'Hoos Getting on the Wellness Track

December 13, 2011

Thousands of University of Virginia employees have followed up their free biometric screening and health assessments by taking nutrition classes, walking with co-workers during lunch, hitting the gym and more, thanks to the University's new wellness program, Hoo's Well@.

When the program started in September, the new wellness coordinator, Shana Pack-Gangluff, said she and other Human Resources staffers had a goal of signing up 3,000 of the 19,000 eligible employees and spouses. The first step in the program was for enrollees to have a biometric screening in preparation for taking advantage of the program's incentives and opportunities to improve their health.

The response was so positive that the appointment schedule filled up and they added two more weeks of additional screening sessions to accommodate the interest in participating, Pack-Gangluff said. The total number of employees and spouses who joined the wellness program hit 3,975, or about 20 percent, with more than 2,000 receiving free flu shots by Oct. 18 as well. All but 300 completed step two: the health assessment.

"The incentives are coming," Pack-Gangluff said, referring to the $75 VISA gift cards participants were to receive four to seven weeks after getting through step two. The gift cards are processed once a month, she explained.

The first enrollment period for the wellness program closed Dec. 1. There will be another opportunity to participate next September, she said.

After finishing the health assessment, employees accessed or set up an account with Aetna – the third-party administrator of the University's employee health insurance plan  – where they received suggestions of ways to improve their health, including increasing their exercise, losing weight, eating more vegetables and fruits, quitting smoking or getting a pneumonia vaccine.

As people complete activities to address the health concerns and suggested steps, they can earn up to four more $25 VISA gift cards.

Many employees are signing up for some of the nine programs provided by Aetna, Human Resources, Intramural-Recreational Sports, WorkMed and the Faculty and Employee Assistance Program, she said.

In addition to several exercise and fitness classes and programs, the wellness suggestions include attending onsite Weight Watchers sessions, offered at reduced rates.

Pack-Gangluff said the options are geared to appeal to different needs and learning styles.

"We're trying to appeal to everyone," she said, including shift workers and off-site employees in cities such as Lynchburg and Amherst. Aetna's programs are online, for example.

IM-Rec Sports provided a special five-week "Get Started" fitness class free to Hoo's Well@ participants, with an unlimited facility pass. That, too, was oversubscribed, so additional sessions were added. A follow-up class, "Keep It Up," was offered for a small fee. In addition, participants could opt for a free fitness and nutrition consultations.

Spring programs will be online by Dec. 16. and registration will begin Jan. 17.

The spring schedule will repeat the same offerings of classes, workshops and online programs on fitness, healthy eating, prenatal care, stress reduction, exercise and others. Participants will be able to keep working on their "to-do" list in their secure, personal Aetna health record.

In the meantime, Pack-Gangluff will look at what's working best in reaching people and what areas need more focus, she said.

"We're collecting data to know how to move forward," she said. She gets statistics, but no identifying information about individuals, she stressed.

Since maintaining health is an ongoing process, Pack-Gangluff circulates a weekly e-newsletter, which is currently sharing tips for maintaining a healthy balance between enjoying holiday festivities and staying on the healthy side. Readers can download a log to keep track of food and nutrition, exercise and other factors, plus weigh themselves on their own. She also includes a healthy recipe each time.

"The first recipe for the 'topped sweet potato casserole' was a big hit," she said. "We did it just in time for people to use for Thanksgiving, and they did." She said week two's recipe got lots of good reviews, coming just in time to add turkey leftovers – "hearty turkey chili."

"Week three, we decided to incorporate color and fruits and veggies for a lighter bit with 'beet and goat cheese arugula salad.' We had great comments on the combo of ingredients," she said.

(Read more about not letting stress overwhelm your holidays here.)

"One of the things we can do is keep moving and finding ways we can be active in our daily life," Pack-Gangluff said.

She also stressed taking time for yourself.

"'Being present' is really important over the holidays. If you are a person that really gets involved in decorations and purchasing gifts for others, just be present and allow yourself to enjoy that, maybe even using that as a stress reliever," she said. "Think about what might be your favorite thing to do during one of your vacation days."

Then there is the bounty of holiday foods – cookies, pies, lots of butter. Don't deny yourself totally, she said.

"We also want to focus in nutrition on portion control – eating a little bit of what you really, really like and maybe passing on the things that really aren't that important to you.

"I think if you focus on work-life balance, nutrition and being active through the holidays, in the end, you'll be rewarded with a much less stressful time, and you'll be off and running in January."

Pack-Gangluff said questions can be sent to her at hooswell@virginia.edu.

— By Anne Bromley

Media Contact

Anne E. Bromley

University News Associate Office of University Communications