ENTRY FROM: The Top 100 Health Promotion Professionals

Nominee: Carla Schneider

Inspiring Vitality for Life

In 2007, Carla Schneider was working for Oakwood Healthcare System, Inc., an independent, not-for-profit health care organization committed to improving the health and well-being of the individuals and communities of southeastern MI. With four acute care hospitals and more than 60 outpatient facilities within a 500 square mile service area, Oakwood’s 9,000 employees and 1,300 physicians represented nearly every medical and surgical specialty and subspecialty. But one thing was missing – a wellness department for employees. Carla worked tirelessly as a Personal Cardiac Coach for a group of women involved in a research study while simultaneously advancing a wellness initiative that blossomed into a fully-supported and functioning department in 2009 guided by WELCOA’s 7 Benchmarks. Carla brings 35+ years of experience to her current role of Manager of OakWell, Oakwood’s employee wellness program, and has a passion for working with groups and individuals to encourage an optimal quality of life through improving fitness, nutrition and stress management habits.

Carla J Schneider

1. Professional Development
As an avid lifelong participant in competitive and recreational sports, it is natural I would select a career that revolves around physical activity.  I received my Bachelor's degree in Recreation Administration from Bowling Green State University in 1977 and my Masters in Facility Management in 1981.  I have many certifications including personal training and wellness coaching, but the most beneficial in terms of my passion for employee wellness is WELCOA Faculty.  The WELCOA best practices have been foundational for me to lead an effective employee wellness program, recently recognized as a 2013 Governor’s Council Outstanding Healthy Workplace Award Finalist.

2. Demonstrated Success
OakWell’s strategic framework illustrates our primary areas of focus:  Healthy Culture, HRA Program, Health Coaching, and the development of OakWell Ambassadors.  Supporting these main initiatives are our pillars of healthy eating, regular exercise, weight management, finding balance, tobacco-free environment and the policies and procedures that anchor them.  With such a diverse employee population encompassing a wide-array of health concerns, we pride ourselves in being able to offer programming opportunities to meet the needs of many employees at various stages of readiness to change. 

Because of our diversity, I believe one of our most influential programs geared to all employees and spouses is that of health coaching.  Our coaching protocols have been developed in-house using an evidence-based approach as well as lessons learned through our time involved in health coaching research.  In 2011, we secured WELCOA’s Benchmark #1 by capturing not only CEO support but the support of our entire executive council through participation in a coaching pilot. 

From 2011 to present, our complimentary program has been offered to all employees/spouses who assist us in achieving WELCOA Benchmark #3 by completing an annual online Health Risk Appraisal Questionnaire (HRAQ).  Each year overall satisfaction with the program remains a solid 97% (answer selections of “very good” or “excellent”), and we receive comments that testify to the power and impact the OakWell Healthy Lifestyle Coaching program is having on individual health.  Yet our most powerful results to date have come from a 2012 coaching analysis, supporting WELCOA Benchmark #7.  This analysis confirmed anecdotal evidence that our coaching program is helping individuals manage their health risks by suggesting participants in the OakWell Healthy Lifestyle Coaching program experienced a significant reduction in stress compared to non-coaching participants at Oakwood.  Inheritantly we can understand that individuals who experience a high amount of stress may suffer from a lack of focus for healthy living or a number of stress-related health problems, so these results were important to understand how coaching is making a difference for participants - especially since high stress is continually ranked in the top three prevalence among our employees.  

In addition to our stress findings, our analysis suggested that those who participated in the OakWell Healthy Lifestyle Coaching program protected their health from decline within the areas of existing medical conditions, body weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, health age, medications for relaxation, job satisfaction, and HRAQ risk status.  In contrast, non-coaching HRA participants showed a significant worsening of these same health risks.

The OakWell Healthy Lifestyle Coaching program is truly able to address all areas of health and wellness, and is tailored to each individual based on their needs and abilities.  We are delighted coaching has demonstrated outcomes that support continuing these services for the benefit of our employees and organization (WELCOA Benchmark #5).

3.  Leadership
Personal drive for healthy living is imperative to be an effective leader in the arena of wellness.  I encourage others to join me in walking meetings at work and am often the first person in the check-out line of our on-site Farmers Market.  Essentially, I am recognized as a model of healthy inspiration for our organization.  But I am only here today because of mentors and experiences that provided me an opportunity to flourish in my career and life.  Hands-on learning experiences instilled creativity and experimentation in the delivery of programs and services, and gave me the courage to test personal theories and hunches.  In the process of being thrown into challenging situations, I learned to swim – and this is a philosophy I instill in my staff.  I encourage everyone to dream big when it comes to wellness, growing professionally as well as personally, and to continually live our vision of inspiring vitality for life.

4. Innovation
According to Ann Kulze, MD and author of Eat Right for Life, “your diet is perhaps the single greatest determinant of your future health, not to mention your day-to-day vitality.”  This is a powerful statement when considering the plethora of unhealthy foods consumed in the workplace.  In order to arm employees with the Eat Right for Life evidence-based dietary foundations, we tailored Dr. Ann’s five directives for healthy eating and visited individual departments with 15-minute segments of education and coaching.  Our innovative and popular approach eliminated excuses for a lack of time or inability to travel to our presentations, especially for clinical staff.  Our initiative impacted 686 individuals across our healthcare system in 2013 with 98% overall satisfaction rated “very good” or “excellent.”  Post-knowledge questions demonstrated high levels of understanding, pre/post dietary ratings increased 2 points, and 97% indicated they modified their diet to eat healthier after attending the sessions.

5. Compelling Vision
I believe one of the biggest threats we face in the health promotion industry is impatience as practitioners, organizations, and employees want to see vast positive changes and quick success resulting from their health promotion efforts.  But we have learned over time that we need to embrace the process of change, in addition to outcomes, and to recognize that change is an individual effort supported – or reduced – by the culture around us.  By partnering with others like our food vendors, accountable care organization, and insurance companies we can begin to change environments to encourage and support healthier habits for our employees.  In addition, since wellness is directly tied to employee engagement, I foresee a renewed focus in the coming years to embrace employees as a whole person and foster total well-being through best practices and evidence-based solutions. 

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Comments 6

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Hi Carla, All the best with your contest entry. Your achievements, innovation and leadership in Workplace Wellness within your organization is most impressive. Congratulations! I would love to connect with you offline to chat more about your programs and services as I am seeking interested and talented Workplace Wellness Professionals like yourself as guest presenters/facilitators for our online Ambassador Certification program. Additionally, I would most welcome a case study of your organization's successes for a KWC International White Paper on Workplace Wellness Perspectives, Best Practices, & Case Studies that we are currently developing. With permission, these papers will also become case studies for our soon to be launched Certification Program providing further recognition to your amazing successes. Please contact me at if either of these opportunities are of interest to you. I look forward to connecting in the near future!

Lisa K. on 10/09/2014

Carla's dedication and good humor has helped our organization embrace wellness in large and small ways. She's earned our leadership's respect through programs that are making measureable improvements in our employees' health. Also, she champions a large variety of fun, effective ways to build healthier practices into our work, including walking trails with video guideposts and lunchtime yoga classes in our corporate conference rooms. Carla is a model others should follow!

Lisa P. on 10/08/2014

Carla lives the mission of creating a healthier workplace. She was "born" for this role and has had a significant impact on the culture of health and wellness within the Oakwood system. This is evident where meetings occur across the system in which healthier food choices are offered or where we sit for 60 and stand for 30 and Carla's name is mentioned - even though she is not present - her influence is the reason for the culture shift. NLG

Nancy G. on 10/07/2014

Carla is a strong advocate for Health and Wellness. She encourages others to actively participate in their own healthcare. She role models a healthy lifestyle. Lisa L, Oakwell HRA Helpline.

Lisa L. on 10/06/2014

Carla does a fantastice job! You can see her passion on a daily basis that she wants to make a difference. She has made a difference with me and I'm on the path of a much more healthy lifestyle both eating and exercise. Barb S.

B S. on 10/06/2014

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