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ENTRY FROM: 2019 Top Health Promotion Professionals

Nominee: Sheila Bannister

Stop beating yourself up. This is where you are. START where you are!

Headquartered in Indianapolis with offices across the Midwest, ONI Risk Partners is one of the largest insurance agency operations in the Midwest, employing approximately 300 insurance professionals. I have served as the Health and Wellness Director for ONI since January of 2017, assisting clients in the development and implementation of customized, comprehensive wellness strategies.
While primarily client-facing, during my tenure I also launched an internal campaign to foster a culture of wellness, leading our organization to be recognized by the Wellness Council of Indiana with the AchieveWell Level 3 designation. This is the first level of recognition of a well workplace, and excellence in the field of health promotion.
I hold a Master of Science in Health Education, a Bachelor of Science in Health and Wellness (suma cum laude) and am a Licensed Practical Nurse in the State of Indiana. I also hold the following credentials:
Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES)
Certified Health and Wellness Coach (CHWC)
Certified WELCOA Faculty
Diabetes Paraprofessional Level 2
Certificate: Mental Health First Aid
Facilitator: American Cancer Society Fresh Start Tobacco Cessation Program

I was a stay-at-home mom for nearly fifteen years. But life comes at you, and sometimes it does so like a wrecking ball. My marriage of nearly 20 years fell apart and I found myself back in the workplace; single mom, three boys, one fresh off to college, two in their teen years and still very much in need of mom. Obese and stressed, I knew I needed to take care of myself if I hoped to do this parent thing all on my own. So began my journey toward better health. I started walking, watching what I ate, and eventually joined a gym where I worked with a few great trainers that believed in me when I did not believe in myself. I lost over 100 pounds.  

I started working as a benefits specialist and noticed through our claims data that we had a very unhealthy population. The Biggest Loser was a big deal then, so I created a weight loss challenge for our employees. It was a huge success and I was hooked. Unfortunately, my position was eliminated so I changed jobs and began working with another client with the same issues. I recommended a wellness program to their CEO and she was receptive. We formed a wellness committee and began doing what I now call “random acts of wellness”. You know, the activities you do that are not tied to any specific goals or objectives (I know better now). But I was being creative and collaborative and having so much fun, I decided to investigate what I needed in order to “do wellness” as a career.

So, at the age of 45, I went back to school. My boys are very smart, so I decided I would graduate with a 4.0 so they wouldn’t think they got all their brains from their dad! One semester toward the end of my course of study, my sump pump quit, my basement flooded, my hot water heater conked out, my oven quit, my dryer broke, my oven quit again, my refrigerator caught on fire, and my youngest son experienced a very scary health crisis. Committed to my goal, I ended that term with my grades intact and graduated the following semester, summa cum laude with a 4.0 GPA. I knew I could do anything I set my mind to at that point.

I pursued and earned my graduate degree while working as a wellness coach for people with diabetes. After six years of strategic education and credentialing, I landed my dream job in corporate wellness. Not only do I impact others daily, but I am held accountable for my own wellness journey along the way.

My degrees are incredibly valuable, imparting knowledge on models and theories of behavior change, population assessment, implementation, and evaluation that I use every day. It is this expertise that allows me to speak authoritatively with my colleagues and clients. I recommend to anyone entering the field of wellness to get as much education as possible.

One of the biggest contributors for success that I bring to my clients is my personal experience with behavior change. The struggle is real! Helping my clients understand this so that they design their program elements to meet people where they are has proven successful.

A client kicked off their program in July 2017 with a biometric screening event; 23 employees participated. Through wellness communications and programming that reduced the stigma of inactivity, poor nutrition and other unhealthy habits, we were able to gain employee trust by meeting them where they were. In July 2018, biometric screening participation doubled to 46 participants and cohort data for those participating in both screening events showed improvement in several markers. Participation in their wellness fair also increased from year one to year two. They are beginning to see a shift in their culture, with more employees sharing their wellness journey stories. They spotlight an employee making healthy habit changes every quarter in their “Get Real” poster series.

One solution I implemented for my clients is a wellness communication strategy that focuses on five individual behavior determinants of health: tobacco cessation, nutrition and healthy eating, physical activity, self-care behaviors, and stress. Positive changes in these individual behaviors can reduce the risk of chronic disease and protect health. Rather than crafting a monthly newsletter on the National Health Observances calendar, my strategy employs a quarterly focus on these behaviors that capitalizes on what people are thinking of and engaged in at specific times of the year. Quarter One: Nutrition and Healthy Eating. Quarter Two: Physical Activity. Quarter Three: Self Care Behaviors. Quarter Four Stress. We focus on Tobacco Cessation all year long. The result is an immersive, informative, and innovative approach to worksite wellness.

Because many of my clients are in the early stages of their wellness programs, it is difficult to have quantitative data to support the success of this strategy. However, my clients share every month how employees have taken information from the newsletter and applied it to make positive changes in their behaviors. They are seeing a shift in their cultures. I am confident over time we will see quantitative date prove that this strategy is helping employees become healthier.

Interventions are designed to meet individuals where they are. When possible, I design interventions in a multiple level of entry format. One of the constructs of the Health Belief Model is that individuals will not participate in an activity if they feel they will not have some level of success, so I design around this construct. For example, if I am designing a walking program with an incentive, participants at varying levels of fitness can be successful. Level One = average 5000 steps per day and earn 1 entry in the prize drawing. Level Two = average 7500 steps per day and earn two entries in the prize drawing, and so on. I custom design this approach for the client based on their population and culture.  

Because many of my clients are in the early stages of their wellness programs, we are using participation statistics as one measure of program success. For those that are doing biometric screenings, I request cohort data for individuals that participate year over year to look for changes in their biometric markers. I also look at medical claims and pharmacy utilization reports to spot trends.

My vision is to be a disruptor in the wellness industry. I think there exists a false notion that if you are not at an ideal weight, and doing all the right stuff, that you cannot be effective at health promotion. My personal story serves as an inspiration to others because I am real, authentic. They don’t feel like they must march in the parade of perfection when they speak with me.

The biggest opportunity we have is to start meeting people where they are, instead of where we think they ought to be. We will see incredible advancements in technology and the application of genetics over the next few years, but these will be to our detriment if we fail to meet people where they are and help them craft their own story and determine their own path toward improving and protecting their health.

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Sheila B.
M.S. Health Education, B.S. Health and Wellness, Licensed Practical Nurse - State of Indiana, Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES®), Certified Health and Wellness Coach (CHWC), Diabetes Paraprofessional Level II, Facilitator - American Cancer Society Fresh Start Tobacco Cessation Program, Certified WELCOA Faculty, Certificate - Mental Health First Aid USA View Sheila B.'s Profile.
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Comments 4

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As a professional colleague of Sheila's, I can honestly say that she can walk the walk and talk the talk on anything wellness related and is a great asset to our team. Go Sheila!

Taylor R. on 4/30/2019

Awesome! Got my vote!

Danielle B. on 4/29/2019

Quite a journey Sheila! You have my vote and I’m not family. ;)

Lisa K. on 4/27/2019

Wow! I am so proud of you. You have my vote and not just because your family, cuz! Angie D

Angie D. on 4/27/2019

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