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The Red Lake Wellness Team Focuses on a Comprehensive Approach to Employee Wellness

by Jill Andersen, MPT, NBC-HWC, physical therapist for IHS Red Lake Hospital
Red Lake IHS staff participate in a gardening demonstration
Red Lake IHS staff participate in a gardening demonstration

The Indian Health Service recognizes that a healthier workforce leads to an improved quality of care for the patients and communities we serve. Employee wellness programs have been shown to increase productivity, reduce absences, improve employee engagement, and improve the health of employees - all at a lower overall cost to the employer.  Recently, a group of tribal and federal employees from across multiple disciplines in the Red Lake Service Unit of Minnesota have collaborated to form the Red Lake Wellness Team. The team focuses on a “total person” approach to address wellness for employees at Red Lake Hospital.

Initially, the RLWT completed an employee wellness assessment to get a sense of what was lacking and what they would like to see offered. Employee responses identified options such as having healthy snacks available at work; increasing fitness to include opportunities to walk; participating in wellness activities within the regular work schedule; and a tobacco-free environment, as their top choices. A wellness policy based on these findings was written in an effort to support participation with wellness activities that included improved dietary habits and mental well-being and increased physical activity. 

Since fitness activities were identified as a primary focus of the wellness assessment, the team began offering several 5k community walks. The community walks inspired other weekly 1-mile walks on campus as part of the Million Miles Against Diabetes program. The wellness assessment also identified employee accessibility to healthy foods as a top issue. In response, the RLWT initiated a change to vending machine snack inventories across the Red Lake Service Unit which included the availability of at least two healthy, fresh options. The RLWT also coordinated “fresh-fruit Fridays” at the Red Lake Hospital where employees can select free fresh fruit offerings in the break room on Fridays. 

In support of employee mental and spiritual health, the RLWT coordinates mindfulness and stress reduction activities with the Division of Behavioral Health at their “de-stress” event that occurs prior to the holiday season. The team has also identified space to create a “quiet room” where employees can de-stress during the day through listening to meditation CD’s, yoga, sitting with a heated massager in a rocking chair, or coloring. Other wellness initiatives that have been established by the RLWT include cultural events that focus on healthy eating and food preparation, gardening, Pow Wow Zumba, and informative talks on traditional tobacco from the local region. 

In order to meet the ever-changing needs of the Red Lake IHS staff, the RLWT will continue to pursue innovative ideas that will boost employee morale and most importantly, promote a healthy lifestyle. The RLWT’s ultimate goal is to create “well” employees in every sense of the word. 

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Jill Andersen, MPT, NBC-HWC, physical therapist for IHS Red Lake Hospital
Jill Andersen, MPT, NBC-HWC, is a physical therapist and board certified health coach at the IHS Red Lake Hospital. She is a tribally-employed member of the Red Lake Wellness Team.