Diocese celebrates 10 years of wellness

This year, the Diocese of Palm Beach celebrates 10 years of employee wellness through its efforts to provide diocesan employees with opportunities to achieve and maintain better health and well-being. For three straight years (2017 – 2019) the diocese’s Step Into Wellness program has been honored at the Annual Healthiest Employer Awards Luncheon by the Florida Business Journal and Florida Blue. It was recognized on May 30 as one of Southeast Florida’s Healthiest Employers for implementing a successful workplace wellness program to improve the health and well-being of its employees. 

The wellness program incorporates a variety of education and activities that help employees engage in healthy behaviors, such as awareness of personal health, increasing physical activity, stress reduction, healthy nutrition and financial wellness.

Through the support of the Health Trust Board chaired by Fr. Charles Notabartolo, vicar general for the Diocese of Palm Beach, the diocese’s vision of a wellness program became reality. When asked what he feels has been some of the most important contributions of the wellness program for the diocesan employees, Fr. Notabartolo replied, “Several employees were made aware of health conditions that could have seriously affected their health. Due to our wellness program, they were able to correct those issues to stay healthy, thus saving money for the diocese in the long run. The benefits and returns reaped by the wellness program more than offset the cost of the program.”

Many of the activities have also been fun for diocesan employees, such as the walking challenge competition, and the different “lunch and learn” programs dealing with stress management, nutrition and fitness. Father Notabartolo continued, “I was pleasantly surprised that our employees were quick to embrace it and enjoy the positive benefits associated with having a program such as this. A positive attitude makes a huge difference in dealing with one’s own health. I look forward to this program helping our employees stay healthier for many years to come.”

The Health Trust Board created the role of a wellness coordinator to manage all aspects of the program, which included scheduling the biometric screening events, overseeing the growth and expansion of the program through education, information sharing and soliciting input from employees in order to enhance employee engagement. 

One of the first efforts to incorporate employee involvement was to promote a contest to name the wellness program. The winning submission came from an employee at St. Clare Catholic School titled “Step Into Wellness,” which became the program’s official name in 2010.

A key factor in the continuing success of the program was establishing “co-captains” at each diocesan school and parish. The co-captains disseminate information provided by the wellness coordinator and act as “go-to” people at each location. This enables effective communication with employees throughout all five counties of the diocese. The co-captains also promote well-being and help employees get and stay engaged in activities and challenges.

Since the inception of the Step Into Wellness program, the biometric screenings conducted at the Annual Health, Wellness and Safety Expos have grown substantially. Currently, there are six major expos that take place each year beginning in July and run through the fall. The expos occur at different sites from Boca Raton to Vero Beach, providing greater outreach for employees throughout the diocese’s five counties a chance to attend. Employee participation has continually increased year after year. In 2018 alone, 600 employees participated in the health assessment and biometric screenings.

With the growth of the program, relationships and networking have been established with many local hospitals, health care and health and fitness providers in the specific regional areas where the expos are held. Through the building of those relationships, other screenings offered to employees may include onsite bone density screening, vision and retinal screenings, posture and balance screenings, and more. Mobile mammogram screenings are offered at some locations as well, making it convenient for employees to access preventative screenings. These services are provided at no cost to the employees attending the Health, Wellness and Safety Expos.

A significant benefit of providing the annual screenings is to help employees identify potential health conditions in the early stages that they may not have been diagnosed with previously. This enables employees to take this information to their primary physicians in order to keep those conditions from becoming critical. During the onsite screening, one-on-one health coaching is provided to each employee.

Additionally, these resources can assist employees by helping them manage a condition that may have previously been diagnosed or treated for through the Next Steps Program and Care Consultants through Florida Blue.

Not only has the Step Into Wellness program built a network with local health care providers, it has also collaborated with other entities within the diocese by including Our Lady Queen of Peace Cemetery, which provides information about the pre-arrangement benefits available to employees and staff.

In addition, Catholic Charities Palm Beach has been included in the annual Health, Wellness and Safety Expos as a way to promote available programs such as their counseling services and 5k Glow Run.

Through education and information distribution, employees are showing positive healthcare decision-making. Key areas encompass preventive screening compliance and selecting appropriate places of care such as urgent care use versus the emergency room.  This is not only a cost-savings benefit for the employee, but for the diocese itself as a self-insured employer.     

Feedback from both employees and exhibitors has been overwhelming positive, calling the annual health expos well organized, informative, fun and appreciated.

Vito Gendusa, chief financial officer for the Diocese of Palm Beach and Health Trust Board member, said, “I have now attended three Health and Wellness Expos. It felt like I was at a conference with all the various vendors on hand. From a personal standpoint, a year ago my cholesterol had risen quite a bit after not having exercised in a while. It prompted me to start exercising regularly and I was quite happy to see my cholesterol go down significantly this year. Not only do you receive your important numbers like cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, etc., but you are able to ask questions of the vendors. I think this is a great benefit that we, as a diocese, provide to our employees. This is also a convenient and a proactive way to help keep down the medical costs of the health plan.  I’m looking forward to the program’s continued growth and success.”

Other initiatives that fall under the auspices of the wellness program are the coordination of onsite influenza vaccinations at various schools and parishes and a monthly wellness newsletter. Employees also have access to the wellness webpage which connects them to online resources like webinars on topics such as weight management, skin health, how to use a food label and heart healthy living.

Gary Gelo, Superintendent of Schools says, “It's been a pleasure for our schools to host many of the wellness fairs and expos over the last several years.  These outstanding events provide our teachers, staff and diocesan employees with opportunities for health screenings and increased awareness of the wonderful possibilities within our community that help individuals maintain a healthy lifestyle.”

“Ultimately, the goal of the Step Into Wellness Program is to help employees become more engaged in their health and well-being for an improved quality of life. We aim to do this through the physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental aspects of wellness. The program presents employees with the tools and resources that promote healthy behavioral change. As the wellness coordinator, I hope that the efforts of the Diocese of Palm Beach may inspire other entities to make health and wellness a priority in the workplace”. -Carol Waring, diocesan wellness coordinator


By Carol Waring, diocesan wellness coordinator