When it comes to health, it is easier to prevent than to treat. We all know that, but it always seems that we are either too busy, or too skeptical to take prevention seriously. In the meantime, prevention is not that hard, and for the NHPS employees it is within their reach, and completely free. I am talking about the Employee Wellness program. We are accustomed to think that it is primarily Zumba classes, wellness days, and newsletters with wellness tips in the inbox. Yes, it’s all of the above, but also individualized nutrition and exercise plans, stress management, and health education sessions. I learned about these services talking to Lindsay Marone (left) and Mary Maloy (right), the experts behind the Employee Wellness program. Here is what transpired.
LG. Lindsay and Mary, your business cards read: Yale, but you work for the city…
LM. We are Yale New Haven Health system employees, and the reason we work for the city is that the city contracted with Yale New Haven Hospital for providing staff wellness services. The city of New Haven is not our only client. We provide similar services to our own staff and to some other municipalities. But the scope of our services for New Haven is rather unique.
LG. Who is in your team?
LM. It’s Mary Maloy, Registered Dietitian, Lauren Horner, health coach, and myself. We also have a couple of per diem nurses and massage therapists who work for us.
LG. I met your team on a wellness day at the Board of Education. The nicest people I ever talked to – so attentive and responsive!
MM. We try to do our best… Things changed a lot since we started 12 years ago. We used to bring a mini-lab to the sites and then to wait for a couple of days for the results to come back. Today the new equipment allows us to get the results immediately. There is an invisible, but substantial part of our work that involves scheduling, booking spaces, getting approvals. Lindsay is the person who makes that possible. We are a small group, and we see a lot of people, we deal with a lot of issues. We don’t have just 10-12 services, we constantly revise, update our materials. We re-invent our program as we go.
LM. We offer free wellness services for anybody who is employed by the city of New Haven, their dependents, and retirees. The services include biometric screening (blood test checking cholesterol, blood sugar, etc.), blood pressure screening, chair massage, health coaching (one-on-one appointments or group sessions) on lifestyle changes, medical nutrition therapy geared towards people with chronic conditions, general nutrition counseling, free fitness classes, and stress management. We conduct various trainings and lectures on health related subjects. We team up with other vendors to conduct presentations and classes.
MM. Lindsay created a number of specialized clinics on various topics. For example, when we visit a school, we can conduct a clinic on blood pressure, or on healthy eating.
We don’t have set schedules, except for fitness classes. We always work around concrete groups and individuals.
LG. Can you tell me more about the fitness classes?
LM. At the BOE we offer Zumba, pilates and yoga classes titled “Stretch, Strength and Balance”.
LG. I remember reading one of your newsletters some time ago with a story of a woman whom you helped quit smoking. It was rather impressive…
MM. We have many success stories like that, but we cannot always share them in the newsletters as we are bound by the privacy rules.
LG. Do you keep records of the visits?
MM. We do, as many people come back. I document patient’s history, medications, progress. We make sure that the patient has his/her primary provider, that he/she is up to date with the screenings. We have our own HIPAA compliant records system. It is not Epic, it is for our internal use only. We don’t share this information with anyone. People are always afraid that we might share their health information with the employer, and that the employer could use this information against them. I would like to emphasize that these concerns are ungrounded.
LG. What services are most popular?
LM. It’s hard to say, but perhaps chair massage! Typically, when new patients come in, we start with the biometric screening, giving people something tangible to work with, then we schedule one-on-one appointments. That’s how we start fostering the relationships.
MM. For some people scheduling one-on-one appointments seems intimidating. In this case, I often say: “How about you bring you friends with you?” Our services are completely free, there are no limitations on how many times we can meet. It is needs based. Over the years, I was able to create good, long-lasting relationships with city employees from various departments. This has been the best part of my job.
LG. What are you discussing at the one-on-one appointments?
LM. It depends on the individual needs and goals and on whom you are meeting with. If you meet with Mary, for example, she would start with an individual assessment, medical history, and diet review.
MM. I ask my patients to write down what they usually eat during the day, what medications and dietary supplements they take. I do their medical assessment. Then we review it together and set goals. Based on that, I give dietary recommendations and provide educational information. I may refer the patient to our wellness coach Lauren Horner, who would discuss physical exercise needs and help set up a plan for physical fitness.
To give the district employees better understanding of what is involved, Mary, Lindsay and I came up with the idea of having me test their services as an employee so that I could gain first-hand knowledge about the program.
To begin with, Mary and Lindsay put together a plan for this six months adventure. It includes:
- Initial biometric screening with review.
- Follow-up appointments with Mary and Lauren.
- Monthly wellness checks.
- At least 1-2 fitness classes a week.
- September and October wellness walks at lunch.
- Read ALL monthly handouts from the NH Employee Wellness program.
During Step #1, I met with the Employee Wellness team at the NHPD. (Did you know that as a city employee, you can go to any of the city locations to participate in the monthly events? Yes, you can!)
At the NHPD, the team hosted its usual wellness day on the second floor, in the lounge. When I arrived, the massage therapists were already at work. There were a couple of other people waiting for their turn at the tables.
Before I got to tests, I also received my 15 minutes of chair massage, and it felt wonderful!
Then Mary directed me to the nurse’s table where the nurse did my blood test and checked my blood pressure. It took just 10 minutes, and the blood test results were already there! Then I sat with Mary, and she went over my blood test results and measured my waist. It turned out that my “bad” cholesterol was slightly elevated, and my body mass index (BMI) took a turn to slightly higher values (higher than I would like to, although according to Mary, my BMI was still within a normal range). Mary explained to me the difference between the “bad” and “good” cholesterol, asked me about my food preferences and scheduled a one-on-one appointment with her. I also was able to taste walnut milk from the variety of healthy milks that Mary brought with her to introduce to the NHPD employees.
After that, I met with the wellness coach Lauren Horner. Lauren inquired about my exercising habits and preferences. I admitted that I almost don’t exercise, partly because of my arthritis. She immediately mentioned two types of exercises that I could start doing even with arthritis: using stretch bands and a mini-bicycle (see pictures). These exercises do not require going to the gym or having a special space. I could do them right at my desk. Plus, the equipment is very affordable: the bands are around $10, the mini-bicycle – $20-50.
At Step #2 I met one-on-one with Mary, and then with Lauren. Mary conducted a very thorough interview asking me about my eating and cooking habits, my meals schedule. A couple of days later, she handed me a hefty package with recommendations. It had every nutrition advice that one could imagine: what to eat and what to abandon, when to eat and how much, and healthy recipes too! Suggesting the recipes, Mary took into account the fact that I work full time and don’t have much time to cook, so none of them has lengthy prep times. I looked over some of them, and they all sound delicious (we are publishing one of them in this newsletter – take a look!). Knowing about my arthritis, Mary made a special effort to talk about anti-inflammatory food, suggesting that I resume taking fish oil. Mary taught me about the “circadian rhythms” – the rhythms of our body and organs, and how harmful it could be when we disrupt them by staying up late, or by constant snacking.
During my one-on-one meeting with Lauren we spoke about what motivates and what de-motivates me from exercising. It turned out that I would benefit from having a fitbit that would remind me to get up and start moving. She suggested that I try physical therapy for my arthritis. (Did you know that you don’t need a doctor’s referral to go to PT? In CT there is the so called “direct access” policy that allows patients to see PT specialists without referrals).
I have made just a few steps on the road to wellness but I already feel empowered. I still have to try fitness classes and need to start exercising at work. While testing the services offered by the Employee Wellness programs I kept thinking that perhaps the main reason I was reluctant to use them was my own attitude toward health as a “low priority” item on my life’s “to do list”. Health is a gift, something that we take for granted when we have it. With age we need to take care of it, and that requires effort. The city Employee Wellness program is there to help us with this effort. All that is needed – is to take the first step. It’s all in your hands.