ENTRY FROM: The Top 100 Health Promotion Professionals

Nominee: Penny Collins

Taking Risks

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee
Health Management Consultant
Former Wellness Manager, Tennessee Insurance Services
15+ years
5,000 employees, supports fully insured clients


A former Social Services/Criminal Rehabilitation major, I attended Miles Community College and Brigham Young University. While I did not ultimately pursue a career in this field, the knowledge I gained from this course of study provided a sound base to springboard into the sales profession.

After 15 years of successful sales in the marketing and advertising industry, I changed careers to work as an Account Executive for a local Tennessee health insurance carrier in 1994. Health promotion at that time was focused more on exercise than true health promotion through nutrition, disease management, screening and preventive health.

Working primarily with large employer groups, it became apparent that they could control their claims costs if they could change the lifestyle of their employees, encouraging them to be healthier in their choices. Thus began the birth of my passion for promoting and helping  employer groups focus on health promotion and costs, while enjoying a healthier population of employees ultimately increasing productivity and attendance.

I moved from employee benefits to a wellness coordinator role in 2011 and became a certified Worksite Wellness Specialist in 2014. I continue to seek out opportunities to implement the best practices for the clients we serve.


As the Wellness Coordinator for Tennessee Insurance Services (TIS), I created and implemented a wellness program for 135 full-time employees, demonstrating sound results after only 18 months. The program included a healthy snacks program, replacing unhealthy break room snacks (sodas, candy bars, crackers and chips) with fresh fruit, vegetables, and low carbohydrate choices.

Sales of healthy snacks averaged $50-$125 per week. Water and snacks were provided free after 3 pm for employees participating in 30 minute workouts.

Employee biometric reports showed a 33 percent improvement, directly attributed to healthy eating snacks and allotted time for exercise. Employees spent just $1-$3 each day on healthy snacks, compared to $5 or more for unhealthy vending machines. The cultural perception of wellness improved from 28 percent to 68 percent and results were verified from a year to year employee survey.

In addition to spearheading the first employee wellness program at TIS, I also served as a wellness consultant for 15 large employer groups, with work ranging from high level consulting to active committee participation.

In the greater Knoxville community, I organized employee participation in the first 5K benefit for East Tennessee Children’s Hospital (2013 and 2014) with a greater than 75 percent participation rate.

Winner of Golden Eagle Award (2010, 2011 and 2012), National Association of Health Underwriters; Fit Friendly Company, American Heart Association (2014); East Tennessee Wellness Roundtable Board Member.


Leadership support for wellness was the biggest task at TIS. It took two years to convince the Executive Team that the employee wellness program was demonstrating success and ultimately leading to increased productivity and healthier employees while lowering costs.

TIS’ Chief Operating Officer said at the conclusion of the two year mark, “If you had told me one year ago today that we would have all these employees exercising, choosing better foods, eating healthy and achieving weight loss, I would never have believed you. I did not think we could change the mindset of 135 employees that quickly.”


Get moving and do something. No matter how small, it will make a difference. That’s the motto I conveyed to employees at TIS. I wasn’t expecting them to run marathons or even run down the street. What I encouraged were baby steps – choosing an apple instead of a bag of chips; parking in the spot further away from the building instead of the front row.

The first step to a healthy lifestyle is just getting the employee to stop and think about their behaviors, rather than automatically reaching for a candy bar in a time of stress. If you can change a thought process, you have changed a behavior. That’s the impact I witnessed throughout TIS, employees thinking before doing and realizing that each negative action, has a negative impact on overall lifestyle.

Without a doubt, wellness cannot be delegated or mandated. If it is, it will backfire and have far-reaching negative consequences. Gentle persuasion, led by compassion, empathy and the philosophy that we are in this with you and for you should be the basis of any wellness program.


Through the course of my career, I have received many awards for being a risk-taker and thought leader. I am not afraid to identify a challenge and then develop appropriate resources to confront that challenge. Early on in the creation of the first wellness program at TIS, I realized that you can’t simply throw stones at a brick wall and expect the brick wall to budge.

Every day, employees are confronted with workplace stressors and challenges that often lead to unhealthy lifestyle choices. There’s a reason for turning to the snack machine and couch – stress. In order for wellness programs to be embraced throughout a company, employees must first be championed as valued team members, understanding that their employer cares for them as a person first. Working together to find viable solutions to stress and unhealthy lifestyle habits, the employee and employer can work a delicate mutually beneficial balance.

Wellness is first and foremost about leading and living healthier lifestyles, embracing the mental, physical and emotional aspects of the employee. As I developed worksite wellness programs, I did so with those three facets in mind and carefully crafted programs, initiatives and incentives that would address the whole person.

Wellness initiatives are not one-sided. It’s not about pointing a finger at an employee, insisting that they live healthier lifestyles. It’s about caring, sharing, nurturing and being in partnership for a healthier life.

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