Here at UTMB we are in the business of taking care of others, whether it’s through teaching, research or patient care—our mission states that we are committed to “better the health of society.”   But when it comes to taking care of ourselves sometimes we fall short.  And the rationale seems valid—not enough time, too tired, the list goes on.  But what if we turned it around and started looking at the reasons to get healthy — more time with family, more energy, more joy and an overall sense of well being.  Sound enticing?   Then maybe this is the day that your journey to wellness begins — and what better place to start than at work?

Total wellness

UTMB’s Employee Health Promotion Program, headed up by Gerald Cleveland, operates out of the Alumni Field House and is focused on creating a healthier workforce though education, training and behavior modification.

“Since 1992 we have been promoting health and wellness here on campus.  What started out as a single purpose of fitness has now developed into more of a health and productivity model that focuses on behavior change,” said Cleveland, director of UTMB Employee Health Promotion Program.  “We believe it is important for our employees to be as healthy as possible, not only does it benefit the individual to live a healthier life, but it helps them be a better teacher, a better patient care provider and a better employee.  It creates a win-win situation for the employee and the institution.”

The Employee Health Promotion program supports the importance of lowering healthcare costs and increasing employee productivity by offering a wide range of services to the UTMB community including individualized wellness programs and health coaching.

“We take a very targeted approach to help determine what an employee’s lifestyle  goals are and what major issues they are dealing with and then we design personalized programs to fit their needs,” said Cleveland. “Changing lifestyle habits and behavior is not easy, so we typically try to look at one to two issues and work on those; once a person feels like they have a handle on that, we move on to the next stated goal. The process creates a dynamic interchange between the individual and the health coach that fosters a partnership approach to health. ”

Cleveland is the first to admit that it takes dedication and perseverance to live a healthy lifestyle but says he is encouraged by the results he has seen.

“We are in the business to touch employees’ lives and we hope to do that in a way that enables them to improve their life.  For some people, that’s not very significant, maybe it’s losing a couple of pounds or getting a little more in shape. But for some people it is a life-changing event,” said Cleveland. “There have been success stories after success stories of people who have lost hundreds of pounds; people who have stopped smoking after smoking for 30 years; people who have changed their lives for the better because of their involvement with the Alumni Field House or with our health promotion program one way or the other.”

Cornerstone of health

The Alumni Field House, UTMB’s 50,000 square foot, state-of-the-art fitness facility, receives around 100,000 visitors per year and provides a full-service gym, tennis courts, steam rooms, Jr. Olympic size swimming pool, basketball courts, jogging track, softball fields and more.  The facility has been supported in part by funds from both the Sealy-Smith and Moody Foundations but employee memberships and student fees help sustain a break-even budget allowing the facility to operate with little burden to the institutional budget.

“We use the Alumni Field House as a cornerstone for all of our health promotion programs with an overall goal to create a healthier workforce,” said Cleveland.  “One of our most utilized programs is the group exercise classes.  We recently added Turbo Kick and Zumba classes which are both very popular, as is our fitness training class, Group X, a take- off on boot camp.  The Alumni Field House hosts all of our student and employee intramurals for basketball, volleyball and softball as well which are extremely popular.”

The Alumni Field House also serves as host to many on-campus events throughout the year including the upcoming Health Walk promoting National Employee Health and Fitness Day.

Wellness without walls

The Employee Health Promotion program takes its message of fitness on the road to ensure that all UTMB employees reap the benefits of learning how to live a healthier lifestyle.  

“UTMB is spreading off campus probably as fast as we are growing on campus so a little over a year ago our group, including Patrice Houston, our tobacco treatment specialist, Julie Dial, our clinical exercise physiologist and myself made it a point to create a health and wellness presence in each of the UTMB offsite clinics,” said Cleveland.  “Whenever there is an event here on the main campus we try to duplicate it at the offsite locations.”

Another option that the Employee Health Promotion program offers for off-site employees is the ability to join a health club closer to home at reduced rates.  Several clubs in the Friendswood and League City areas offer membership discounts to UTMB employees.

Cleveland also points out that going to the gym is by no means the only way to get fit and encourages people to take advantage of the multitude of ways to stay fit throughout the day.

“There is this whole idea to have wellness without walls. What can I do from my office?  How about walking flights of stairs? If you are going to meet with someone, why not take a walk and talk about it?  Take short breaks during the day and go for a 15-minute walk,” said Cleveland. “It’s not just about going to the gym; it’s about living a healthy lifestyle.”

Vision for the future

UTMB’s ever-expanding campus and off-site presence lends itself to limitless opportunities for employees to integrate a healthy lifestyle into their daily routines.

“I am hoping as we go forward with the new campus and the new UTMB that somehow we will be able to incorporate an environment of health here and that it transcends the whole campus,” Cleveland said. “I would like to see continued opportunities for growth within the hospital with little fitness pods in locations that would afford people a five or ten minute opportunity to jump on an exercise machine.  An environment where people could take small breaks throughout the day and accumulate exercise time. I am hoping that the idea of wellness and health becomes virtual and expands so that it isn’t just one physical footprint, it’s our whole campus.”

According to Cleveland stress is the number one behavioral risk factor for UTMB employees.  The good news is that stress can be relieved by physical fitness; the stronger a person is physically, mentally and emotionally the better they are able to deal with stress.  

“The more resilient we are to the bombardment of stressors that hit us all the time, the better we are able to cope. Becoming more resilient takes training, or Training for Life as we say. There is always going to be stress in our lives, it comes down to making it a priority to take care of ourselves and learning to live a more balanced and healthy lifestyle.”