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Improving wellness at Westfields Hospital

Kathy Ehrreich, business office manager at Westfields Hospital, poses proudly with the Fitness Challenge traveling trophy that is awarded to the department that wins a variety of challenge events held during the year. Hospital Human Resources Director Chad Engstrom (right) helped kick off the facility's wellness efforts in 2009. Also pictured is Engstrom's service dog, Hazel.

One might think that everyone who works at a hospital is health-conscious.

That's not necessarily the case, said Westfields Hospital Human Resources Director Chad Engstrom.

"We should be more healthy, in theory," he said. "But like any organization, we have room for improvement."

Brian Lease, Westfields therapy services manager and chairman of the hospital's wellness committee, said the facility's employees are just like everyone else in the community.

"Our body types aren't any different from everyone else," he said. "We just try to get everybody healthier."

That's why the hospital started a wellness committee of about 10 members in 2009 to encourage employees to take steps to eat better, exercise more and improve overall wellness.

The efforts have paid off, Lease and Engstrom said.

"We have a pretty active group," Engstrom said.

To participate in the wellness effort, employees are asked to complete an annual health assessment. The assessment identifies areas where employees can improve their overall health, focusing on everything from eating a proper diet to getting enough sleep to being more active to being better connected in the community.

Once they complete the assessment, employees are then encouraged to participate in one of Westfields-sponsored health programs, such as luncheon wellness speakers, online weight-loss projects or fitness challenges. People who run a half-marathon or full marathon, or who participate in various fitness classes, also get credit toward their wellness goal.

If they complete the assessment and at least one approved activity, the employee receives a discount on their health insurance deductible or co-payment levels.

"We have a high percentage of employees who participate," Engstrom said.

In fact, about 87 percent of employees and their spouses completed last year's health assessment, and about 75 percent of those people followed through and participated in a class, challenge or program during the year.

The participation level has been so encouraging that the committee continues to think up more ways to get employees active and having fun in the workplace.

Engstrom said the committee tries to plan at least one wellness activity a month. Last month the hospital hosted a health fair for its employees and provided information on a variety of topics. The hospital has also sponsored fitness challenges, where departments compete against each other for the right to display the traveling trophy in their area.

"It's added fun in our workplace," Engstrom said. "People look forward to the activities that we plan."

During a recent walking challenge, one reluctant participant took part because she didn't want to let her teammates down. Even after the challenge was done, however, she continued to walk.

"She hasn't lost any weight, but she says she feels so much better now that she walks," Lease said. "It's just one way we challenge each other and encourage each other."

New ideas that are being implemented are 50-cent vegetables in the cafeteria. If someone buys food at the cafeteria, for an extra 50 cents they can add a side of vegetables. It's one way for people to get healthier food into their daily diet, Engstrom said.

Engstrom said the hospital will soon institute a "Yum Power" program in its cafeteria and in its vending machines. Stickers and labels will help direct employees, patients and visitors toward the more healthy choices available to them.

A new running club will soon start at the hospital and led by Lease. The club will meet on Saturdays and will help beginning runners get a start in the sport. The hope is that more employees will participate in a fall 5k run and walk in the Twin Cities.

Lease has also instructed a tai chi class to aid stress reduction for employees and he's had good success. The committee is also planning a "scavenger hunt" challenge in May to get people outside and walking local trails and exploring city parks.

Westfields has tried to tie into activities offered by the Vitality Initiative, and through HealthPartners, to offer even more wellness options for employees. A team of eight or nine employees took part in the Vitalympics event in February, and a large number of employees are competing in the "Lose Weight in 8" challenge offered by JA Counter and the Vitality Initiative.

Employees and their spouses also get help paying for fitness club memberships. Through HealthPartners, if an employee or spouse goes to a local gym or fitness center at least 12 times a month, they receive $20 a month to pay a portion of their membership fees.