For fourteen years I have been the Employee Wellness Program Coordinator at the Santa Clara Kaiser Permanente Medical Center. There are 174,415 Kaiser Permanente employees nationwide. I am privileged to work with the 7,000 staff and physicians at my medical center. I develop programs that help employees step away from their work day. Many of the programs I developed in my first years working at Kaiser Permanente were used as a model for the Northern California Kaiser Permanente Live Well Be Well employee wellness program.
I have always been interested in fitness and dance. However, it wasn’t until 2000 my career in wellness really began. I started teaching dance aerobics in 1979 for fun. I worked at Lockheed Martin for nearly 20 years in Document Services. My co-workers would see me taking a walk during my lunch break and eating healthy food. They started coming to me for advice on how to get in shape. I really enjoyed helping them. This was the catalyst of my wellness journey. In 2001, I completed my AA degree and Fitness Specialist certification at Mission College, earned my ACE personal trainer certification, and left Lockheed to take a job with TimeOut Services. I worked as a fitness center manager, fitness instructor, and group exercise manager on Cisco campus. It was there, I was first introduced to WELCOA and learned that wellness was much more than exercising and eating well. In 2004, I saw the commercials for the Kaiser Permanente Thrivecampaign and knew I wanted to work for them. In 2005, Santa Clara Kaiser Permanente created a new position for an Employee Wellness Program Coordinator. I jumped at the opportunity. I was soon tasked with creating and implementing wellness programs for the medical center. I looked to WELCOA for guidance. After taking several of the online trainings I became a member of the WELCOA Faculty and felt better equipped to running wellness programs.
I went back to college to get my Bachelors Degree, something I had always wanted, but life got in the way. I graduated Kaplan University, Summa Cum Laude in 2013 with a BS in Health and Wellness. In 2015, I completed National Wellness Institute’s Worksite Wellness Program Manager Certification. This education reinforced that I was on the right track and validated the work I had be doing.
I am also certified to teach a variety of fitness classes. Two years ago, I joined Toastmasters to improve my presentation and motivational speaking skills. I recently won our division speech contest with my speech about how blood donors saved my life.
My passion for helping the employee’s thrive at work and home is huge. I try to make as many interactions as I can “teaching moments”. I share my experiences and tips with the individuals I come in contact with. I emphasize that doing little things throughout the day add up. Although I present myself as an expert, I am always learning from the individuals and departments driving well-being around me.
Wellness for employees in a Hospital setting is tough. Caregivers tend to take care of everyone first and themselves last. The challenge is to find ways for these direct care givers to step away from the work day. Luckily our facility is large with long, wide hallways and numerous staircases. Our campus workforce population has grown from 3,500 in 2005 to close 7,000 employees and physicians in 2018. Workloads are even more demanding than a few years ago, as the need for and access to health care grows. Staff cannot attend wellness activities during their busy workday. Our team started to shift our program direction, to department driven wellness and making it a part of the daily routine, and not seen as “another thing that needs to be done”.
My team and I developed simple tools that allow anyone to lead wellness activities. We trained the 180 Wellness Ambassadors, engaged department managers by presenting at manager meetings, completed assessments and consultations for departments who requested help. We provided tools and guidance to make their own plan.
We are supported by our Medical Center Leadership. They understand the importance of well-being and team engagement. The key to making wellness work is getting the buy-in of the manager. Not just for them to say ok, but be involved. Staff need accessibility and apparent sense of permission.
In 2018, the managers goals were tied to the People Pulse Culture of Health (COH) Index score. The results were 77%, higher than the Northern California region overall, and the third top score for the region. Study of the data showed that departments with high COH score had 47% fewer lost days of work and 69% fewer workplace injuries. Now more mangers are reaching out to us for help in bringing wellness to their departments.
My greatest success is Personal Besta half marathon 10K training program. I started the program to help employees; physicians and their families prepare for the Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon in San Francisco. This 13-week training program has run for 13 seasons, with over 1,300 different participants. The program started small and grew to average close to 200 participants each season. The average yearly return rate is 54 percent. Participants come back because of the support and community they find. Over half of our volunteer coaches are employees/physicians. We get people from all facets. But, out on the trail we come together as people, not by our titles. Many have said that it has not only changed their life, fitness and health, but working relationships have shifted for the better. I have invested my heart and soul into developing and maintaining a program that has brought many people together. Personal Best started out centered around a physical challenge but now, coworkers, families, and friends connect and focus on encouragement, support, and community.
There will always be a push for ensuring a good return on investment in wellness programs. I see the opportunity to focus on having our employees show up as their best selves so they can be fully engaged and thrive at work. With better engaged staff, production goes up, lost hours go down and better care goes to our patients. I see the industry shifting from fitness and healthy eating to a more holistic approach that includes, mental health, community, career, and financial wellness. I would tell others, knowledge is great, but to lead successfully, you need to walk the talk and have a true passion for what you do. I never expect people to go where I am not willing to lead. As wellness coordinator, it is my job to encourage people to be healthy and develop programs that help them thrive. This is not just a way for me to earn a living. I see my passion and enthusiasm as a gift I can give to others. Every day, I seek to model a lifestyle centered around healthy activities and I have gathered around me employees and physicians, who share the same message. As co-workers speak about challenges they have faced and their individual accomplishments, others are encouraged to try.
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Great job Sara! Love how you are helping employees THRIVE at Kaiser. -Melanie
Melanie C. on 4/29/2019