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- GUEST OPINION: Playing Safe
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St. John’s integrates wellness with preventative portal
JACKSON HOLE, WYO- In a move that some say aligns with the Aquarian Age, St. John’s Medical Center has integrated its wellness program and launched a self-care portal for its employees to incentivize them to be well and do good work.
“Being a healthcare provider is extremely stressful work,” said hospital CEO Louis Hochheiser, M.D. “We need to do something to help our people.”
The wellness portal is a website that launched in May to give more than 450 active hospital employees cash incentives to log their fitness and other mental health activities. They can make up to $60 cash at a time for participating.
Partnerships with the National Park Service and Teton County School District have driven more than 700 people to the portal in the past six months, logging thousands of hours on trails, in gyms and going inward. In one month alone there were 6,000 hits on the site, said Julia Heemstra, director of the wellness department.
The latest experiment in stress reduction allows portal users to record 14 evidence-based activities including yoga, meditation, breathing, healing touch and even telling your truth, one of the best ways to reduce stress, according to the data Heemstra has collected.
Gamifying the wellness program by pitting the school district against the hospital has caused many to rise to the challenge of using the portal, she said. More than 400 school district employees have now logged 4,086 hours of stress reduction, double that of hospital employees in the past three months. A weight loss challenge within the hospital also has been successful, encouraging employees to shed upwards of 500 pounds a year in the past two holiday seasons.
In addition to the portal, the hospital is offering cancer patients healing touch and new mothers postpartum massages, among other programs. And it is bringing the message of the power of self healing to the community through lectures, most recently from cancer survivor Kris Carr and Dr. Richard Davidson, both of whom spoke to sold-out audiences this fall.
Sarah Kline, a licensed professional counselor who has been teaching yoga for 30 years, has always believed in the power of positive thought. After listening to Dr. Davidson’s talk about neuroplasticity, she was determined to offer more affirmations in her Kundalini, Vinyasa and hot classes at Inversion Yoga.
“More and more, we are finding out that thoughts you are thinking create neuron growth in your brain. Neuron comes from growth and plasticity from pliable. The number one contributor to neuroplasticity is aerobic exercise and positive thought,” she said. “This is the new paradigm of the Aquarian Age where the healers are going to come forward and be respected.”
The benefits of boosting the wellness program at the hospital so far have been the many thank you cards that Hochheiser has received, but the payoff is in creating community.
“What we are doing in terms of integrating the wellness thing is not a money maker for us,” he said. “But we realize that we are not only treating sick people, we are treating well people. I think it’s important to our community, despite the fact that we have all these health nuts running around.”
Heemstra said many have asked: “Why do you need a wellness program in an active community like Jackson? There is a significant section of our population here that doesn’t fit the standard idea of what a health nut is and really is sort of marginalized in this community. It’s not just about physical fitness. It is really the whole mind, body, spirit connection,” she said.
“I am a believer in healing touch, meditation and relaxation,” said Hochheiser, a family practitioner who rose to the chairman’s office a year and a half ago after serving on the board and counseling universities and other agencies on mental health, wellness and prevention.
“I’ve used it personally for my own health … I’ve seen it work,” he said. “If a patient doesn’t want it, I say do it for me.” In the long run, however, he hopes this effort may actually boost the bottom line of the hospital.
“I think that it is great,” said Francine Bartlett, a Ph.D. candidate in Healthcare Management and Practice Management through the Rocky Mountain University of Healthcare and owner of Excel Physical Therapy and Studio X. “They are boosting employees so they can be more productive.”
Not only will employees work harder, but also the potential for success in treating people who are treating themselves is greater.
“There are so many fitness studios in town,” Bartlett said. “All we are doing is feeding the fit. No one, except maybe the Rec Center, is targeting the nonfit.”
Studio X, which is beginning to teach wellness classes to fill that gap, is one of several local gyms offering discounted group classes to hospital employees who sign up through the portal.