Putting the fun in fitness at Fellowship Health

'When you're working with teammates... it can be very encouraging.'

By John Larrabee
Contributing Writer
If you need proof that workplace wellness programs are effective, just take a look at the numbers collected at Fellowship Health Resources Inc. More

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Putting the fun in fitness at Fellowship Health

'When you're working with teammates... it can be very encouraging.'

TEAMING UP FOR FITNESS: Staff at Fellowship Health Resources walked more than 43 million steps this past spring as part of a workplace wellness program that encouraged exercise and healthy eating.
By John Larrabee
Contributing Writer
Posted 8/13/12

If you need proof that workplace wellness programs are effective, just take a look at the numbers collected at Fellowship Health Resources Inc.

In just three months time this past spring, the staff at the nonprofit agency together walked 43,051,636 steps, exercised 171,596 minutes, ate 19,987 servings of fruits and vegetables and lost a collective 378.6 pounds.

Those results mean Fellowship is closer to workplace-fitness goals than most companies across the country, and that’s the reason the company has been recognized as one of the healthiest employers in the Ocean State.

“Within the past few years, we’ve made a strong commitment to health and wellness,” Joe Dziobek, president and CEO, stated when announcing the recognition to the staff. “It’s rewarding to rank above the national average, but it’s even more rewarding to hear that Fellowship’s employees are leading healthy lifestyles.”

Headquartered in Lincoln, Fellowship provides addiction counseling and mental-health programs in Rhode Island and a half dozen other East Coast states. The nonprofit employs 460 people, including 225 throughout New England and 75 in Rhode Island.

When they developed their wellness program in 2009, the staff at Fellowship turned to Shape Up Rhode Island, the nonprofit fitness-campaign developer aimed at employers, schools and hospitals. The organization strives to make fitness fun by encouraging friendly weight-loss and exercise competitions. Fellowship took the program well beyond the Ocean State – reaching staff at all their facilities – and often involving clients as well.

This year, more than 200 employees took part. They set up teams for group walks during lunch breaks, and the agency gave out pedometers so participants could track how far they roamed. That team dynamic, said participants, makes all the difference.

“I was a team captain this spring, so I know it works,” said Erika Sloan, Fellowship’s public relations and Web-content coordinator. “When you’re working with teammates, counting every step you take and every calorie burned, it can be very encouraging.”

“This past spring, one of our employees from our Lincoln office was honored at a Shape Up Rhode Island ceremony,” said Jennifer McKenna, Fellowship’s benefits administrator. “She lost over 40 pounds and was given an award for being an inspiration to her team members and colleagues.”

To launch its fitness regimen, Fellowship also worked with its health-plan provider, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, and the Health & Wellness Institute, a Providence company that Blue Cross set up to help employers develop wellness programs. In addition, the agency set up a wellness committee, which includes several people from the Lincoln office and someone from every state where it has facilities. Committee members have bimonthly discussions to plan an ongoing calendar of activities.

“Their mission,” said Sloan, “is to promote a personal and professional culture that encourages physical and mental well-being at home and in the workplace.”

As a result, Fellowship’s intranet now includes a wellness portal, where employees can get information on exercise, nutrition, relaxation and breaking unhealthy habits such as smoking. In addition, employees and their spouses can get telephone advice from wellness coaches on fitness, eating right and other health issues.

“They offer a great perspective on reaching your goals, and really work to help you get there,” McKenna said. “One of our employees recently told me how comfortable she felt talking with one of the wellness coaches. She had set a goal – get to bed by 11 p.m., Monday through Friday – but sometimes she missed that deadline. The coach told her that instead of worrying about reaching that deadline all week, she should focus on one day at a time, and that really helped.”

Fellowship sends out a monthly email newsletter entitled Protect Yourself, to ensure everyone on their staff is getting the information. “We offer advice on wellness and safe driving,” Sloan said. “Last week we included tips on how eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive.”

There are financial incentives as well. Blue Cross arranges for employees to get reduced rates at health clubs near the Fellowship facility where they work. And Fellowship now gives employees a discount on their share of their health-plan premium if no one in their family smokes. A household that includes a smoker can still qualify for the reduction if that person enrolls in a tobacco-cessation program.

As yet, Fellowship does not offer health-plan discounts to those who see their doctor or dentist every year, as several Rhode Island companies now do. But Sloan says that’s a step that may be considered in the future.

Fellowship’s wellness program also includes fun activities that are open to both its employees and its clients. Many of the company’s facilities are equipped with a Wii video game console, and there are regular game competitions on Wednesday afternoons. A program for exchanging healthy recipes will begin in the near future, and there may soon be healthy cooking demonstrations as well.

What’s more, the agency’s walking program has pulled employees into community fitness events. “The National Alliance on Mental Illness holds annual walkathons in every state,” said McKenna, “and we have teams in every office, with both staff and consumers taking part.”

“As a behavioral health care agency, we base many of our wellness initiatives on what consumers and staff show interest in and can participate in together,” said Sloan. “Existing in seven states with over 70 programs presents a bit of a challenge, but we take pride in the various wellness initiatives that we have continued to introduce with open communication between staff, their dependents and persons served.” •

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