A nurse for 38 years, MarE Francis, RN, BSN, MSPH, has practiced in eight states and says her current employer, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, is the most aggressive of all when it comes to walking the talk of employee wellness.
“They don’t just say they want their employees to be healthy; they actually do something about it,” says Francis, clinical team leader for the Judson Hawk Multispecialty Clinic.
Francis is among 361 Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta employees (the majority of whom are nurses) taking part in an extensive 23-week employee wellness program aimed at supporting participants’ healthy lifestyle changes for the long-term, called You4Life. It is part of the hospital’s more expansive Strong4Life comprehensive wellness program started last fall.
Employees are hungry for healthy living support. Seven hundred of the healthcare system’s employees signed up for the opportunity to work with fitness trainers and nutritionists, according to Linda Matzigkeit, senior vice president of human resources. “We have [the others] on a waiting list and we’ll start another 23-week session in September,” she says.
With about 30 day and night classes of 10 to 15 participants each session, along with the hiring of employees and purchasing of needed equipment and software, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta has invested about half a million dollars in its employee wellness initiative just this year, Matzigkeit says.
Francis and other program participants attend weekly meetings during their lunch hours. Three nutritionists and three trainers give lectures. Nutritional lectures include a free, healthy lunch, and the fitness training class arms attendees with what they need to build strength at home or at the gym.Cynthia Fry, RN
Cynthia Fry, RN, C, BSN, MBA, clinical manager in the technology-dependent ICU, says she is putting to good use the hand weights the trainer gave participants at her last strength training meeting. “I have mine in my office; so, sometimes I’ll put people on speaker phone and do some bicep curls,” Fry says.
In addition to healthy eating and strength training, the program promotes cardiovascular health.
“We all have pedometers on our feet. the ultimate goal is 10,000 steps a day. With the pedometer, it’s all electronic; so, we just go past the boxes that are located throughout the hospital and it downloads our information. It tells you how many steps you’ve taken at each hour and then it totals them at the end of the day,” Francis says. “Then, we have a Strong4Life Web site. We go on there and have our own personal dashboard, which gives us our weight; tells us how much our weight has changed; reminds us of our goal; and tells us about our BMI, and target calories for the day and exercise level.”
Fry, who lost 15 pounds the first three weeks of the program, says she and other nurses on the unit make it a point to take the stairs, now, instead of the elevator, and take walking, rather than sitting, breaks.
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta has partnered with nearby Emory University to study the wellness program’s outcomes and results, according to Matzigkeit.
In the meantime, employees are embracing what they say is a big perk. Francis, who will soon turn 60, says, “I feel like it’s an honor and privilege to work here because they really do care about their employees.”
Lisette Hilton is a freelance writer.