My name is Vicky Stevens and, perhaps like some of you reading this, I somewhat stumbled into the field of health promotion. My path to becoming a wellness champion and leader of an award-winning wellness initiative at my organization started more than 10 years ago from humble beginnings fraught with challenge. My son was developmentally delayed as an infant and was diagnosed at the age of three with Autism. I'd imagine many of you have been touched by Autism in some way in your lives; perhaps directly in your immediate family or indirectly through your friendship circles. For some, it may initially feel like a devastating blow. In time, life gradually shifts to a "new normal" where interactions you and your child have with friends, family, and the community are different from what you previously knew or pictured them to be. For me, I watched my beautiful child’s body being ravaged from the inside by malabsorption issues, with a distended stomach and skin so pale and translucent it had a blue cast. I watched him lose the ability to speak coherent sentences, begin to beat himself and me, flap his arms in agitation, disappear into himself, and be unable to connect with others. I soon realized I was on the precipice of a lifestyle change that would impact every facet of our family life. Through genomic testing and a great deal of research into nutrigenomics, I learned that everything that goes in and on our bodies has a direct correlation to our internal health. Putting that new learning into action, I had a whole-house water filtration system installed, stopped using unsafe plastic products, and carefully read labels of body and cleaning products to ensure ingredients were non-carcinogenic. While some may say that my health-focus pendulum might have swung too far in one direction, I would argue that a parent will make any change necessary they believe will ensure the proper growth and health of their child.
Following two years of clinic visits in another state, multiple modalities of therapy, changes in diet, and the exercising of a great deal of optimism and patience, I fast forward to today, where I have the role of Director of Talent and Organizational Development for the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts. When I started in my position just four years ago, one small part of my job was to stock our Human Resources Center with drinks and snacks for our staff to enjoy. Prior to my joining the Kentucky Center, which boasts a population of 200 staff members, no health initiative existed, and it was commonplace to have donuts, cokes, and pizza at many events. Even though wellness was not listed under even one bullet point in my job description, I found myself uncomfortable buying cokes for my co-workers or supporting food choices I knew were in contradiction to healthy habits. Occasional splurges are always OK, as are sweets in moderation, but I couldn't encourage them to be the norm.
We are in the fourth year of our Wellness in Action initiative at the Center and I can truly say that my colleagues impress me, make me proud, and demonstrate great strength and resiliency every day. They own their health journeys and are embracing well-being practices within their departments. Am I proud of the four awards we've earned? Definitely! Am I excited about the $225,000 financial turnaround of our staff? Tremendously so! Am I humbled by the 150+ pounds my colleagues have lost this past year? I certainly am! Does our organization benefit from the increased engagement we’ve seen with the Humana Go365 program? You bet! Do I tout the $90,000 our wellness initiative has saved our organization over the last three years with our executive leadership team and our Board? Every chance I get! But more than those accolades, what I am most proud of are the hearts and minds of the friends I work with every day who continue to invest in their own wellness journeys.
To conclude, I want to bring you back to the impetus for my evolution. Thirteen years ago, I was shocked when genomic testing revealed that my skinny three-year-old child had the genetic profile of an adult obese male smoker. Today, as a sophomore in high school, he is a healthy, thriving, amazing young man who possesses great potential all because we faced our family health crisis with our eyes open, our feet firmly planted, and our minds determined. Is this not what we desire for our colleagues? Then let’s help make it happen!
Healthy eating in Italy is way more fun than healthy eating at home!
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND LEADERSHIP
An important role I play is to support the professional development of our staff and I feel it is essential that I model continuous self-improvement by tending to my own professional development. From earning a M.Ed. in Educational and Counseling Psychology while working full-time as a young professional, to receiving my Organization Development Certified Professional (OCDP) designation three years ago, to most recently becoming certified with WELCOA, I regularly seek to increase my knowledge to benefit my own work as well as the professional lives of my colleagues. My entry into the field of health promotion was the culmination of past Autism research conducted to heal my son coupled with my desire to be a positive health influence. For the first three years, our initiative saw significant strides in a relatively short period of time. I am confident, however, that it is the recent WELCOA certification that I and two of our wellness committee members have earned that is now driving and refining our strategy moving into our fifth year. Once-deficient areas are beginning to transform into areas of strength.
In the beginning stages of our wellness program, staff would bring me leftover bags of potato chips and boxes of donuts to put out and would say, “This is for when wellness is over.” It took time to convince them that our wellness initiative was created to be a comprehensive approach meant to create lasting change rather than be a short-term fad. Over the past year, this creative and incredibly passionate group of people experienced a series of stressful events. We had a roof fire that left our facility closed for a month, continue to experience ongoing fire restoration, have been through a reorganization, have purchased a local theatre, and will be celebrating the grand opening of a brand-new music venue we’ve built from the ground up. The whole-body, whole-mind focus I gleaned through Autism research and employ at the Center has been a catalyst to the implementation of interventions some initially felt to be unconventional for the workplace. However, those same holistic interventions are now the undergirding for the resiliency of our staff during this stress-filled time in our organization’s life. Instrumental to my becoming a leader in my field is the networking circle I’ve been introduced to by my Wellness Partners Committee. Our insurance broker (USI) and insurance carrier (Humana/Go365) have generously sought to connect me with individuals they believe will motivate me to be forward-thinking and maintain positivity. In terms of advice, I would without hesitation tell my wellness-minded peers to not walk this journey alone. There are numerous professionals who’ve walked in your steps who have wisdom and encouragement to share. There is also a treasure trove of information from organizations like WELCOA which can aid in the creation of strategy and ensure future success. Seek out those with wisdom and ask for their mentorship, as they understand the value of community connections and are eager to help you and your organizational wellness initiatives thrive!
SUCCESS STORIES AND INNOVATION
When I first began working at the Kentucky Center, the engagement level in the Humana Go365 program, the only wellness offering at the time, was extremely low. Humana’s “wellness discount” program tied to Go365 (formally Humana Vitality) engagement had the potential to reduce the cost of our insurance premiums at renewal. In years previous to the implementation of our Wellness In Action (WIA) initiative, the organization had only received a 1% reduction per year. At the inception of our initiative, I formed a diversified internal team of wellness advocates and together we crafted a wellness strategy that included a plan to increase our premium renewal reductions. The aggressive proposal we presented to our President/CEO included a request for a $6,000 wellness budget (from just $500 the previous year) and in return, we pledged to save the organization $20,400 (a 3% premium reduction). One of the vehicles to see our proposal to fruition was through a newly-designed WIA Incentives Program that built upon the Humana Go365 platform and allowed our staff to earn WIA branded apparel and health-focused incentive items. Extensive data was collected regarding full- and part-time staff wellness engagement levels, biometrics data, and event participation. A communication strategy was employed that included a wellness newsletter, outreach on a grass-roots level by our WIA committee members, and integration of wellness at our company-wide meetings.
In one year, not only was this new incentive program a triumph, we succeeded in more than doubling the cost savings from $20,400 to over $42,000. Since then, our wellness initiative has saved the Center a total of $90,000 and is on target to save an additional $60,000 by the end of 2019. We strongly believe this savings will be achieved, as we are currently witnessing a culture shift in our employee population where our colleagues are taking their health seriously and are actively participating in events centered around our four well-being categories of Physical Health, Financial Well-being, Emotional Resiliency, and Community Connections. As a result of our second-year accomplishments, in our third year we were granted a budget of $15,000 and were able to fund the purchase an online budgeting and savings tool called SmartDollar for our entire staff population. This year, we continue to offer an expanded version of our WIA Incentive Program, continue to fund SmartDollar for all staff members, and have added several new interventions. Two such interventions are a “creative aging” program for our community of 500+ volunteers as well as a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) partnership with a local farm where fresh produce is delivered onsite for 20 weeks starting this summer. Innovation is paramount to keeping our offerings and strategies fresh. We value creatively meeting the wellness needs of our workforce, as our employees are the magic of how we fulfill our mission to create lifelong relationships with the arts!
As health promotion professionals, we strive to demonstrate the ROI and VOI of our wellness initiatives. Both are inarguably imperative to the longevity and sustained success of our programs. However, as leaders in our industry, our primary focus should be on positively impacting the lives of our workforce population. Times of intense stress can deplete necessary reserves of mental and physical good health. We must be genuine in our efforts to build resiliency in our colleagues. Therefore, the biggest opportunity over the next five years is the prioritization of self-care and the mental health of our workforce. We must emphasize creating cultures where we encourage prioritizing self-care. A pivotal factor in advancing the wellness industry that I share responsibility for is ensuring that employees identify their company as caring about their well-being. When successful, we all will reap the benefits of better health and will watch engagement data significantly improve!