Wellness Center focuses on lifestyles
by Christi Milligan
Living well: Marianne Carter (left), director of UD's Employee Wellness Center, confers with Allison Topper, HNS 2000M, one of four graduate students in health promotion who worked at the center.
Interested in a blood pressure screening? Looking to drop a few pounds in time for vacation? Or, maybe you need to revisit that cholesterol problem your physician warned you about. If you're on the University campus, you're in luck.
The UD Employee Wellness Center, operated by the College of Health and Nursing Sciences, offers a multitude of programs designed to encourage and facilitate a healthy lifestyle among the University's 3,500 staff and faculty members. With a new director, the center is reaching out to the larger community, as well.
In just five years, the Wellness Center has become a hub for health promotion. Originally conceived as an employee health benefit in 1995, it has evolved from a modest effort offering a handful of services to a well-organized operation that supports one full-time and two part-time staff members. Last semester, four graduate assistants pursuing HNS master's degrees in health promotionDenise Bollinger, Carrie Buckley, Michael Santise and Allison Topperalso worked at the center, which offers numerous health-related programs and educational opportunities. It is having a decided impact among the growing number of UD employees who seek out its services, said director Marianne Carter.
"We really feel good about where we are in such a short amount of time," Carter said. Last fall semester, the center offered more than 20 in-house activities and ongoing programs. It has experienced a 60 percent increase in participation since 1995, with more than 1,295 members of the UD faculty and staff participating.
"As we continue to grow, we are expanding the frequency of offerings," Carter said. "The types of services and programs we offer encompass all aspects of the College of Health and Nursing Sciences, from fitness assessments and exercise programs to nutrition education and health screenings."
The variety of wellness services is a direct response to employees' requests, which run the gamut, Carter said. The center sponsors at least one or two informational programs each month, with recent sessions on such topics as back care, laughter in the workplace, the dangers of radon, soy in the diet and breast cancer. Additionally, the center offers screenings for cholesterol, stroke and blood pressure, in many cases bringing the testing to a work site or moving the screenings around campus so employees have ample opportunity to participate. Monthly programs are at different times to facilitate attendance.
"We are trying to encourage people to change their behavior," Carter explained. "We're hopeful that once people get started on something, like a nutrition or exercise program, they'll start feeling better and adopt these behaviors for the long term."
Personal training and individual nutrition counseling are available for those looking to change their eating habits or embark on an exercise program. "Basically, they're looking for a quick workout to fit into their busy schedules," said Linda Smith, coordinator of the fitness programs. "We encourage most people to try to incorporate 30 minutes of aerobic activity five to seven days a week, and that can be split up."
Designing activities that will suit busy schedules is the primary goal, and Smith said the center shies away from recommending specific and time-consuming workouts in the employee gym unless there is dedication to that type of regimen. "We try to do more lifestyle counseling with them," Smith said.
The center also recently initiated two programs geared toward shaping up and slimming down. "Dump the Diet," an eight-week weight management program, and "Walk Here...Fly There," in which participants who walk 10 miles a week qualify for a drawing to win an air travel voucher, represent engaging approaches toward changing lifestyles. Annual flu shots, offered in conjunction with Student Health Services, were particularly popular.
Bernard Dworsky, a project director with the Water Resources Agency at the College of Human Services, Education and Public Policy, credits the Wellness Program with helping him lose 20 pounds and changing his lifestyle.
"I felt like I had gotten a little bit out of shape," reported Dworsky, who had a nutrition evaluation and assessment at the center. "There are positive reinforcements that subtly work on attitude, and the proximity to work makes it conducive to participation.
"I compliment the University for installing and maintaining the Wellness Center. I think it's absolutely necessary, especially as the population ages."
Carter and her staff said they strive to meet people halfway and that they shy away from serving as "the health police."
"We recognize that changing behavior is difficult, and we're here to help with that process, not point fingers," she said.
Each UD employee receives 50 "Wellness Dollars" to trade for the center's programs and services throughout the year. Once the dollars are spent, programs must be paid for in cash. The center also has begun to market its services to local businesses, offering the same health risk and wellness appraisals and nutrition programming that have become so popular at the University.
"We're trying to do this as locally as possible," said Carter. The center has had contracts with Rodel Inc., Chase Manhattan Bank, Chrysler Corp. and the Delaware Department of Transportation. Carter emphasized that investing in a wellness program promises long-term benefits for companies looking to cut costs, by instilling positive changes in employee lifestyle behaviors that reduce both health-care payments and sick leave. Most advertising in the business community has been by word of mouth.
The popularity of health promotion was just gaining steam when Carter began working at the University as a part-time nutritionist in 1995. As the Wellness Program expanded, so did Carter's role, as she facilitated many of the programs and screenings. She credited Michael Peters, associate professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Sciences, with helping to define the direction of the Wellness Center.
With her master's degree in health education and her appointment in December 1999 as center director, Carter finds herself wearing many hats and immersed in a program in which she very much believes.
"I love my job," said Carter, who handles both administrative responsibilities and nutrition screening and counseling. "In the future, I would like to be able to continue to meet the needs of University employees, as well as expand our association with the outside community."
The center is in the Carpenter Sports Building. For more information, call the Employee Wellness Center at 831-8388, or visit online at [www.udel.edu wellness].
Photo by JACK BUXBAUM