all six of our cafeterias. This meal is favorably priced and contains less than 20% of the daily value for total fat, saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol. We advertise our meal through our internal network, electronic newsletters, as well as colorful 8 foot vertical banners; our salad bars contain colorful red, green and yellow tongs along with calorie labels, creating a supportive environment where the optimal choices become the easy choices. And, as employees move through the check-out they receive a coupon for a free one hour nutrition consultation with our registered dietitian. This coupon is good for the employee and their family members and provides a skill building component to our intervention. Onsite health coaches help employees and their spouses set SMART nutrition goals and work with them on making new, healthy habits and encourage them to attend monthly cooking demonstrations where employees sample healthy foods and are given recipes to replicate what they've tasted. Our CEO leads by example, purchasing our Healthy U meal and regularly joining employees in the cafeteria. He endorses our system-wide nutrition services policy that ensures menus include a wide variety of healthy items with favorable pricing; all catering menus for meals and snacks include low and non-fat items and low calorie choices. For 2016, we have sold over 20,000 Healthy U meals and have seen employee low risk nutrition status increase from 19.4% in 2015 to 25.9% in 2016. As a team, we take our healthy eating message on the road in our 40 foot mobile health coach which reaches underserved populations within our service region. We partner with our local health department and free medical clinic at a monthly Healthy Living Farmer's Market event. At this event attendees watch healthy eating demonstrations, sample foods made by our registered dietitian and receive coupons redeemable for free, fresh produce provided by local farmers. We also provide free blood pressure screenings and a free heart attack risk screening. This screening includes a cholesterol and glucose check, height, weight and waist measurements and one-on-one results counseling so clients can learn how lifestyle and nutritional changes can make a difference in their health status. Attendance over the summer months has grown since the event's inception in 2012, and in 2016 over free 2100 screenings were provided! In a non-threatening environment, we are identifying high risk individuals and connecting them with healthcare professionals who can help them. What has made the events so successful is a strong alliance between our hospital and partner agencies who've made this a priority by allocating staff and resources to make this a sought after event!

It is critical to lead by example, with honesty and integrity. I started in the field as a boots on the ground health educator. These years of experience make me a strong leader today because I know first-hand what the responsibilities and demands are on the staff I guide. I worked in a variety of settings [non-profit, government agency, health care organization] which contributes to a broader perspective on health issues of my community. And, as a leader, it is important for me to be relatable. I share with clients my own personal wellness challenges in order to say, "I'm just like you; I share your struggles to eat well and exercise regularly"!  I want them to know lifestyle change isn't easy, even for wellness leaders. I exercise regularly and am a vegetarian but the best advice is to know your team and clients and share yourself in order to connect and walk the talk. 

At Valley Health, we're changing our focus to total well-being and creating a supportive culture. In the last two years we: (1)received our CEO's sign-off on a policy allowing employees to exercise and participate in wellness programs while on the clock, (2)instituted a nutrition services policy ensuring healthy, affordable foods are available during meals and at catered meetings, (3)made movement appealing with colorful stair risers and contests, (4)allocated resources for onsite health coaching which is available to employees and spouses, and (5)brought in financial wellness and mind body stress management programming to our menu of services.  As a result, engagement levels have increased to 48% percent in 2016. In the past year, we have conducted face to face health coaching with over 900 employees and have seen low risk nutrition levels improve from 19.4% to 25.9% .

Opportunities for moving the needle in a positive direction will be with wellness initiatives at worksites where adults spend a majority of their time. Employers will need to creatively address work life balance and bring wellness to employees in non-traditional ways through social media, telemedicine and onsite health clinics. We will have to ask ourselves if we are connecting employees and their spouses to physicians who can reinforce routine preventive exams like colonoscopies. We'll need to provide employees and spouses with health coaches who can support lifestyle change, accountability and medication adherence. We'll need to make sure families are a part of the equation and ensure prevention messages are framed in such a way to create challenge and evoke curiosity. Collaboration is critical. I will continue to partner with and learn from colleagues and key community leaders whose support, I believe, will be essential for collective, sustainable community change.

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Lighting The Way To Wellness! Walking The Talk! Mobile Coach: Health Choices On The Road. Chef Dan's Healthy Choices: Have A Bite! Stair Riser Selfie Contest: Go Girls! Healthy U Meal.
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