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MU employee health fair marks start of new Wellness Program

Monday, October 29, 2007 | 9:23 p.m. CDT; updated 12:08 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Jane Alexander, who recently recovered from a case of the West Nile Virus, is given a flu shot by nursing student, Joni Bowne. Monday was the first morning of MU's Wellness Fair at the Reynolds Alumni Center.

COLUMBIA — MU employees participating in a new Atkins Wellness Program aren’t necessarily cutting carbohydrates out of their diets, but they are hoping to lead a healthier life.

More than 2,000 people were expected to attend a health fair at the Reynolds Alumni Center on Monday, which marked the launch of the Healthy for Life: T.E. Atkins MU Wellness Program. The program is designated for faculty and staff.

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Approved in December 2006 by the UM System Board of Curators, the Wellness Program initiative is part of a large-scale effort that encompasses all four UM System campuses.

MU was the first to have its health fair. The other three campuses will follow in the spring, said Laura Schopp, director of the Wellness Program.

“We decided to unveil it at MU first because of the wide variety of resources and the strong infrastructure,” Schopp said.

Numerous community and university-affiliated organizations attended the fair, as well as private vendors such as Weight Watchers.

Benefit-eligible employees who attended had the opportunity to receive free flu shots, accumulate a variety of information on health topics and partake in health screenings to assess overall health.

“I just heard about the fair through an e-mail from the chancellor. I came to get the flu shot, and now I’m just going to walk around,” said Chris Willow-Schomaker, an MU employee. “They have information on lots of different things, so it gives you a chance to hone in on certain topics you’re interested in.”

The new wellness program aims to sponsor activities that promote a healthy lifestyle by offering information about opportunities such as the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction program.

Lynn Rossy, an MU Health Psychologist suggests stress-relief activities such as meditation are a way to be “more aware of your habitual actions.”

MU employees were encouraged to complete an online health assessment as part of the program. Information will be kept confidential and used to identify overarching health trends within the MU community. The information will be used to develop programs to accommodate needs and determine whether programs are meeting specified goals, according to a news release from the MU News Bureau.

The fair also offered information about a tobacco cessation program. Starting Jan. 1, MU employees enrolled in the Coventry medical plan can receive confidential phone coaching and nicotine replacement therapy.

A new group called Wellness Ambassadors sought employee volunteers at the fair.

Ambassadors serve as a liaisons between specific buildings or departments and the Wellness Program. Fellow employees can communicate desires to the Wellness Ambassador, who would pass the message along.

“For example, if an ambassador heard a lot of people saying something like ‘We’d exercise if there was a yoga class made available at lunchtime,’ then we’d go back and forth and assess what we could do,” Julie Dubrouillet, a health educator, said.

The Wellness Program is named after former Curator Tom Atkins, who donated more than $100,000 to the program.

The fair focused on knowledge as a prime prevention tool against both individual sickness and high insurance costs.

“Most literature on health promotion identifies that there is a $3 to $7 return for money spent on wellness,” Schopp said, “That means a company can save money on premium costs by investing in prevention strategies.”

According to Ken Hutchinson, UM System vice president for human resources, faculty and staff pay a share of the premium for healthcare and MU pays a share. The total cost to the system annually is about $147 million.

“We hope the Wellness Program will have a positive effect on employee health and also on the costs of healthcare for the university and its faculty and staff,” Hutchinson said.

The Wellness Program is different from the Wellness Resource Center on campus, which caters solely to student needs.


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