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Enriching Every Life: How Gundersen Health Drives Wellness Through Personalization and Prevention

Laura Putnam

Enriching every life. This is the core mission for Gundersen Health System. It applies to the patients and communities they serve, and it also holds true for their employees. The population health team at Gundersen is responsible for delivering health and wellness programming to support the health system’s workforce. And the number one focus for this team is to deliver personalized support to each and every employee.

“We don’t have programming that is pushing people down one, generic path,” said Sarah Havens, director of community and preventive health services at Gundersen. “Our focus is on meeting the unique needs for our employees to positively impact their health and quality of life. That looks different for each individual. Personalization is the foundation of our wellness efforts.”

In addition to delivering personalized and holistic support for each employee, Gundersen states the following priorities for its wellness initiatives:

  • Encouraging appropriate utilization of healthcare services
  • Honoring and rewarding employees who take action to improve their well-being
  • Gaining a better understanding of the health needs of the workforce
From surgeons to the housekeeping staff, Gundersen has a very diverse workforce. In addition to supporting a broad spectrum of job roles, the wellness program also has to accommodate a large service area that spans multiple facilities across three different states. As a health system, Gundersen is a 24/7 operation, so wellness offerings must also accommodate multiple shifts. In total, the health system employs more than 9,500 individuals.

Emotional Resilience + Self-Care – The Right Prescription for Healthcare Workers

Emotional resilience and self-care are two major themes for Gundersen’s wellness program. This is in response to the daily demands being placed on their workforce. Gundersen has many options available for supporting both mental health and overall self-care, and the team has focused on making sure employees know they are never alone in their struggles.

“Many of our employees are making life and death decisions each day, so it’s critical that we provide resources for stress management and emotional renewal,” Havens said.

“Every employee from the kitchen to the operating room has an impact on the health of our patients and our community,” said Jessica Boland, worksite wellness consultant for Gundersen. “A challenge we have is helping all job areas realize that to really help our patients, we have to take care of ourselves as well.

Relentless Communication – Staying Top of Mind to Meet Employees Where They Are

Gundersen’s team is relentless in its approach to communication. The organization consistently promotes tidbits of information and relevant resources for employees to stumble upon as they go about their jobs.

“You can’t overcommunicate,” Havens said. “However many methods you have at your disposal, use them all. You can’t do enough in this area. We use continual reminders and nudges to always stay top of mind for our employees. Some individuals need to hear it over and over again before they take action. Some aren’t ready until they are. And you want to be top of mind when they make that decision.”

Transforming Employees into Wellness Ambassadors – Engaging the Community

Community engagement is another strategy Gundersen relies on to drive wellness participation.

“We want to help employees carry wellness back to their homes and the local community. We want them to be ambassadors of good health,” Havens said.

Gundersen addresses this goal in multiple ways. Fresh Air Fridays are events where healthy food trucks serve picnic lunches for employees and their families. The organization also offers a Couch to 5K (or half marathon) program to help individuals prepare for local races and leads an annual breast cancer walk called Stepping Out in Pink. But one of the most impactful community initiatives is a regular food drive that collects donated food from employees and delivers it to a local neighborhood school in a socio-economically disadvantaged neighborhood. More than 6,400 pounds of food has been collected from employee food drives since 2018.

“We are a giving bunch, and our employees have been clear that giving back is a priority for them,” Havens said. “They are extremely committed to our food drive efforts. Even during COVID when things were completely shut down, we were still collecting pounds and pounds and pounds of food from our employees. They really see the need. We see that in addition to doing something good for the community, we’re also improving the well-being of our employees in the process.”

Prevention First as a Staple of a Winning Wellness Strategy

In total, 70 percent of the Gundersen workforce participates in the organization’s MyHealth Reward program. More than 90 percent of participants are in compliance for preventive care. This includes securing a relationship with a primary care physician and keeping up with screenings and exams for lipids, glucose and cancer, as well as vaccinations.

“Our program places prevention first,” Havens said. “If we can help employees be wise consumers, get the right preventive care, establish a strong relationship with a PCP and appropriately use healthcare system resources, we see better overall results. Fortunately, we’ve had a lot of success in this area as an organization.”

Cultivating Supportive Environments, Policies, and Practices

While Gundersen has strong performance across WELCOA’s 7 Benchmarks, the team is especially proud of its efforts within Benchmark 6: Cultivate Supportive Health Promoting Environments, Policies, and Practices.

The organization has invested in policies, practices, and promotions to ensure its work environment helps foster well-being. Aligning a wellness culture throughout the organization has allowed the Gundersen team to maintain consistency within resources, interventions, and the experience at work.

“We have comprehensive policies for wellness, and we always make sure to create opportunities for all employees to leverage,” Boland said.

When the pandemic hit, Gundersen took the opportunity to share more information virtually and to make sure the organization was creating convenient access to necessary tools regardless of whether employees were onsite or remote. On the other hand, almost 1,000 Gundersen employees don’t use technology on a regular basis during the workday. The health system also has a process for communicating with these employees and making wellness available to them in other ways, including wellness presentations for departments where computers aren’t consistently accessed.

“A major strength of our program is that it is truly multi-modal,” Havens said. “There are onsite opportunities, virtual programs, mailers. We provide wellness tools in many shapes and sizes. It’s just another way we try to meet employees where they are in the wellness process.”

Key Learnings from the Well Workplace Process

While Gundersen has relied on a variety of tools and support from WELCOA, the team cited key learnings from its participation in the Well Workplace Awards as one of the most meaningful benefits of WELCOA Membership.

“The Well Workplace application process gave us an opportunity to look at all the best practices and benchmarks from WELCOA and determine how well we were doing,” Boland said. “We discovered what’s working and what needs improving. It is a tough application process, but also a highly meaningful use of time. We learned a lot from it, and have a stronger program because of it.”

“It was a good reminder for us,” added Havens. “If the benchmarks aren’t there, and integrated into your program, you can’t operate on all cylinders. It’s a proven process, and that’s just really the most important thing to highlight here. It works, so you just have to make sure your efforts align with it.”

A Snapshot of Gundersen’s Wellness Strategy

As a Well Workplace Award Winner, Gundersen has committed to a robust approach to workplace wellness. Specifically, the organization shines in the following areas, as discussed in this blog. These best practices have served the Gundersen team well and are applicable for any wellness professional who is working hard to design an effective program for their workforce.
  • Personalized offerings for individualized support, including what they need and how they need it
  • Community engagement to extend the impact of wellness and create a more positive workplace culture
  • A prevention-first strategy that focuses on screenings, PCP relationships, and appropriate use of healthcare resources
  • Surround sound communication efforts to stay top of mind
  • Effective use of WELCOA Well Workplace process and integration of the 7 Benchmarks

Want to learn more about Gundersen’s wellness strategy? Have a best practice or winning approach you’d like to share with the WELCOA team?