Within The University of New Mexico Human Resources department, there’s a small office making a big difference in the lives of nearly 10,000 UNM staff, faculty and retirees. It’s called Employee Health Promotion (EHP) and its mission is to make the University a better place for those who work here.
EHP was started in the early 1980s by a UNM internal medicine doctor as a way to encourage a culture of wellness on campus and help employees lead healthier lives. In 2008, EHP transitioned to become part of Human Resources and is now run by a team of four health educators with specialties in nutrition, wellness, personal fitness and health education. It’s a small team with a lot of passion for making UNM a great place to work.
“We run programs all across the University to employ people to move more, be better and reduce their stress,” said EHP Supervisor Tracey Briggs. “Investing in employee wellness is always imperative. With medical costs rising, it is our mandate to try and mitigate that increase but, for our team, it’s truly about helping our fellow employees live healthier lives.”
Briggs, who is a certified personal trainer and wellness coach, says her department tries to impact just about every employee on campus in one way or another. In fact, you may have been influenced by EHP without even knowing it. Ever chosen a Fit Pick Healthy item from a UNM Vending Machine? Or taken part in the Stadium Step Challenge? What about getting an onsite preventative health checkup on campus? All of those programs, and many more, are part of the slew of initiatives EHP offers.
Reed Vawter is a health education consultant and registered dietitian who works on several environmental and education initiatives, like the Lifesteps Weight Management Program. Vawter says it fills up within days of being announced, making it one of the most popular education programs EHP offers.
Lifesteps is a three-month program comprised of both group class sessions and one-on-one coaching with a Lifesteps leader. Vawter says it’s a great program for people who want to make a lifestyle change that will help them lose weight and eat healthier.
“It’s amazing to work with people who want to change their lives,” he said. “To hear someone say, ‘I can bend over and tie my shoes now’ or ‘I can go up a flight of stairs now.’ It’s very satisfying for us to see that change but it’s even more so for the people that are doing it.”
EHP also works on different environmental initiatives that can be found across campus. One of the most used, according to Health Education Consultant Lauren Lewis, are UNM’s Lobo Trails – a series of clearly marked walking paths on and around main campus and the branch campuses that give employees an easy path to follow for mid-day walks.
Lewis, along with her fellow EHP health educators, work directly with different offices around campus, showing employees how to utilize the Lobo Trails and introducing them to easy and quick stretches they can do at their desks throughout the day. Lewis says it’s really a chance to change people’s ideas of what getting exercise means.
“We want to get people out of the mindset that they need an hour to dedicate to fitness or nothing at all,” she said. “You can get little bits of activity in throughout your day through stretch breaks and short walks. Everybody has the time to do little things. Whether it’s in the gym or it’s at your desk doing simple exercises.”
Want a Health Educator to come to your office? Contact EHP
Along with the individual and departmental initiatives, EHP also organizes large scale, University-wide wellness challenges for the greater campus community to take part in. The recent Healthy U Step Challenge is one of those initiatives that tracked UNM employees over six weeks, tallying more than 82-million steps taken.
Earlier in 2016, Health Educator Vanessa Roybal created the Stadium Stair Challenge where dozens of employees participated in the inaugural event at University Stadium. The challenge incorporated a nutrition course, taught by Vawter, fitness training, taught by Lewis, as well as the stair climb event, organized by Roybal, where participants went up and down hundreds of steps at their own pace. Roybal says the event was hugely successful with participants expressing interest in having similar challenges throughout the year.
“We really try and bring the UNM community together,” she said. “That’s my favorite thing about these UNM-wide initiatives – we help people lead healthier lives but we also build community across campus.”
And it’s that message about building community and connection around wellness programming that really is at the heart of what Employee Health Promotion tries to do. The health educators say that while their mission is to make the campus community healthier, they also want to make it a happier place by providing tools and activities to positively influence the lives of not just UNM employees, but the entire campus.
“The biggest thing about EHP, for me, is to let people know that we are here for them,” said Briggs. “We’re not just going to take your body fat percentage and send you on your way with an unachievable goal. We’re here to work with anyone, wherever they’re at in their wellness journey, because we want to see them improve their lives.”
To learn more about the dozens of programs and initiatives, visit EHP.