My passion for employee wellness began as a Division I lacrosse player at Vanderbilt University. I was fascinated with how the health of each individual affected the overall wellbeing of the group, and frequently spoke to my teammates about the importance of maintaining physical, mental, and emotional health throughout the year.
After college I moved on to a successful sales career with two Fortune 500 organizations, and kept a focus on health in the workplace by taking leadership roles in wellness challenges, healthy snack education, and walking initiatives. After 8 years, I decided to follow my passion and pursue a Master of Public Health degree from Florida International University. Simultaneously, I worked with the Miami-Dade County Health Department on their worksite wellness efforts, managed the wellness initiatives for 12,000 employees at Florida International University, and led seminars for local organizations on various health related topics. I earned certifications as a Health Education Specialist (CHES), Wellness Coach (Wellcoaches), and Personal Trainer (National Council on Strength and Fitness). Upon graduation at the top of my class with a 4.0 GPA, I accepted a position at Florida Blue as the Health Promotion and Wellness Specialist for the South Florida Region. This year I earned the distinction of Certified WELCOA Faculty member.
I have responsibility for the internal wellness programs for our Florida Blue Offices in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Port St. Lucie as well as some statewide initiatives. The entire organization has 10,000 employees. Additionally, I oversee the health promotion strategy for over 50 of our client organizations. I work with clients whose programs range from those just starting on their wellness journey to those looking to fine tune their already award-winning wellness culture. Regardless, we start each relationship with an introduction to the WELCOA 7 Benchmarks. We maintain a focus on the benchmarks as we work together to design and implement programs that will achieve their worksite wellness goals. Coming to work every day is a true pleasure, and seeing people improve their health inspires me to continue to evolve as well. I can honestly say I love my job.
Recently, I found a passion for Stress Management. I completed a 10-day silent meditation and the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course from the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. I have led mindfulness challenges and am taking courses through the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Academy.
While I have only been employed in the health promotion field for about 5 years, it has been a lifelong practice for me, both professionally and personally. Now that I have a 15-month old son whose favorite food is his green smoothie in the morning, I am seeing the value of a culture of wellness within our home as well as in the workplace. If we can improve the health of employees at work, they can bring that to their families and we can improve the health of future generations. Wellness truly is our future!
Heart Health Awareness Walk Ready!
I graduated cum laude from Vanderbilt University with two majors, earned a Master of Public Health from Florida International University, have trained in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, and am a Certified WELCOA Faculty Member, Health Education Specialist and Wellness Coach. I entered health promotion to help teams function at a high level by focusing on the health of their members. My clients have won Awards from WELCOA, American Heart Association, Healthiest Places to Work, and Florida Worksite Wellness Awards. The WELCOA Certification in Program Evaluation is invaluable in providing real-life application of concepts that cannot be taught in a book.
In my personal time, I am a Founding Director of my local Food Policy Council. We have been involved in successfully passing City and County legislation to improve access to healthy food. Additionally, I have volunteered teaching the basics of portion control and healthy grocery shopping to girls who are aging out of the foster care system.
Professionally, my most successful program addressed nutrition. We created a cohesive wellness team with a group of key stakeholders, employees and leaders. We met with the local President to capture senior level support and commitment to obtain buy-in from other internal managers. The data used were from the 2015 personal health assessment (PHA) indicating that 58% of the population had poor nutrition and an interest in making behavior change. This percentage increased from 2014 and was higher than other regions statewide.
When designing our operating plan, we kept in mind that half of employees are in one office, with the remaining working remotely or from satellite offices. We recognized the importance of creating a supportive environment and collaborated with the onsite fitness center, cafeteria, and health coaches to reinforce our messages. Incorporating appropriate interventions in a variety of delivery methods was critical to ensuring success and we chose to offer quarterly programs onsite, via phone and webinar with a Registered Dietician. Each quarter offerings varied from a 5-week series on nutrition basics to a daily challenge to eat 5 fruits and vegetables. We sent a monthly newsletter including a healthy recipe, encouraged contacts with the employee health coach and built nutrition into each wellness program running concurrently. Our most successful interventions were webinars where a Registered Dietician gave a brief presentation and employees had their questions answered live on a webcam. 13% of the population attended these sessions, when we historically have about 5% participate in health education programs.
Our goal is to reduce the at-risk nutrition percentage to 55% in 2016 and 50% in 2017 as well as obtain employee feedback on lifestyle changes. We receive 2016 PHA data in a few weeks and will evaluate our outcomes and start planning 2017 interventions. In the meantime, we know the programs are changing behaviors leading to health status improvements from employees sharing that they “are more conscious of food labels”, “gained better eating habits”, and “are very appreciative of the opportunity to participate in this program via phone/web”. One employee shared “I have changed my eating habits where 70-80% of what I eat each day is fruit and veggies. Have reduced the amount of red meat I eat and have increased the amount of fish and chicken. I began to incorporate an exercise program toward the end of the program. I find I am sleeping better and have increased energy.” Culturally, we are seeing more participation overall in the wellness program with nearly half of the population participating in at least one wellness offering. I look forward to seeing the positive changes in these employees this year and in the future.
A healthy lifestyle is very important to me. I get up early to spend a few minutes in silence before packing my lunch, making sure time at the gym is on my calendar, putting on my activity tracker, filling my water bottle, and taking the stairs instead of the elevator to my desk. Being a leader is about inspiring people, and I encourage my colleagues to participate in wellness offerings with me. After work, I spend time with my family and meal prep for the following day.
My advice for those hoping to become leaders is to “start where you are” (Pema Chodron). I was nervous to leave a successful sales career, but began with one health promotion class. Obtaining certifications and taking the lead on projects have helped me become a leader in the field. Though your steps may be small, one after another you will get where you want to go. Always remember to enjoy the journey!
In working with 50+ employers, it is important to be innovative in order to keep the employees engaged and involved (and thinking about health!). Hosting webinars is not necessarily innovative, but the way I facilitate them is unique. After a brief 20-minute presentation on a timely topic with several opportunities for participants to engage with the content via poll questions, a Doctor is visible via live webcam. Participants privately submit questions which I ask to the physician who answers them in real-time. We have had over 300% increase in participation from previous webinars and so many questions submitted we had to extend the webinar! Through their questions being answered, participants can immediately improve their health status and change their behavior. It has been so successful that it has become a part of our culture and I will be hosting a monthly webinar series with different subject matter experts in 2017.
In the next 5 years, the biggest opportunity and threat to health promotion are the same: technology. Cell phones and wearable devices have created opportunities to engage individuals who were previously unable to participate in programs due to a variety of reasons including interest, geography or finances. Many have experienced unparalleled success in goal setting, weight loss, sleep and step counting through friendly competition and encouragement of an app. Alternatively, technology is becoming an obsession that can actually increase stress, cause accidents and reduce life satisfaction. I plan to embrace technology while educating that there is a time and a place for it without letting it control your life. I hope to launch a Mindfulness Program next year to our regional employees and roll it out to our clients afterwards. Technology has many benefits, and it is important to remember the only thing we have in life: the present moment.