Through his 24-year career in health and wellness, Chris Ceniti has progressed from one-on-one fitness counseling and program development at one corporate workplace to helping dozens of employers create successful wellness programs for thousands of employees and their families.
Chris has been a Health Promotion Advisor for The WEA Trust since 2010.
The WEA Trust has a major stake in improving the health of employees in Wisconsin public schools, local governments, and other participants in the state’s health plans. The Trust is a not-for-profit organization that offers these employees health, dental, life, disability, and long term care insurance plans.
Chris specializes in building alliances between insured groups and local healthcare and wellness providers, so health plan members have easy access to professional services and guidance, as well as fitness facilities. He seeks always to build from the top down, getting commitment from leaders, creating a strong team of champions, and making sure they understand WELCOA’s seven benchmarks.
1. PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Chris earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Education from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, majoring in physical education. He’s been a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (National Strength and Conditioning Association) since 1997, and earned WELCOA Faculty status in 2014.
Chris’s vocation flowed naturally from his lifelong devotion to sports, including 24 years (and counting) as a high school and youth league football coach.
The valuable combination of team building skills and professional training in evidence-based wellness programs has been a foundation of Chris’s career.
2. DEMONSTATED SUCCESS
Four years ago, the West De Pere (Wisconsin) School District had no wellness program, and the superintendent wasn’t sure whether, or how, to start one. Today, the district’s program is a model of an excellent workplace wellness operation.
Chris’s first meeting with the superintendent began with some notes scratched on a napkin, but over time Chris walked him through all seven of WELCOA’s benchmarks and got his full buy-in. Chris followed through by bringing in three healthcare providers and helping the district select the best fit.
To accomplish Benchmark #3, Chris collaborated with district leaders and local healthcare providers to implement WEA Trust’s Population Health Program (see “Innovation”).
With Chris’s continuous guidance, the West De Pere School District established a strong foundation for improving their plan participants’ health, including these key elements:
Champions: An active Wellness Team of nine staff members who receive a stipend.
Incentive-driven measurement and counseling: The district has earned a premium reduction with a Personal Health Assessment Program that meets these criteria: conducting biometric screening and personal health assessments; having participants review the results with an on-site health coach, completing a verified Wellness Certificate for Preventive Health Services.
On-site clinic: West De Pere High School has a 1,200 square-foot clinic staffed by a local healthcare provider’s team, including a nurse practitioner, RN/coach, and licensed athletic trainer.
With this foundation in place, the district is already achieving strong positive results, including:
Participation in all four elements of the Personal Health Assessment Program: 99% in Year 1 (employees only), and 100% in Years 2 and 3 (spouses included).
42 members completed Bellin Health Care’s “Works On Wellness,” an eight-week, evidence-based exercise and nutrition program.
45 members who had no primary care practitioner now have one.
HRA/biometric screening process identified 13 unconfirmed diabetics and 53 pre-diabetics. The on-site clinic team helped these members get the right care and support.
Another example of Chris’s collaborative approach to choosing appropriate interventions: he worked with several WEA Trust insured districts in two regions to participate in biometric screening. Participants who had two or more key risk factors were offered a local healthcare provider’s risk reduction program for $25 (WEA Trust subsidized the rest), which was refunded if they completed 80% of the program.
In the southeast region of the state, after two years, participants who completed the Aurora Living Well Program were trending 14.4% lower healthcare costs than the comparison group.
In the northeast region, after just seven weeks, participants in ThedaCare’s Complete Health Improvement Program experienced significant improvements:
Category Reduction Percentage
Total cholesterol 37 points 19%
LDL (bad cholesterol) 29 points 24%
Triglycerides 13 points 8%
Glucose 7 points 7%
Weight 14 pounds 6%
Both programs yielded anecdotes about members who no longer needed C-PAPs, blood pressure medications, etc. Clearly, the programs are saving more than healthcare dollars—they’re saving lives.
Chris was one of 12 professionals on the Healthcare Leadership Collaborative Committee formed in 2009 by five health plans serving. Their goal: help the health plans increase the number and effectiveness of workforce wellness programs.
Through the committee’s work four of five health plan CEOs accepted the challenge of improving their employees’ health by following the seven C’s of building result-oriented wellness programs. Within three years, four of the five health plans had earned a WELCOA Well Workplace Award, including one at the GOLD level for the health plan led by Chris.
Even better, employees from these organizations now share their experience with leaders of employer groups they serve.
Chris is a regular presenter at annual conferences for school and municipal groups in WEA Trust’s marketplace.
As a football coach, Chris teaches players and parents about leading healthy lifestyles on and off the field—and backs it up by staying in excellent condition through regular workouts and competing in hockey leagues.
Chris was instrumental in developing WEA Trust’s Population Health Program, in which WEA Trust collaborates employer groups to support at-risk health plan members before they develop critical conditions.
As a catalyst for changing lifestyles, the program uses premium credits and subsidies on intervention programs for employees at risk from metabolic syndrome. Chris uses the program to motivate employers to commit to managing their employees’ health, and to show them how to build a wellness program based on data and results.
Employers measure participation percentages of eligible members who:
Complete Biometric Screenings.
Complete the online Health Risk Assessment.
Enroll in the Metabolic Syndrome Program.
Depending on the participation level, employers can earn up to a 3% premium credit.
This program has been a key entry point for establishing many strong wellness programs, such as the West De Pere School District program referred to above.
5. COMPELLING VISION
Chris believes workplace wellness programs can be a force in changing a culture based on treating illness and injury into a culture based on prevention.
He emphasizes the need to use solid evidence that reinforces the financial incentives of prevention. But he also asks wellness professionals to persuade by demonstrating a true passion for healthy living.
Chris points to emerging technologies that healthcare organizations and employers should promote. Smartphones, “wearables,” and tablets can give people access to apps, websites, and databases that will:
Track diet and exercise.
Educate people on staying fit.
Foster remote care that could help keep people out of hospitals.
Wellness professionals should prepare themselves to coordinate with new capabilities for in-depth genetic analyses that will guide physicians’ decisions regarding disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
Chris asserts that only a team approach can harness technology, data, education, and action to improve employees’ quality of life.