In 2005, University President Mary Sue Coleman implemented MHealthy, an iniatitve aimed to promote healthy living in the University community. Last year, 26,000 University employees participated in MHealthy programs, a testament to support the program’s success on campus.

Sitting on the board of Johnson & Johnson, which has been recognized as a leader in employee wellness efforts, Coleman drew inspiration from the organization’s achievements.

MHealthy aims to reduce the rising costs of health care for the University. These healthcare costs are increasing at a rate of 10 to 12 percent annually, an amount the MHealthy Five-Year plan refers to as “economically unsustainable.” UHS Director Robert Winfield, the University’s chief health officer, said MHealthy looks to stop this increase.

“Eventually, it would be almost 7 percent of our total University budget,” Winfield said. “Our goal is to flatten that curve so that we don’t have these continual annual increases.”

To implement MHealthy, Coleman appointed a team — The Michigan Healthy Community Steering Committee — to study what the University needed in a wellness initiative, and write up a plan. LaVaughn Palma-Davis, senior director of University Health & Well-Being Services, said the team formed a strategy by studying national wellness leaders like Johnson & Johnson.

“We looked at who were the organizations across the country who were doing really well at this and getting results,” Palma-Davis said. “We used that best practice information as well as information that was in the literature to identify what were the key components that we needed to put in place here to be successful like they were.”

In an October 2011 address, Coleman praised those who had participated in the MHealthy program.

“So many individuals are now pushing themselves and pushing their colleagues to lead healthier lives.” Coleman said. “We’re moving in the right direction, which makes for healthier employees and lower healthcare costs.”

The committee put together the MHealthy Five-Year Strategic Plan that would last from 2009 to 2013. Finally, they sent out a risk assessment survey to better understand the health risks University faculty frequently face.

“It’s an online questionnaire that helps people to understand what health risks they have and how that might impact their health going forward, and encourages them to work on them,” Palma-Davis said.

Palma-Davis said with the yearly health costs as high as they are, any help MHealthy programs can provide will be extremely beneficial.

“It’s around $360 million per year that we spend on health insurance costs for our faculty and staff,” Palma Davis said. “If we can impact that even one percent, it’s worth it.”

MHealthy attempts to decrease health risk levels to impact care costs. The program defines health risks as any conditions or behaviors that would harm one’s health, such as obesity, stress, unhealthy eating, smoking or lack of exercise. MHealthy classifies participants as low, medium or high risk based on their responses to an annual risk assessment survey.

Winfield said there is a correlation between a patient’s risk level and their health expenses, along with their ability to perform their well in jobs.

“The health risks determine absenteeism and health care costs,” Winfield said. “If you are high risk, your health care costs are going to be higher, and we also know that you are going to be absent from work more often.”

The full results of MHealthy will not be determined until later this year, but Palma-Davis said it is clear risk levels have decreased since MHealthy began. More people are in the low risk level column than previously, and fewer people are in the moderate and high-risk level columns.

MHealthy adopted a variety of programs to reduce risk factors among University employees. Since MHealthy’s launch in 2009, employees have been offered free wellness screenings. These screenings test blood pressure, cholesterol, weight measurements, glucose measurements and other factors. Combined with the risk assessment survey, these screenings allow MHealthy to give unique feedback to patients on what they need to be doing to maintain or improve their health.

MHealthy Rewards gives employees an incentive to follow MHealthy’s recommendations. People are invited to choose what health improvements they wish to make, and if they follow through on these improvements, they can get $100 added to their paycheck at the end of the year.

“That’s just another added little incentive to move some people,” Palma-Davis said.

One of the most successful initiatives of MHealthy is Active U, a 12-week challenge that invites University faculty and staff to keep track of their daily physical activity. The program has a Maize Track, which requires 30 minutes of activity three days a week, and a Blue Track, which is geared toward beginners.

“We do see that people who participate are increasing their days and their minutes of physical activity,” Palma-Davis said. “We have gotten testimonials from people saying how much it helps them keep on track with their physical activity.”

Palma-Davis said MHealthy aims not only to get individuals to increase their health, but to create a healthy University culture. Palma-Davis said the support of colleagues is one thing that helps people to maintain fitness.

“My colleagues, they keep me going,” Palma-Davis said. “They truly do help encourage each other, and it’s fun. It does impact the culture.”

In 2009, a few years after MHealthy’s inception, Winfield asked Coleman to end smoking on campus.

“It’s the right thing to do, it’s good for our students, it’s good for our faculty and staff, you know that it would reduce health care costs,” Winfield said. “She was very supportive, and you now know we have a smoke-free campus.”

In addition to making positive contributions in Ann Arbor, Coleman intended for MHealthy to be a model wellness program for other universities.

“She called for us to demonstrate to the nation what can be accomplished,” Palma-Davis said. “That then put the emphasis on making sure we were doing what was making a difference.”

And this goal may be achieved. The University is a leader within the Health Enhancement Research Organization, a national wellness group that conducts research and proposes health objectives based on evidence collected from partner organizations.

A growing number of institutions are looking to implement wellness programs similar to MHealthy. Palma-Davis said schools are looking to the University for advice on how to do this.

In addition to an annual HERO meeting, the University holds its own health conference that brings together over 30 universities. The University invites schools including The Ohio State University, Iowa University, Emory University, Michigan State University, University of Alabama, University of Kentucky and Columbia University.

“It’s actually an exciting time because we’re getting calls every other week from other universities who have heard about what we’re doing and they want to learn from us because they’re getting started,” Palma Davis said. “There’s definitely a movement among universities to implement programs like this.”

The University may be a model for other schools, but Palma-Davis said Coleman is the model for our University, as she lives the lifestyle she wants for our University.

“She’s very active, and her husband is too.” Palma Davis said. “She’s been a great role model for all of us.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.