More than 4,000 University of Virginia employees and spouses participated in the “Hoo’s Well@” wellness program in its first year, its organizers said.
“I’ve been overwhelmed by the participation and the momentum that we’ve seen after only 16 months of programming,” Wellness Coordinator Shana Pack, who manages the program, said. “The support from senior leadership, involvement from department managers and enthusiasm from employees and their spouses point toward a bright future where we’re already targeting doubling participation rates from the first year.”
Through the program, employees and spouses enrolled in the University Health Plan are rewarded for focusing on their health and well-being. Now in its second year, the program aims to promote active and healthy lifestyles among the U.Va. work community by offering convenient and educational fitness classes – plus the monetary rewards for getting in shape and staying healthy. New classes are offered every academic term.
University Human Resources launched the program in 2011 with two goals. “We want to contain health care costs and improve the culture of wellness on and around Grounds,” Pack said.
“U.Va is being proactive by taking these preventive measures through Hoo’s Well@,” health educator and wellness coach Novella Thompson said. “We’re empowering people to take charge of their own health care.”
Through the University Health Plan, its internal partners and Aetna, the health plan’s third-party administrator, Hoo’s Well@ provides fitness classes and health programs that focus on the well-being of the whole person, from weight management and fitness to mental health. Employees on the University Health Plan and their covered spouse can utilize the classes and resources provided. The internal partners involved include UVA-WorkMed, Intramural-Recreational Sports, the U.Va Nutrition Counseling Center, the Faculty & Employee Assistance Program and University Human Resources’ Employee Development arm.
As participants attend the classes, they log their progress into an online portal that issues monetary rewards in $10 increments. Participants can receive as much as $100 if they upload documentation of their wellness activities into the portal.
To be eligible for the rewards, employees must first complete the biometric screening that UVA-WorkMed offers in the fall and complete the Aetna online health assessment within the required time frame. For completing the screening and assessment process, employees receive $75 (taxable income) as well as a personalized wellness plan that identifies which Hoo’s Well@ activities will be most beneficial.
The classes offered through Hoo’s Well@ range from tobacco cessation programs to maternity management telephonic coaching. Most popular are the exercise and fitness classes offered at IM-Rec Sports and UVA-WorkMed’s “Steps@UVa” programs, Pack said.
IM-Rec Sports hosts two classes of varying levels, beginning with an introduction to different types of workouts in “Getting Started” and continuing into the more intense “Keep it Up.” IM-Rec Sports also offers individualized fitness consultations with a physical trainer.
“We try to introduce them to as many types of exercise as possible, such as yoga, zumba and strength training,” director of fitness and instruction Amy Kokemor said. “Hopefully they’ll find one or two that they like and that gets them excited about working out.”
This year, IM-Rec Sports hopes to broaden the appeal of its classes by offering sessions of “Getting Started” and “Keep it Up” for people who prefer sport-oriented workouts over aerobic exercises. Also new this session is a course on behavior modification called “A New Year, A New Hoo.” Pack said that the class sprung from requests they received for a course on behavior change.
While IM-Rec Sports offers classes at various times in the day to accommodate varying work schedules, UVA-WorkMed’s Steps@UVa provides the fastest, most convenient workouts that are incorporated into the actual workday.
Thompson describes Steps@UVa as a 15-minute energy burst, designed to lure employees out of their space and get them moving and stretching. The program has nine formal, instructor-led classes and three informal, peer-led classes this session, held across Grounds from Monroe to Carruthers halls. During the workout breaks, employees get their heart rates up through walking, stretching and other exercises. They also learn about proper nutrition and mental health, Thompson said.
There are about 19,000 people eligible to participate in Hoo’s Well@, Pack said, and nearly 4,000 participated in the first year. She said organizers have received lots of positive feedback and success stories from people who have lost weight, quit smoking or have built a more active lifestyle from what they learned.
“The hope is that they continue to do things on their own,” Thompson said. “Lifestyle change is the big goal. We hope they develop a sense of autonomy and a drive to continue to exercise, eat healthy and to take care of themselves.”