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Dawn Rodriguez, RN, BSN, Director of the Medical and Surgical Weight Loss Program at Valley Baptist Medical Center, says there are many things Valley residents can do to eat healthier at gatherings during the new year. HARLINGEN –   As we continue to move into the new year, it’s important to be mindful of tips for healthier eating during upcoming parties and gatherings – such as getting together for birthdays, or at family and friends’ homes for football playoff games and eventually on Super Bowl Sunday. When Miami Childrena€™s Hospital human resources specialist Margaret Gibson heard her employer was starting a wellness initiative last year, she jumped to apply.
Nicole Perez, a 31-year-old claims specialist at Baptist Hospital, lost 100 pounds over 10 months in Baptista€™s employee fitness and nutrition program.
Sergio Gomez, a 34-year-old IT specialist with Miami Childrena€™s Hospital, lost 60 pounds after participating in the hospitala€™s employee fitness and nutrition program.
Sergio Gomez, a 34-year-old IT specialist with Miami Childrena€™s Hospital, was 60 pounds overweight before participating in the hospitala€™s employee fitness and nutrition program.
Margaret Gibson, an employee at Miami Childrena€™s Hospital, lost 95 pounds over eight months in the hospitala€™s new Lose to Win program. From left to right: Aileen Rodriguez, Sergio Gomez, Porfirio Ramirez, Cindy Ayala, Helen Rabionet, Marisol Calero, Laura Cerpa, Monica Gutierrez and Margaret Gibson. I had been feeling sluggish throughout the day and my feet became swollen from time to time. I teamed up with Linda Avery, FNP, and later Linda Vance, FNP, at Health Works Health Center.
Gibson, a former high school gymnast, had become so obese that she could no longer walk the mall, and her blood sugar was sky high. Gibson, a former high school gymnast, had become so obese that she could no longer walk the mall, and her blood sugar was sky high.a€?I was turning 50 and I was very overweight, and I wanted to change my life,a€? said Gibson.
I had been told that my blood sugars were in the pre-diabetic range, and my biometric screening confirmed that what I had been feeling were symptoms of being pre-diabetic.
We also discussed exercise and they helped me set realistic goals for weight-loss and the things to avoid to keep my blood pressure under control. She changed her diet, cut out carbohydrates completely, worked out with a personal trainer two days a week and by herself once a week, and met with a dietician weekly. Ia€™ve lost weight, reduced blood pressure medication, and best of all, my blood sugars are consistently in normal range!
Eight months later, Gibson has lost 95 pounds and no longer needs medication to control her blood sugar or cholesterol.

I go to the fitness center three or four times per week, I go on walks during my break, I watch my carbs, and I drink more water. Not only can she now walk the mall, but Gibson plans to compete in her first 5K walk next week at the hospital. And, the changes have motivated her husband to take control of his health.a€?I cana€™t believe this transformation,a€? said Gibson.
While corporate America in general is taking small steps to promote employee wellness a€”such as providing gym discounts or smoking-cessation workshops a€” hospitals, conscious of their mission to promote health, are realizing they cannot overlook their own employeesa€™ health.a€?A lot of times people go to the doctorsa€™ office and theya€™re intimidated,a€? said Dr.
Anthony Musto, an exercise physiologist at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Ita€™s almost like a Head Start program.a€? At the University of Miami, where 10,000 employees work at various medical campuses, the school has launched a supervised exercise program for moderate- to high-risk individuals.
The university also offers a more basic walking program called Walking Canes, a 12-week program in which employees are provided with pedometers. This year, 700 employees participated.As with most programs, though, UM has found that success is hard to maintain after a program has ended.
For that reason, UM tries to reinforce the wellness mission with signs throughout the campus saying a€?Take the stairsa€? and by reminding employees of the 1.5-mile walking trail that snakes around the campus. Miami Childrena€™s Hospital decided to take an aggressive approach to employee fitness and weight loss after Janet Lara-Vital, director of the Total Rewards and Wellness Program, noticed that employees would work out at the gym but never seemed to lose weight a€” and even, occasionally, got heavier.
Lara-Vital presented a proposal to hospital management for a program that would teach employees about nutrition, fitness and wellness. Employees are screened by a committee before they are accepted into the program, and have to agree to pay penalties of hundreds of dollars if they drop out.a€?They have to understand this involves a major lifestyle commitment,a€? said Lara-Vital. Employees ranged in age from late 20s to 70s, and included secretaries and nursing managers. Sergio Gomez, a 34-year-old information technology specialist who enrolled in the program, was 60 pounds overweight. I definitely needed to do something for myself.a€? Gomez, who never ate vegetables or salads previously, sampled various healthy dishes at a€?lunch and learna€? programs at the hospital.
He also learned about healthy portions and the ratio of meat to vegetable to starch that he should adopt in his meals.Weekends were the hardest for Gomez, but being able to email his dietician on the spot and ask for advice helped enormously, he said. Gomez, a married father of a 3-year-old and a 4-year-old, now runs three miles twice a week and is preparing for his first 5K run.

Ita€™s like I found a hobby.a€?To encourage all of its employees, Miami Childrena€™s Hospital has partnered with a farmers market to bring its foods to the hospital once a week. What started out small in the hospital courtyard has blossomed into a hugely popular event. To make it easier to shop, employees are offered the option of paying for their items through payroll deductions. Mount Sinai Medical Center also offers a variety of health and fitness programs for employees, from on-site Zumba and CrossFit classes to on-site Weight Watchers meetings to lunch-and-learn sessions with free salad bar presentations. Additionally, the hospital became a tobacco-free campus in 2013, and decided not to hire new applicants who use tobacco products (they are screened for by blowing into an instrument that detects tobacco).
The Miami Beach hospital also reduced insurance premiums for nonsmoking employees and those who exhibit improved biometric goals, offers employees biweekly deliveries of organic fruits and vegetables and free range eggs, and has hired an on-site health coach to meet with employees on a one-to-one basis. Refusing to hire overweight employees or reducing insurance premiums for those who lose weight is not an option at this point, however, Mount Sinai CEO Steve Sonenreich said. The idea is to provide carrots, to incentivize people by offering a lower insurance premium [for nonsmokers]. We need to encourage people to eat properly and exercise.a€? And while Mount Sinai does not have an on-site gym, it does sit on 55 acres of waterfront land, so there are walking programs galore for the hospitala€™s 3,700 employees.
Called My Unlimited Potential, it is an intensive, one-year program designed for small groups and individual support.Participants are assigned a nurse practitioner, an employee-wellness educator, an exercise physiologist and a registered dietician, who all travel to the employeesa€™ workplace to make it more convenient for them. They receive extensive health testing at the start of the program, which runs for 12 weeks, six months or 12 months. Employees with at least two modifiable health-risk factors are eligible, but must commit to the intensive program. The first 12 weeks include three-day-a-week workouts, weekly nurse visits, a group grocery tour and a one-hour nutrition information session. The dietician follows up with them for one year.At the 12-week and one-year mark, participants attend a dinner with their fellow participants to share their stories. Her children are eating healthier, too.a€?Ia€™ve learned so much in these 10 months,a€? she said.

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