ENTRY FROM: The Top 100 Health Promotion Professionals



I must begin by saying I had a difficult time even considering this entry amongst such amazing health and wellness professionals. This was an industry that I was completely unfamiliar with and at the time had no idea that it would lead to a second career that I absolutely love.
After 15 years in the hospitality industry, in 2005 I began working at the Martin County School District in their Risk Management/Employee Benefits Department. This department provides service to over 2400 regular employees, almost 1000 retirees and their families. Along with duties as the District’s Benefits Technician, I took on the role of Wellness Coordinator and with one wellness fair in 2007; my commitment to the wellness of others began.
I remained employed by the school district for 7 years and in 2012 took a position with Gehring Group Professional Services as the onsite Benefits Administration Specialist. This promotional opportunity provided me with professional and personal growth opportunities while allowing me to continue my role and work with the school district.

Cooking Contest

Being in the hospitality industry, my area of expertise was event planning and helping people plan vacations.  Benefits and HR was a new world and one of the hardest things I had to do was process a life insurance claim.  I want our employees to be here for a long time so I take every opportunity to learn how we can improve their health and well-being.

Certified Worksite Wellness Program Manager - National Wellness Institute
National Diabetes Prevention Program Lifestyle Coach
Well Workplace Certification – Eat Right For Life
WELCOA Faculty Member
Well Workplace Universities I, II, III, Linking Wellness Initiatives to Employee Benefit Design

One of the most successful programs are the biometric screenings and PHAs to address our top risk areas which have continued to be Diabetes, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Blood Pressure.

With over 25 school and worksites, the screenings are offered both onsite and at an annual health fair.  In 2014 an online PHA was also made available giving us a 19% increase in participation from the previous year.

Critical values decreased from 3.3% to 1.4% and those employees were enrolled in Next Steps programs with our insurance carrier to help manage their conditions.

To address the areas of nutrition and blood pressure, we offered a healthy cooking demonstration and cooking contest to give employees ideas on eating healthier. Many of our employees are off in the summer months; however we have many that work long 10 hour days.  To help them, we had Healthy Snack Thursdays and delivered fruit, nuts or other healthy options once a week.  There must have been some impact as we had a decrease of 4% for those at risk for high blood pressure and a 7% decrease with those with high cholesterol.

More results showed that 42% of our employees are not getting enough physical activity.  We offer walking programs and provide pedometers.  Onsite Pilates classes are going on. For something fun, we purchased a “gadget” called The Peddler for our site secretaries and other employees that have the most sedentary positions.  It fits right under their desk and keeps them moving.

The biggest increase was 8% in those that are at risk for Diabetes.  Beginning in January 2015, we will be offering the National Diabetes Prevention Program to educate and help employees reduce their risks of developing the disease.

Another success was a contest for District employees to go online and register at our medical carrier’s website.  The school or worksite with the highest percentage of employees registered won a free catered luncheon and a free EAP seminar for those employees who participated.  Then the school that came in second got a catered breakfast for all the participants.  Each wellness ambassador received a prize and recognition for their hard work and encouragement. We set a goal of 650 employees and actually got 810 registered!  The winning school had 92% participation while second place had 87%.   We even had 25% of our retirees register with the oldest one being 88 years old!  WELOCA’s Dr. David Hunnicut even mentioned our story in one of his webinars.

A couple of the seven benchmarks that have helped our program’s success include our wonderful wellness team made up of ambassadors from each work and school site; the School Board participating in our cooking contest with one as judge and the rest giving recognition at a public meeting and our Superintendent has her Peddler, has removed the candy dish and put out apples instead.

I chose to live a healthier lifestyle by eating healthy and exercising.  We are avid label readers in our household and love hitting the fresh market on the weekends.  We always take time for the mental health breaks too.

As a leader, I truly care about the health of our employees.  It is important to me that they are here for their family and friends and definitely leverage that when promoting the program.  I tell our Wellness Ambassadors to encourage and not discourage their staff and coworkers when it comes to wellness.  I am constantly attending webinars and reading articles to get ideas to share.

My advice is to understand that not everyone is as passionate about wellness as we are.  Most people know what they should do, but they don’t know how and it’s our job to help them learn and understand that.

Surveys showed employees had interest in nutrition. They know they should eat healthy, but they didn’t know how.  Every employee received a customized Building Healthy Lifestyles portion plate and healthy recipe calendars.  We hosted a healthy cooking demonstration in conjunction with our food service department and registered dietician interns.

Competition works when it comes to schools so we held a cooking contest where sites competed against each other providing a healthy meal based on their portion plate.  This event really got the employees interested and many submitted their own healthy recipes too.

Employees are branching out with their own “mini” wellness programs including after school walking groups, “Biggest Loser” competitions, a Biggest Reducer Challenge (they didn’t like Loser), Best Foot Forward Challenge to name just a few.

We continue to see a reduction in our claims experience resulting in lower insurance renewals and premiums for employees and the District.

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Well maybe not completely but PREVENTION  is still the biggest opportunity in the health promotion industry especially in worksite wellness.

The Affordable Care Act provided no cost preventive care.  With targeted interventions and programs like the National Diabetes Prevention Program, our plan in the coming years is to continue educating our employees on ways to stay healthy.  We want to keep them in the low risk areas and avoid their movement to medium or high risk.

We are inundated with advertisements day and night for medications that can cure just about anything.  Have you listened to some of the side effects?  PREVENTION is the ultimate goal to keep them from needing that pill in the first place.


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Cooking Contest Winners Plaque First Place Dish Food Demo Wellness Ambassadors
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Stephanie M.
After 15 years in the hospitality industry, I decided to make a career change. Now I work for Gehring Group Insurance Brokers & Consultants as the onsite Benefits Administration Specialist for Martin County School District. In addition to my duties in employee benefits, I act as the District’s Wellness Leader. I like to be the kind of woman that when my feet hit the floor each morning, the devil says... "Oh No, She's Up!” View Stephanie M.'s Profile.
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Stephanie Morris is a true advocate for “healthy Living”. I have had the pleasure to work with her for several years here in Martin County and am always impressed with all the new initiatives she introduces each and every year. GO STEPHANIE!!!

Danny R. on 10/20/2014

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