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WELLNESS INITIATIVE
Diocese sees high participation, many benefits of program

By RENEE WEBB, Globe senior reporter
(Email Renee)

A voluntary wellness initiative was implemented in the Diocese of Sioux City about 18 months ago to help improve people’s awareness and knowledge about their own health and well-being with an ultimate goal of making sustainable changes in their lives.

“We clearly are an organization of service and there have been plenty of studies that show if the servant is not well, they cannot serve anyone else,” said Margaret Fuentes, diocesan director of human resources. “For us to be at our best in our service roles, we have to be feeling our best whether it’s mental, physical or spiritual. It’s the idea of healing the healer.”

The HR director is the contact person for the wellness initiative. She said the initiative was introduced to employees in Catholic schools, the chancery and other diocesan entities starting in August of 2012 and the big push to get parishes involved was made last fall.

“We want all of our full-time employees to be involved – whether they are in a location with one full-time employee or in a large school with many employees,” she noted. “We also very much would like to have our priests feel welcome to be involved in this. Some have gotten involved, others were not aware that they could be involved.”

Given the large number of employees, she acknowledged it is sometimes hard to get the word out effectively to everyone.

Strong participation

Participation in the program, Fuentes said, has been tremendous. In the fall of 2013, 733 employees completed preventative health screenings and coaching sessions at 30 locations in the diocese. While the diocese has about 1,100 lay employees, she noted about 90 percent of those covered in the health plan are enrolled in the wellness initiative.

Kira Oregon, director of health initiatives for Innovative Business Consultants, said the goal of the program was to help people take more personal responsibility for their health and well being and assist them move toward their optimal well being. Plus, there are organizational benefits – potentially happier, healthier, more productive employees and potential impacts on healthcare claims.

“We have helped employees become more pro-active about their own health and well being – helped them find and discover strategies that work best for them,” she said.

Wellness, Oregon added, is now more at the forefront of these employees’ minds not only in the work environment but also in their homes, which often spreads through households.

While physical health is a big part of the initiative, organizers say it is much more; it is a holistic approach. Well being, Oregon said, also includes social, mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions.

“We want people to view it as a complete, full-blown wellness plan that fits everything,” said Fuentes, who noted they want to help employees set and reach goals that will help them move forward with their life.

Goals often pertain to physical health such as striving to eat healthier and lose weight, but Fuentes said she is aware many have set goals to improve overall well being. For instance, some want to alleviate stress so they have goals to clean out closets and reorganize their homes.

From the 2012 screening to 2013, Oregon said diocesan employees as a whole saw a significant improvement in their health grade.

“Overall, they do well in areas of blood pressure, cholesterol management, diabetes risk,” she said. “The number one concern continues to be weight management, which is similar to what we have seen with other groups and work sites.”

They also have one of lowest tobacco use rates in groups she works with.

Health coaches

Those enrolled in the diocesan wellness initiative meet with a health coach twice a year. The fall emphasis, she noted, is on health screening and goal setting. The preventative health screenings include cholesterol check, blood pressure screening, body mass index assessment, health risk questionnaire and consultation/coaching.

“In the spring, the second face-to-face coaching session is to see where people are in regards to the goals they have set. Maybe they need to refine or reset goals,” said Fuentes.

Many people have mentioned to Fuentes the idea that they must be accountable to someone has motivated them to work toward their goals. To meet the goals, employees may look for resources provided within the initiative, by their health coach or look elsewhere.

For those who are struggling with a particular area of the program, Oregon said they do “targeted follow-up” on a volunteer basis by phone or e-mail. They also encourage employees to reach out to others – be it a co-worker or family member – for added support.

To help with the communication process, Oregon has wellness champions who serve as contacts at various sites to help engage others in health and well being. In addition to the main contact, some locations have a wellness committee that helps to organize special programs or challenges as part of the wellness effort.

“They help the different groups discover the different initiatives, programs and activities that are best suited for their employees and particular work environment,” she said. “There have definitely been specific sites taking more ownership of the initiative as a whole.”

From the diocese’s perspective, Fuentes said there are many reasons why offering this program makes sense. She noted the wellness initiative helps the employees directly and, as a side benefit, it can have a positive impact on the diocesan health care plan.

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