Lori Thomas is currently the Wellness Coordinator at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska, a health insurance company that employees near 1200 people. As the Wellness Coordinator, Lori's focus is on the employees and their families and her main goal is to keep them healthy and happy, which then provides engaged and productive workers. Lori has been in the wellness field for 13 years, 7 of which have been with BCBSNE implementing wellness initiatives, leading the wellness committee and creating and maintaining a culture of wellness. Lori's commitment to her clients, her dedication for personal and professional growth and her infectious passion for wellness make her deserving for consideration for the honor of Top 100 Health Promotion Professionals.
Clip of laughter portion of the Wellness Break presentation at the annual all-employee meeting
1. Professional Development
I received my Bachelors of Science degree in Exercise Science: Worksite Health Promotion from Winona State University in 2001. I held the ACSM Health Fitness Specialist certification for 12 years, have earned WELCOA faculty status and earned the Howie J. Halperin Volunteer Award through WELLCOM in 2007 and 2011. I am CPR/AED certified and have been through Crucial Conversations and Emergenetics training and am scheduled for Agile training. I began working on a Masters degree and strive to finish that soon after taking a break from school to raise a family. While all of my education and certifications are very important to me and each has proven to be valuable in different situations, the most valuable tool I have is my passion for wellness and for helping others. Passion drives everything I do and has helped me succeed in both my career and life.
2. Demonstrated Success
When I came on board at BCBSNE in 2007, there was already a well-developed wellness program in place. The contribution I have made to the programming is to help it evolve and really focus on personalization. My theory is that if we really focus on the people we are creating programs for, we will better fit programs to what they need and want and what they will respond best to. I have tried to get away from looking at our participants as numbers and instead focus on making them feel important, appreciated and valued. If I listen to them and what they really need and want, I can then tailor our programming to achieve not only good participation, but also more engagement and enthusiasm during that participation which in turn produces results. I strongly believe that wellness is not one size fits all and try to offer programming and resources that will help all of our employees in the way that works best for them individually.
In 2007 the company PHA report showed that 30% of our population was considered low risk, 62% moderate risk and 9% high risk. Fast forward to the end of 2013 and we have seen a shift in these health risks. We now show 51% of our population in low risk, 47% moderate risk and only 2% high risk.
With over 90% of our population completing the PHA annually, I have utilized the results of that survey along with speaking with our employees directly to identify areas that our employees need and want help in. Our PHA results have shown that our largest problem areas include employees not getting enough physical activity and a BMI that is too high, so I have worked with a vendor partner to offer group personal training sessions at times that work best for our employees in addition to group exercise classes and an onsite fitness center that is offered. The first year we offered the program, comparisons of pre/post fitness data for the participants showed statistically significant improvements in weight, BMI, cardiovascular endurance and overall fitness after 10 weeks of training! On average the participants lost 6.7 pounds, 4.2 inches and 1.35% body fat per person. Another major area of concern was nutrition. To help with that I initiated a farm to institute CSA program where our employees could have fresh produce delivered weekly to our office as well a partnership with a local grocery chain that have dietitians on staff to offer onsite nutrition consultations with their dietitians weekly as well as a nutrition-based presentation monthly for our employees. With the help of our Wellness Committee, I also introduced a new team challenge called the Healthy Habits Challenge where we are offering points to participants for conducting healthy habits (check-ins to the onsite wellness center, food journaling, activity points through EveryMove, pre/mid/post weigh-ins and occasional bonus points for attending health topic presentations) instead of focusing on the results (weight loss, etc.).
I have accepted and embraced a leadership role in wellness on many levels and take great pride in that role. At BCBSNE I lead our Wellness Committee of 30 employees and have actually just begun a new format with sub committees of planners, doers and communicators to help us all work and meet more efficiently. I also am in charge of hiring, training and teaching a student intern on our staff to help expose students to worksite wellness. Within the community I am the Wellness Committee chairperson for a local elementary school and am very active within both WELCOA and WELLCOM events, trainings and volunteer opportunities. I occasionally blog on my own blog (livewellmama on WordPress) as well as with the Omaha World Herald/Live Well Nebraska to share my own personal experiences, tips and resources to help people realize that we are all human and we have to do what works best for us individually.
Creating opportunities for others to increase their health/wellness in a personalized way gives me great pride and requires innovative thinking and collaboration. For example, I partnered with Square One to create an onsite program targeted specifically to people of size which included physical activity, nutrition and education but the difference was that the people leading the program were also people of size. With this program we have created an environment that is now more comfortable and supportive for the high risk target population. Statistical analysis of the pilot program results revealed that significant improvements occurred in six important health-related metrics: body weight, BMI, cholesterol, waist circumference, percent body fat, and overall health score.
Another example, I am creating Random Acts of Wellness as part of our culture at BCBSNE where our team provides guided stretches/exercises at team meetings, recognizes employees for their hard work throughout the company and conducts random wellness activities throughout the building.
5. Compelling Vision
The biggest threat facing the industry is that we get lost in the numbers and forget that we are dealing with people, each of which has a different story with different needs. We need to remember that one size does not fit all and that happiness and fulfillment are the best way to help somebody start a healthy lifestyle journey. From there with increased confidence and motivation and a little guidance and passion from us they can accomplish anything! I continue to spread the message of empowerment for people to find their happiness and find the journey that best fits them to reach their wellness destiny.