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January 5, 2017

Getting some help with your wellness resolutions



Pitt employees will have new tools in 2017 to assist with some of their new year’s resolutions: a health coach at the walk-in clinic in the Medical Arts Building, as well as health and fitness programs and other resources, thanks to a new wellness specialist in Human Resources.

Based on Pitt’s new five-year agreement with UPMC, the insurer’s health plan has placed part-time health coach Taelor Vetica on campus to offer counseling in weight management, physical activity, nutrition, stress management and tobacco cessation.

If you visit the clinic (officially known as the UPMC MyHealth@Work on-site Health and Wellness Center), which opened last April, for any reason, Vetica also will be able to offer what’s been dubbed a “prescription for wellness.”

Those who are amenable to making lifestyle changes, seeking maternity coaching for pregnancy or extra help with chronic illnesses such as diabetes now have the opportunity to meet and consult with Vetica.

Ashley Boykin, who has been UPMC Health Plan’s health promotion specialist for a dozen years, now will be working out of Human Resources as a wellness specialist. She will be a conduit between the health plan and Pitt, helping the University institute new wellness programs, recruit University leaders to promote them and help departments and schools become aware of such new resources.


Will Pitt staff and faculty take advantage of these new wellness services?

Says Boykin: “It’s not always a case that people don’t want to participate — they’re just not always aware of the services available to them.” Creating a new way for people to seek health coaching and improve their health voluntarily and gradually, she adds, is the best method to encourage use of new resources: “We have something to offer everybody, no matter what stage they are in. Let’s move a little bit more, let’s make some changes in your diet.”

Vetica realizes that some people may be wary of using her new services. But she says that “just building a rapport with people … seems to open the door for everything.”
“On our end, it’s not some slick sales approach,” Boykin assures. “It’s really working with them and not giving them this feeling: ‘Okay, you started and you quit and now you’re out.’”

Adds Vick Ward, wellness account manager for health promotion with UPMC Health Plan: “Meeting the member where they are at — that’s really the approach.”

Ward acknowledges that it’s sometimes hard to move adults along toward healthy changes and to keep them motivated. He hopes that by adding Vetica to the health and wellness center and having Boykin meet with staff and faculty on all Pitt campuses, it will change employees’ notions of what is possible to achieve. “By changing the culture you change behaviors,” he says.

And it’s also a boon that Pitt’s leadership believes in this, Boykin stresses.


John Kozar, assistant vice chancellor for Benefits, says Pitt has been offering preventive health services to University employees for more than a decade. The aim is not only to improve the health of staff and faculty but also reduce employees’ and insurers’ health care costs.

In 2005, the University waived one month’s insurance premium for employees who got a biometric screening, which garnered 65 percent participation, he reports.

“It was an eye-opening thing on campus,” he says. “It was part of a changing culture.”

And such screenings certainly can be effective, he adds: “I know there was one person they took from a biometric screening to the emergency room.”

The next year, Pitt offered a different incentive for employees to get a health risk assessment, with more than 50 percent taking advantage. Still, the effort “at the time was a little clunky,” he recalls. “It asked for information people simply didn’t have. They felt it asked for information that was too personal.

“We had these efforts, we kept them up on an annual basis, but we never felt we had a real sustained effort for wellness,” he adds. “It will be up to these specialists here to take this to the next level.”

More recently, Pitt has instituted several exercise campaigns. The Home Run for Health campaign, for instance, was held June 6-Aug. 7 to encourage an increase in participants’ physical activity. Nearly 177 faculty and staff logged their steps during the entire nine-week program, with five tallying more than a million steps, earning achievement medals, and others winning raffle prizes.

Pitt’s Weight Race, set for Feb. 6-April 28, will be a 12-week weight management campaign, with resources and support for weight-loss goals. Vetica and Boykin will help individuals and departments who participate in the Weight Race.

Kozar says he may resurrect Pitt’s Wellness Champions on Campus program as well, which designated people in different schools and departments to serve as ambassadors for Pitt wellness efforts.

Boykin says such peer encouragement works: “When you see the people you work with making it real, sometimes it sparks something” — including the willpower to move your physical fitness habits in the right direction.

Kozar notes that UPMC Health Plan also has wellness incentives, which work much better than chastising people for less-than-healthy behavior. “It’s the carrot, not the stick, for doing the right thing,” he believes. “It’s backfired at other universities, where they took out the stick and penalized people for not doing something.

“I think there’s a lot of exciting things to come,” he concludes.

—Marty Levine 

Filed under: Feature,Volume 49 Issue 9

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