Prior to joining ValuMarket - a family-owned chain of grocery stores in Louisville, Ky. - Amy Bisig had no experience in wellness programming. She clearly made a great impression on CEO Greg Newman, who hired her anyway to be the company's corporate wellness director.
The gamble paid off big time. Thanks to her sharp instincts toward what works in wellness, just one year into her work Bisig won a worksite wellness award from the Mayor's Healthy Hometown program in Louisville, and accepted on behalf of ValuMarket when the company was named the Healthiest Employer in Louisville. This month, she adds to her list of accolades the VSP "GetFit" Award in EBN's 2011 Benny Awards.
A caring spirit toward others and their health is a personality trait that Bisig has successfully woven into her professional life. Just a few years out of college with a degree in business, marketing and management, Bisig and her uncle opened a pediatric obesity clinic, Fit Kids, where she worked with families to create healthier lifestyles. She arranged a deal with local grocer ValuMarket: In exchange for food for her Fit Kids, she'd work on creating healthier options in the grocer's deli.
Bisig soon got a call from Newman, asking her to take her work to another level at ValuMarket. In September 2009, she started designing ValuMarket's employee wellness program in exchange for free food for her cooking classes and programs at the clinic.
Bisig dubbed her health education program "Healthy U." She started small, hosting monthly "Healthy U" sessions to raise awareness about smoking, drinking enough water and the correlation between diabetes and weight.
She ordered "Healthy U" water bottles and T-shirts, and sent out monthly newsletters to start the engagement process with challenges for employees to "drink three glasses of water a day" or "stay positive, give one compliment a day." Smokers and overweight participants weren't told they had to change immediately, or even at all, but rather were rewarded for meeting the challenges. Workers checked off if they'd completed the challenge each day and at the end of the month were rewarded with movie tickets or 10 free lunches at the deli.
In August 2010, she sat down with the executives at ValuMarket. They wanted to know what they needed to do to truly ingrain the education she'd been providing. Her answer was simple: "Bring someone on who can implement this; get to know your employees."
That same month, she became ValuMarket's corporate wellness director, spending the first few months getting to know employees better. She found it was a much different workforce than a typical office. There was the deli, where workers were constantly navigating slippery floors, standing on their feet for extended periods and working with knives, meat slicers and heavy objects. The butchers dealt with some of the same challenges; the cashiers rarely had a chance to sit; and the stockers lifted heavy objects. All workers were constantly surrounded by every kind of food, from potato chips to carrot sticks.
Soon after Bisig evaluated the wellness of workers, she started implementing new programs for all 550 employees across five branch stores, starting with a tobacco-free policy, a big change for some workers who had made smoking part of their daily breaks.
"We gave them a few months notice and then, January 2010, no smoking [was] permitted on the grounds," Bisig says. "Our push was to help them quit; we gave them access to smoking cessation programs, discounts on over-the-counter patches to help them quit." To date, she says several life-long smokers have kicked the habit.
Then, in January 2011, Bisig launched a 12-week Biggest Loser program. During the three months, ValuMarket employees cumulatively lost 1,200 pounds. ValuMarket cashier Bonnie Williams lost 40 pounds through healthier eating and a discounted gym membership that Bisig set up through ValuMarket. Well-known for going above and beyond, Bisig didn't just create the program - she accompanied Williams to the gym as well.
"I remember one day when it was just me and Amy at the gym. ... It made me feel so special, that she was taking the time to do one-on-one with me," says Williams.
The success of the program has also come from the top down. Although at first Newman was largely uninvolved with the wellness program, a couple months after the Biggest Loser challenge, Newman got a physical and was diagnosed with two life-threatening heart conditions.
"My days of disregarding the need for eating right and exercising regularly were over," Newman says. With Bisig's help and motivation from his wife, he lost 125 pounds and has only 30 lbs. to go to reach his doctor's suggested goal. His blood pressure has gone from dangerously high to normal, and his cholesterol dipped from over 200 to below 100.
Newman is now a full devotee to Bisig's wellness approach.
"If we can create an environment that encourages better health and wellness for all members of our ValuMarket family, we all win," Newman says, though he made sure to specify the importance of not mandating the wellness program for all workers. "I believe that any form of mandatory or government-sponsored insurance programs do nothing to actually change the level of health and wellness in this country and will solve nothing if we do not take an active role in changing the way we live."
Bisig's caring and commonsense approach has left an indelible mark on ValuMarket. Although she's moved on to a position at Baptist Hospital East in Louisville she brings with her those same attributes that served her well at ValuMarket, even though she lacks a degree in nutrition.
"I didn't have the nutrition credential; I was nervous. Why are people going to listen to me?" she remembers, but in time came to realize that "all of the nutrition that people need to know to develop a healthy lifestyle isn't hard. You don't have to go to school for it. What I found out was that I cared about those people so much, and they listened and trusted me because I loved them."
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