I am the Director of Employer Health and Wellness for Kaiser Permanente in the Colorado region. I have been a thought leader and influencer in the health promotion industry for nearly 20 years. My role as director is to lead the teams responsible for improving population health and employee wellbeing for Kaiser Permanente employees and the employer groups we serve. Our Kaiser Permanente employee wellbeing program reaches approximately 7,500 employees and physicians. In addition, I have partnered with hundreds of employers advancing their workforce health strategy. Currently my team reaches over 100 employer groups accounting for 231,000 health plan members across the state of Colorado. I am a passionate leader who advocates for organizational and employee wellbeing, and I exemplify leading from the inside out.
My interest in health promotion stemmed from an active childhood and involvement in athletics. In my undergraduate studies, I began merging the world of business, physiology, and my values for living a healthy lifestyle. Through a Kaiser Permanente internship, I discovered a unique opportunity to impact population health through employer venues. Being a lifelong learner, I obtained certifications in personal coaching, team diagnostics and a certificate in Thriving Workplace Culture. In addition, I obtained my Masters of Science in Organizational Leadership out of my desire to have a broader impact in the workforce health industry through supporting leaders and teams to higher performance.
I live by my values and consider my career a calling. When I started my career at Kaiser Permanente in 1997, there were two people in the department, and I was instrumental in growing the team to eighteen. I established the internal employee wellness program in 2004 out of a conviction that Kaiser Permanente needed to model the way for customers. I have been a leader in innovation, and helped to shape the workforce health programs offered by other Kaiser Permanente regions. I have leveraged best practices, such as WELCOA’s Seven Benchmarks, to inform the Kaiser Permanente workforce health consulting model which fosters the ongoing evolution as the industry continues to shift and change.
One of my many successes at Kaiser Permanente included a two year value demonstration and research project. I was instrumental in efforts to evaluate and quantify workforce health interventions on three employers: Kaiser Permanente (6,000 employees), a private business (500 employees), and a public entity (1,000 employees). The purpose of the project was to understand what key variables (leadership support, incentive design, and interventions) would yield the greatest positive impact (participation, engagement, behavior change, risk status, and health outcomes).
All three organizations had executive leaders sign a commitment letter, they sponsored wellness committees, and they agreed to provide a “meaningful incentive”. Baseline clinical data from Kaiser Permanente’s electronic medical records was utilized to develop a plan for appropriate interventions, and cultural assessments were conducted on each population to understand employee’s perceptions before and after the interventions. Additionally, each employer addressed environmental factors and policy at varying levels. The consistent intervention applied to all three groups was completing a Health Risk Assessment, completing age and gender appropriate cardiovascular and cancer screenings, and participating in an online Healthy Lifestyle Program. Kaiser Permanente also conducted targeted outreach to members who were at moderate to high risk for cardiovascular disease. Each employer had additional team based behavior change programs.
Over two years, participants versus non-participants were studied across all three organizations. Participants in the program demonstrated a 12.8% increase in beginning to exercise at least 150 minutes per week, compared to only 7.1% of non-participants. Furthermore, 1.6% of participants quit using tobacco, compared to only 0.9% of non-participants. There was statistically significant changes in mean biometrics of participants from year one to year two. Mean BMI dropped from 27.9 to 27.6; diastolic blood pressure dropped from 71.8 to 71.4; and LDL cholesterol dropped from 103.7 to 101.8. The percentage of participants meeting ideal biometric levels also improved. Those with a BMI under 25 increased from 40% to 42%; those with systolic blood pressure under 120 improved from 62% to 65%; and those with diastolic blood pressure under 80 improved from 76% to 79%. For those at moderate to high risk for cardiovascular disease who received the targeted outreach by Kaiser Permanente, 11% of the population moved from moderate cardiovascular risk to low risk, and 44% of the high risk employees were able to close quality care gaps. Cost savings calculations across the three organizations ranged from $70,000 to $147,000.
This project demonstrated one size does not fit all when it comes to designing workforce programs and that WELCOA benchmarks play a significant role in success. We saw the most significant impacts with strong leadership support, investment in staff and program resources, meaningful incentives and a supportive environment. However, leadership support had the biggest influence on program outcomes.
Building on this research project to understand how to truly impact culture change has continued to require innovation. Since 2012, Kaiser Permanente has been collecting data on employees through seven wellness questions that comprise a “culture of health index”. Analysis has demonstrated departments with higher culture of health indices correlate with 31% fewer workplace injuries and 18% fewer lost work days. I took this work further by identifying a high level executive who was an advocate for employee wellbeing to pilot consultative leadership interventions. My team conducted a targeted assessment with this executive’s 165 employees to get baseline data. After two years of providing consultation to leaders on creating a culture of health, this department was able to demonstrate higher results than the region’s sample population on every single indicator. The culture of health index was 80% compared to 73% in the region. Feedback garnered through focus groups indicated employees felt a positive impact on morale, productivity, focus, and support for their own wellbeing since the leadership interventions had occurred. This story and success will continue to change the conversation and focus within Kaiser Permanente.
The health promotion field needs to continue to evolve with the science. Many employers are struggling with true “engagement” in their program. I see a shift happening from a programmatic, mechanistic approach to a more holistic approach that accounts for a person’s body, mind, and spirit. We’re seeing the shift from “wellness” to “wellbeing”. A huge driver of overall wellbeing is people feeling connected to their core values and being able to express that in a purposeful way (i.e. their career). Given my background in wellness programming and organizational leadership, I do see an emergence of investing more in leaders to foster an environment that supports wellbeing principles. Bringing organizational development and employee wellbeing together in different ways is an emerging opportunity worth pursuing!
My advice to emerging leaders is to "lead from within and use your inherent talents and strengths to make an impact where you stand. We are all given passion to make this world a better place."