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ENTRY FROM: 2016 Top Health Promotion Professionals

Nominee: Marie Story

Marie's Wellness is more than just a Story

Walsh Duffield Cos., Inc. prides itself on keeping their clients safe and well. The organization's wellness journey began over 10 years ago, but has been an industry leader and provider of wellness since hiring a few select Wellness Coordinators. Among the bunch is Marie Story (hence the title of the entry!). After receiving her Master's in Health Promotion and teaching Group Fitness Classes, Marie worked for a large health carrier helping thousands of people get healthier and help work toward their wellness goals. We saw her in action and knew we needed to get this individual on board at Walsh Duffield to help redefine our own wellness program. Marie's been in the field for over 5 years, but has made an impact that goes well beyond a quantitative figure. As the front-end Wellness Coordinator at Walsh Duffield, a private insurance agency in Western New York with a workforce of about 100, Marie incubates wellness ideas internally and implements them for our clients. Each of our clients is unique in industry-type (manufacturing, clinical, office workers) and demographics (ranging in size from 70-700). Marie does not have a one-size fits all approach - she creates a customized wellness plan for each organization to find the most optimal wellness solution.

Marie Story

Professional Development

Marie attended Buffalo State University for her BS in Health and Wellness.  She worked at Wegmans Food Markets and was an exercise instructor at the YMCA.  Marie continued then earned a MS in Health & Fitness at Ithaca College and worked as a Health Coach at BCBS. Her current role as a Wellness Coordinator at Walsh Duffield has put her education to play and she’s learned that she can actually make a lifelong career helping others get fit and healthy, while on the job.  She hones her skills using the resources and online classes that WELCOA has to offer.

Demonstrated Success

Marie has positively impacted a variety of worksites, but one in particular will be highlighted.  Marie worked intimately with one of our large manufacturing groups in their quest improve workplace safety.  Marie efficaciously created a stretching program aimed at reducing injuries related to trips and falls. The Health and Welfare Benefits Administrator of this organization of mainly office workers, at an average age of 48 – now start their workday with an effective 10-minute stretching protocol developed by Marie, using resistance bands. Employees were trained as “stretch leaders,” and the program has 95 percent participation. Better yet, the year following the stretching program roll-out, the company celebrated an entire year without any reportable workplace injuries, which is attributed to overall improvements employees have made to their health and wellness. 

Aside from the marked improvements in the overall safety and behavioral health of this organization, there are notable cultural enhancements that have been observed since the development of the wellness program - people are discussing their exercise regimens, comparing wearable fitness devices, participating in onsite physical activity challenges and actively engaging in lunch and learns that highlight health and wellness.  The culture has changed in so many facets of the company that it’s transferring to families and they are making it part of their lives.  One of the senior safety engineers and the lead member of the Wellness Committee at this organization participated in the weight loss program and the walking program.  She commented that these programs have given her more energy to tackle the rigors of her work while improving her overall health - “When your body is healthier, your brain is healthier.”  These individuals are truly healthier and happier and having been making a more productive impact at their worksite.

As mentioned, Marie helps to maintain our internal wellness program at Walsh Duffield. Some prominent outcomes of our program include the following:

  • Overall reduction in our group’s risk for Metabolic Syndrome by 5.7%
  • An improvement in waist circumference by 14.8%
  • An improvement in total glucose by 3%

WELCOA’s 7 Benchmarks were used as a tool to help create, implement and track the efficacy of the wellness programs. Using the support from the CEO and others on the leadership team, the wellness messages and healthy examples were disseminated throughout the company.  Data was collected prior to rolling out a program to understand the health priorities and what the employees perceived as important.  The stretching program was created using these guidelines and once the program was put into place, a survey was sent to the employees to get their feedback in order to understand what succeeded and what improvements could be made.

Leadership

Marie’s job sometimes requires countless hours behind a computer, therefore she can relate to the challenges most American face being sedentary behind a screen.  Due to this, Marie played an active role in purchasing standup workstations for our employees.  In addition to finding Marie working while standing, she hosts meetings in the company’s Walking Meeting Room, takes advantage of the onsite yoga classes and uses her fitbit to monitor her health goals. These are visible reminders to others that they can take an active role with their health while at work.   

Marie’s success can be attributed to her continuing education.  She is not only a Wellness Coordinator, but maintains certifications thought the ACSM, CHES and ACE.  She participates in WECOA’s webinars and reads their educational resources to stay current. The best advice for other wellness practitioners who are hoping to become leaders in the field is to learn, research and communicate with others.  It’s also ok to ask questions!

 Innovation

Marie encourages individuals to take accountability for their health.  She provides the resources, education and support along with constant motivation. It’s uncovering the resources that are available to us to help us stay on track is what Marie does best. She helps our clients find solutions that fit culturally and financially. Internally, our group saw a transformation at the aggregate level in our risk for metabolic syndrome.  Our group went from 84.3% of the group being within normal ranges for the top 5 risks for metabolic syndrome, to 90% of us being within a healthy range.  In a survey, we found that our employees are stressed.  Marie found a way to bring a massage therapist onsite, offered healthy (yet delicious!) food and conducted meditation sessions as part of our “Stress Less Week.”  These types of programs really help continue pushing the needle toward an intrinsically motivated group.

Compelling Vision

Although we are faced with challenges from the ever-changing government (regulations and such), our industry has a bright future.  Our efforts are making a positive impact within the corporate setting and are translating to healthy behavioral modifications at home. However, some select individuals remain skeptical of releasing some of their personal information that has been required by a third party in order for our group to measure aggregate health outcomes.  Over time, we hope that our dedication to the health and wellness of each associate will help to eliminate any type of apprehension with regards to releasing personal information.  Marie has always been available to communicate this to all and she plans on maintaining her close relationship with the employees which has been key to the success of our wellness program and will be over the course of the next few years. 

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Courtney M.
Courtney is a Registered Dietitian and has experience working with individuals and large groups in a variety of capacities. As a Wellness Coordinator, she works for Walsh Duffield in their Group Benefits Division, working with the agency’s clients to develop and implement wellness programs within their companies. Prior to joining Walsh Duffield, she was a supervisor in the Health Promotion department at BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York. Courtney holds a Master’s degree in nutrition from James Madison University and a Bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Richmond. She likes to run distance races, play tennis and travel the world with her family. View Courtney M.'s Profile.
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