UM System recognized for workplace wellness programs

Thursday, May 29, 2008 | 8:04 p.m. CDT; updated 1:56 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — When Thomas Atkins took his seat on the UM System Board of Curators in 2001, he made the health of the university’s faculty and staff one of his main goals. Seven years later, UM has been recognized for its workplace wellness programs.

Thursday, during a ceremony recognizing the university as a “fit friendly” workplace, Atkins, 74 and now a curator emeritus, smiled proudly as he accepted a plaque from the American Heart Association during a presentation at MU’s Lowry Mall.

“I insisted (when I started the program) and I insist now that if it’s performed well and with enthusiasm that we will have a payback instead of a payout,” he said.

He went on to explain that if people don’t have a healthy work place, they don’t feel well and don’t perform well. The university ends up paying the price in lost productivity.

“(Atkins) pushed for wellness from the very beginning of his time on the Board of Curators, and we wouldn’t have this award without him,” said Laura Schopp, director of the UM System’s T.E. Atkins Wellness Program.

Wellness program coordinator Jenny Workman said the system received the award because of its dedication to wellness in the workplace for faculty and staff through such programs as smoking cessation, stress management, healthy eating and exercise. The wellness program began in MU Health Care as a pilot in 2004. It expanded to the four system campuses in October 2007.

“The Heart Association always recognizes that the first year is where you’re going to run into a lot of hiccups,” American Heart Association representative Joe Pallikkathayil said in presenting the award to Atkins. “But your organization has done an amazing job in getting through any barriers.”

Schopp said that about 165 people took tours of MU’s Botanical Gardens, and 120 signed up to become wellness volunteers or ambassadors who commit to wellness within their specific workplaces.

“Wellness ambassadors are our voices,” Workman said. “We need them to get the word out.”

Atkins said that he’s proud of the progress he’s seen at the system level, but that there is always more that could be done.

“We know this work begins right here at home,” Atkins said. “We’ve come a long way, but we have a lot further to go.”

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