Photos from the 2014 Year of Worksite Wellness Kickoff

We had a blast kicking off the Year of Worksite Wellness here in Minnesota. Today’s events at the Capitol included an official proclamation, words from legislators, health advice from sponsors, and more. Thanks to all who helped make this happen. Let’s be our healthiest this year, Minnesota!

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Take the CEO Pledge – Year of Worksite Wellness

2014 is the Year of Worksite Wellness here in Minnesota! Ready to get involved?

Then join Chuck Runyon, CEO of Anytime Fitness, and take the IHRSA CEO Pledge!

So what’s the CEO Pledge, you ask?Continue Reading …


Celebrating World No Tobacco Day

In many public spaces, flowers are placed in ashtrays in observance of World No Tobacco Day. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

Today marks the celebration of the 24th annual World No Tobacco Day. Created by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1987 and launched in 1988, the day is observed by all United Nations member states. Its goal is to encourage people to quit smoking for 24 hours, with an ultimate mission to publicize the deadly risks associated with smoking, and to reduce tobacco use around the world. In many public spaces where smoking is permitted, flowers are placed in the ashtrays in observance.

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death worldwide, killing almost 6 million people each year, 600,000 of whom die from secondhand smoke. In the United States, 1,200 people per day die from smoking. Even more disturbing, for each one of those deaths, the Surgeon General reports that two young adults become regular smokers.

This year, World No Tobacco Day arrives on the heels of a new mass media campaign across the U.S. called “Tips From Former Smokers,” designed to draw attention to the physical deterioration that smoking and smoking-related illnesses cause over time.

If you or someone you know is ready to quit smoking, a wealth of quitting assistance information is available online. Check out for useful quitting tips and resources.


Good Eats for Every Body

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“Nutrition applies to everyone,” says Jacque Hahn. She and the other 10 employees at Mark!t in Rochester do not smoke and quite a few people already regularly exercise—but everybody eats. So eating better became the main focus for the marketing firm’s wellness efforts. For its wellness program, Rochester-based Eastwood Bank, which has long hosted weight-loss programs, emphasized healthy eating and added increasing activity among employees.

These two businesses are among 11 in Olmsted County that received worksite wellness grants from the Statewide Health Improvement Program. SHIP encourages healthier habits at worksites throughout Minnesota—and among more than 2,700 people in Olmsted County alone.

Improvements advocated by SHIP are important because, in the United States, preventable chronic diseases account for about 75 cents of every dollar spent on health care, according to a Kaiser Health News piece by Kenneth Thorpe, executive director of the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, and Jonathan Lever, vice president for health strategy and innovation at the YMCA of the USA. Moreover, about 80 percent of heart disease and type-2 diabetes and 40 percent of cancers could be prevented by doing three things: exercising more, eating better and avoiding tobacco, say Centers for Disease Control and Prevention experts.

As employees at Mark!t and Eastwood Bank have found, preventing chronic disease can be tasty, tailored to individuals, and even fun. Healthy potluck contests, with rules about allowable amounts of fat, sodium and carbohydrates, were held at each of Eastwood Bank’s 11 locations. Favorite recipes were forwarded to the wellness committee for a taste test—and the winning taco soup maker received a $100 gift card. “Because people became so excited about this,” says Joleen Mittelstadt, human resource officer, “we’re taking the recipes and making a cookbook.”

Mark!t switched to healthy snacks in the office and using SHIP funds matched by employee contributions, hired a licensed dietitian to advise individuals. The meal plan the dietitian created for a man concerned he’s too thin differs from how she advised Tammy Hester, who wanted to avoid that starving feeling before dinnertime. Hester says that, given all the claims on grocery items, “I really wondered what a healthy snack was.” Now she knows how to read nutrition labels. And Hahn, following the dietitian’s guidance, ate better and saw results: her cholesterol dipped below 200 for the first time in years.

Moving more is key to health, too. At Eastwood, some employees have been doing yoga at work for about three years. With help from SHIP, they’ve extended that fitness commitment to other activities that interest employees, such as body sculpting. Through the local health club, the wellness committee tried a dance-based fitness routine, too.

“We have some guys on our wellness committee,” Mittelstadt says, “and to see them do Zumba was so much fun.” •

Eastwood Bank Wellness Committee poses for a picture in their Yoga space. They have found success in holding Yoga classes during the lunch hour and after work.


Take Good Care of Yourself

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Recommendations to eat healthily, be active and quit tobacco—the three-pronged approach advocated by the Statewide Health Improvement Program to cut chronic disease costs and suffering—suit Bonnie Frisk perfectly. A public health worker in Blue Earth County, Frisk says: “I’m passionate about our work on SHIP projects. Making healthy improvements really fits what’s best for our community.”

That attitude is helping business develop a culture of health. “We spend so much time at work, “ Frisk says, “it just makes sense that we take care of ourselves at our worksites.” In Blue Earth County, worksites numbering from nearly 50 to a college campus with more than 16,000 people are taking advantage of SHIP grants and interventions to make healthy choices easy choices.

Healthier Workplaces, Healthier Workers, a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota program, has been adopted by seven businesses, including the Mankato Clinic. Although clinic programs already encouraged healthy habits, since SHIP, the clinic now has a wellness committee with the following purpose statement: “The vision of Wellness for Life is to improve the overall well-being of our staff, which will also support the clinic’s mission to improve patient care.”

One of the particular challenges of the clinic, says Sara Will, human resources administrator, is that about 85 percent of their 710 staff are female. These are moms, grandmothers and caregivers who typically put the needs of others first. “Many of these women find it difficult to find time for themselves, yet they are interested in living healthier lives for themselves and for their families,” Will says. “Our wellness committee wants to provide our staff with tools and techniques to help them live that healthier life.”

With two young children, Will also faces the issue of work-life balance. She rises early to walk and run. “That’s the only time I have to do it,” she says. She has a friend join her, which helps keep her accountable for her health. And at the clinic, management has a role in encouraging staff to take care of themselves. Frisk says, “They must recognize the importance of providing staff time to take a walk or to have stretching breaks during the day.”

Mankato Clinic’s efforts include wellness activities throughout the year punctuated by short-term shape-up challenges. This coming fall, Will says the clinic will take advantage of internal resources such as dietitians and a psychologist to tackle weight-loss issues.

Improving the health of staff also may improve the clinic’s fiscal health. “Last year, our health plan was  $1 million over budget,” Will says. While this year’s budget is fine so far, she adds, the clinic needs to be proactive. Perhaps in the long run, it can bring down its health plan costs.

The wisdom of wellness, Frisk says, is in moderation. “We tell people not to deprive themselves of things they love,” she says. “If you go camping, have that roasted hot dog and a s’more.” But be mindful of what you are eating and moderate about how much. •

Mankato Clinic team members join the MS walk together.


Working Well in St. Cloud

With an annual Biggest Loser-style weight loss competition and occasional “Lunch and Learn” sessions with health and nutrition experts, St. Cloud-based KDV had already set the stage for a culture of wellness among its employees. The financial and technology services and consulting company even had a 10-person wellness committee devoted to the cause. However, wellness events were sporadic, and the committee’s primary purpose was to research an HSA option for employees. But last year when committee members attended a Minnesota Department of Health Statewide Health Improvement Program meeting, they learned the program could help their company take its efforts to another level.

The Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) leverages policy, systems and environmental changes to help Minnesotans decrease smoking and tobacco use, eat healthier and move more to fight unhealthy weight. In January, SHIP awarded KDV a grant to help develop a menu of wellness education programs and activities.

KDV has invested much of the funding in contracted services with Rejuv Medical, a fitness and physical wellness company in nearby Waite Park. Rejuv is providing KDV employees with twice-monthly “Lunch and Learn” sessions taught by industry professionals. Designed to offer tips to achieve better health, each session focuses on a different topic, from nutrition and reading food labels, to the nuts and bolts of strength training, cardio and stretching, to dealing with stress. Employees who attend also enjoy a free healthy lunch.

Andrea Kringstad, controller, believes the sessions have helped employees become more knowledgeable about making healthy choices.

“Before, we would hear from employees that time was the biggest obstacle to maintaining a healthy lifestyle,” she says. “But I think through the education process they’ve been receptive to the fact that small changes can make a big difference.”

In that spirit, employees are also invited to attend weekly group workouts hosted by Rejuv. Some are gearing up for KDV’s first-ever company 5K. To date, 20 people have signed up to participate in the race next month.

To keep employees healthy in the long run, the company is also giving each employee an Easy Fit monitor. The wearable device tracks movement and calories burned, offering each wearer a snapshot of their daily exercise.

Though the company has yet to measure return on investment when it comes to health-oriented programs, Kringstad says SHIP funds have allowed KDV to jump on the fast track to a culture of wellness.

“People are not going for candy in the vending machines,” Kringstad says. “They are bringing healthy snacks from home and trying to avoid soda, opting for alternatives like water. People are also talking about being more physically active. Just to hear about people being physically active outside of work is great.” •

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Wednesday workout sessions at Rejuv Medical, a fitness and physical wellness company.

KDV team members training for a 5k.


Start Small, Look Long

Stretching to counteract long hours working at the computer. Adding healthy choices such as fruit and water to the meetings with school administrators. Surveying the 14 employees to find out their ideas for equipping an exercise and relaxation room. “It’s just taking small steps that will have an impact,” says Denise Bohrer, controller at the Arrowhead Regional Computing Consortium. These changes for the better were sparked by the Statewide Health Improvement Program.

When Bohrer serendipitously saw an announcement about an upcoming SHIP meeting, she knew that a few of the consortium’s employees with health issues already were concerned about the affordability of health coverage. SHIP uses policy, systems and environmental changes to decrease smoking and tobacco use, as well as improve nutrition and increase physical activity to fight unhealthy weight.

Although the Arrowhead Regional Computing Consortium one of 16 businesses using SHIP services in the area, conducts meetings with 31 member school districts—so healthy choices and habits have a multiplier effect. The consortium, by making specific, sustainable changes, is more likely to be successful, according to Christy Clay, the SHIP coordinator for seven counties that includes Duluth and a Fit City Duluth employee.

“We often say, ‘Think small,’” Clay says. At one hospital in Clay’s region, yoga was offered—but at 45 minutes to an hour, people found it hard to commit. “Some of these people haven’t done anything for 10 years,” Clay says. “It’s easy to get discouraged.” Now, 10- to 15-minute yoga sessions are offered, making it easier for employees to participate.

To help businesses improve their worksite wellness, Clay and her team first carry out a comprehensive assessment of current practices and policies, then present a plan to senior leadership and management.

Once the employer is ready to create a health team, Clay makes sure it’s done right. She works with them to build a team that represents a cross-section of employees. “We’re not trying to make the healthy people healthier—35 percent are doing pretty darn well,” Clay says. “I’m trying to reach the other 65 percent.”

Once that health team is in place, Clay works with them to build capacity—“to expand the knowledge base on worksite wellness for those who can provide these services and those who can benefit from them”—within these businesses.

At the Arrowhead Regional Computing Consortium, this help includes some training from Fit City Duluth staff in basic yoga stretches and other activities to launch their program. Cindy Lee Olson, the consortium’s finance, funding and management specialist, says, “Everything we do now is electronic or remote control…. It’s good to bring that getting up and moving to the workplace.”

By taking small, measurable steps, Clay says, they can be successful—and evidence shows worksite wellness programs save money in the long term. The long term is where consortium Network Engineer Bob Buchanan is looking, too. “A year from now,” he says, “I hope a number of these ideas have changed our work habits.”  •

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Kicking the Habit in Rochester

Transforming work places to become tobacco-free in Olmsted County calls for a big picture approach. New tobacco-free policies in place or in process are designed, says Michelle Haugen, “not to target the smoker but to target the environment.”

“We’re trying to create an environment where it’s easier for people to quit smoking,” says Haugen, a county public health educator. SHIP seeks to improve the health of Minnesotans through policy, systems and environmental changes to that lead to better nutrition, increased physical activity and decreased tobacco use.

After all, according to the American Cancer Society, just 20 minutes after quitting smoking, heart and blood pressure drop. As months and years of not smoking accumulate, a former smoker’s risk of heart disease, stroke and lung cancer decrease.

But quitting smoking is not easy, says Dawn Rainey, human resources manager for Custom Alarm. A couple of the smokers among the company’s 75 employees have committed to quit smoking but not yet succeeded. “They’re both still trying,” she adds. Custom Alarm has made its campus completely tobacco-free and forbids employees to smoke on work hours.

This transformation to a no-tobacco policy has been effective with the help of SHIP, Rainey says. She did not have to “start from scratch” but instead had SHIP’s guidance in introducing the new policy over six months, crafting it,and answering employees’ questions with FAQs and in meetings.

The goal of SHIP is to help Minnesotans live longer, healthier lives by preventing the leading causes of chronic disease: tobacco and obesity. SHIP launched as part of Minnesota’s Vision for a Better State of Health, the bipartisan health reform package enacted in 2008. It makes it easier for Minnesotans to choose healthier behaviors by making changes in the places where we live, learn, work and play.

Registered Dietitian, Kaitlin Anderson was already in place at the north Rochester store of the Hy-Vee grocery chain. Even before she joined the Wellness Works Coalition in Olmsted County, she had been leading classes on wellness and nutrition at the store and in the community. With the help of a SHIP mini-grant, Anderson was trained in the American Lung Association’s Freedom from Smoking program.

She offered classes to Hy-Vee employees; six signed up and, after the eight-session course, have successfully quit smoking. Changes to the workplace environment make it easier for these new nonsmokers to continue their quest for a healthier lifestyle. They have eliminated the designated smoking area and established a tobacco-free campus policy that limits tobacco use to their personal cars.

So much of the work depends on the people in the worksites, says Haugen of Rainey, Anderson, and the other worksite coordinators: “props to our partners.”

“We provide resources, funding and technical assistance,” she says, “but it’s the people in the worksites who are making a difference for a healthy environment.” •

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Rice County Gets Healthy

These days, over 8,000 employees across Rice County are on the move, making better food choices and reducing tobacco use. The secret behind their health kick? Rice County’s Statewide Health Improvement Program worksite project, Healthy Rice County: Achieving Wellness in the Workplace.

Since early 2010, the program has helped more than 20 worksites in Faribault, Northfield and surrounding areas to learn about ways to offer healthier foods and encourage employees to increase activity and reduce tobacco use.

“Interest in the program began when Rice County Public Health sent a press release to media outlets about the new SHIP initiative,” says Natalie Ginter, Rice County SHIP Coordinator. “Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota led the recruitment process by mailing invitation letters and making follow-up phone calls to top leaders and human resources staff of more than 80 Rice County organizations.”

Once the interest level of each organization was determined, Blue Cross led education and consulting efforts among the participating organizations, helping each to understand and successfully implement the best practices for worksite wellness.

“In our work guiding employers to create a culture of health, we have provided detail on what it takes to be successful,” says Linda M. Pellowski, Blue Cross workplace wellness consultant. “For example, leadership support is the most critical, and a representative wellness committee can help with sustainability and continuity. The best practices for each component were given as a framework along with mentoring and examples from other success stories as a way to encourage employers to adopt the recommendations as best as they can.”

After learning about best practices, the participating organizations used a vision and goal-setting document provided by Blue Cross to write their organization-specific workplace wellness goals. Blue Cross then provided implementation plans outlining the action steps necessary for each organization to accomplish its specific goals.

“We hear that those turnkey tools help make it easier for the employer to be successful,” Pellowski says. “For example, should an employer set a goal to write a tobacco-free worksite policy, an assessment checklist, a framework for writing an ideal policy and an actual sample employer policy are provided. We see it as important for the organization to receive comprehensive support to allow for the best opportunity for success.”

As organizations worked to implement their worksite wellness plans, the Northfield Area Family YMCA staff was on hand to help organizations adapt best practices to their individual environments and capabilities. To keep the wellness efforts flowing, each organization will continue to receive consulting and mentoring support from Rice County Public Health and its two partners, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and the Northfield Area Family YMCA, through the fiscal year, which continues through June 2011.

One participating organization, The State Bank of Faribault, has seen a rapid culture shift following its wellness initiatives. It offered employees an incentive of reduced health care premiums for taking certain steps to improve their health. And, nearly all employees engaged. The incentive criteria were participation in biometrics screenings (for cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar) and a health assessment, the setting of a personal health goal, and attendance at two talks within a four-part series about healthy living.
With further encouragement, The State Bank of Faribault has also purchased stability balls for its break room and offers access to information on healthy nutrition. This summer, the bank will map a walking route from its location through the neighborhood to encourage more physical activity among employees.

SHIP’s goal is to help Minnesotans live longer, healthier lives by preventing the leading causes of chronic disease: tobacco and obesity. It launched as part of Minnesota’s Vision for a Better State of Health, the bipartisan health reform package enacted in 2008. SHIP makes it easier for Minnesotans to choose healthier behaviors by making changes in the places where we live, learn, work and play.
SHIP’s mantra is a focus on policy, systems and environmental change. That means that organizations participating in SHIP-funded worksite wellness programs have had less emphasis on programmatic approaches and more on sustainable initiatives such as:

• Increasing the amount of healthy foods offered in vending, decreasing portion sizes in worksite cafeterias, and offering healthier options at reduced prices.
• Implemented a tobacco-free worksite policy that goes beyond buildings to cover grounds and vehicles and making sure employees know of QUITPLAN and other cessation resources available to them.
• Increasing employees’ access to physical activity, for example, by allowing employees to combine breaks with lunch when used for physical activity, and by adding mapped walking routes or an on-site fitness center to an employer’s facility.

Other SHIP-funded projects in Rice County are also helping the community’s collective health status. New bike racks have been installed, public gardens have been planted, and new signage brightens up the county’s walking and biking trails. A workshop on healthy school lunch attracted more than 40 school and day care staff. SHIP initiatives also encourage children and youth to play more actively at recess or through physical education classes, sports or after-school activities.

To learn more about Rice County’s wellness programs, visit

Open a PDF copy of this Rice County worksite wellness success story.


State Bank of Faribault employees now have access to stability balls in the office break room.


Quitting Time in Dakota County

Tobacco was smoked or chewed by nearly half of the 40 employees at Rigid Hitch, a Burnsville manufacturer, in early 2010. Tobacco use may not have been the only contributor to the company’s annual increases of 15 to 30 percent in health care claims. But using tobacco is a lifestyle choice that puts them at risk for poor health—and Rigid Hitch wanted to help them quit, which also might help level out increases in health care premiums for employers and employees.

People at Rigid Hitch, like many Minnesotans, benefit from the services and funding provided by Statewide Health Improvement Program and its county-based public health partners. To foster better health, SHIP strives to reduce tobacco use and tobacco exposure and reduce the number of people who are overweight or obese.

Rigid Hitch connected initially when Betsy Kauffman, human resources manager, completed a Dakota County survey about potential ways to improve employee wellness and health. A Dakota county staff person followed up with no-cost ideas and suggestions for improvement. “They let us know about the resources that were available and brought them to us,” Kauffman says. “As a smaller employer, I really appreciated their efforts because we don’t have the resources to go out searching for these solutions.”

Dakota County Community Health Specialist Efren Maldonado suggested to Kauffman that Quitplan was not only a phone and web program to help tobacco users but also would send a representative to the company to counsel tobacco users in how to quit.

Eight employees chose to enroll in the program and Rigid Hitch arranged for them to meet for one-hour sessions for five weeks—on company time—with the Quitplan counselor. This counselor formerly smoked, so she could sympathize with the employees’ struggle to quit tobacco.

Along with Rigid Hitch’s investment in employee wellness, SHIP resources supported tobacco use screening, as well as incentives for employees who remained tobacco-free.

Four of those in the program cut back their tobacco use. Of the four employees who quit using tobacco, one for the first winter in many years did not suffer a bout of bronchitis. She is healthier and did not have to take time off from work to recover. Kauffman is pleased with the results—that a significant number of Rigid Hitch’s employees chose to go smoke-free, with assistance from SHIP.

Download a PDF copy of this Best of Wellness SHIP Success Story.

Burnsville employer uses classes and support to reduce tobacco-using employees by 20 percent.