Self-care is no easy task, even for health care employees. But Four Seasons Compassion for Life is taking the initiative to transform its workplace into a healthier environment. The nonprofit palliative and hospice care organization, with several locations across Western North Carolina, has developed a wellness program called Vibrant 4 Life to help employees and volunteers maintain healthy lifestyles.
Vibrant 4 Life started in 2014, when chief executive officer Millicent Burke-Sinclair and hospice medical director Dr. Ashley Albers decided to look into what steps might help employees make healthier choices. “When I came to Four Seasons, I was passionate about health and wellness and continue to be focused on this for all of Four Seasons,” Burke-Sinclair says. “Our organization shares this vision, and many employees have partnered together to advance this purpose, including our hospice medical director Ashley Albers, as well as our volunteer and wellness coordinator Kristina Israel and many more who serve on our Vibrant 4 Life committee.”
Burke-Sinclair explains how the program’s name reflects the environment Four Seasons strives for. “Each letter in Vibrant is significant and further supports our values and purpose: Vitality, Inspiration, Balance, Rejuvenation, Nourishment and Thrive,” she says. “These wellness concepts guide us throughout the year with powerful focus and intentionality on all spectrums of wellness. Four Seasons is dedicated to supporting our employees with their own self-care.”
In addition to hospice and palliative care, Four Seasons also offers personalized supportive services for patients, including care navigation (helping patients manage and understand the various options they have for health care services); home care, which provides more security and flexibility with treatment; bereavement support, which includes music therapy and other creative outlets; and clinical research, carried out through the research and development department, founded in 2005, which has conducted over 40 studies and grant projects focusing on symptom management and quality of life.
A healthier environment
Israel cites one example of Four Seasons’ steps toward a providing a healthier environment — stocking vending machines with healthy snacks, something staff members had to adjust to. “In the very beginning, when we made that transition to healthy vending machines, there was a bit of grumbling among staff, but what’s really interesting has been to see people’s food choices slowly start to change,” she says. “In Vibrant 4 Life, we talk a lot about creating a culture of wellness, and it’s not just about, ‘We put out these initiatives, we do all this stuff, that means we have a great wellness program.’ … You want to see people actually becoming more balanced, being able to have those conversations comfortably in their workplace.” Israel adds that the ideal results are long-term changes in sedentary lifestyles.”
Other benefits from Vibrant 4 Life include discounts with local businesses, on-site fitness classes, an interactive health and wellness activity called Lunch & Learn, group wellness challenges throughout the year and participation in the Pardee Medical Wellness program, a three-month coaching program, offered by Pardee Hospital and sponsored by Four Seasons.
The importance of self-care
Israel says some employees and volunteers working in health care can sometimes neglect their own needs, forgetting that “self-care is a discipline, not indulgent. It’s a practice.”
Tiffany Blackwell, a single mom who works in the research and development department, says her two teenage daughters keep her days busy and that sometimes it becomes harder to make healthy decisions. “Fast food and convenience food had become a staple in our diets,” she admits. “I was not uneducated when it came to eating healthy and exercise; I had just become complacent.”
But she says she has seen long-term changes in herself thanks to the Pardee Medical Wellness program. “Doing this with my co-workers was great because we all could support each other,” Blackwell says. “I am so thankful to Four Seasons for the opportunity to be a part of this program. For me, it was the perfect catalyst for a lifestyle change.”
Blackwell says she has changed her habits, eating breakfast every day and never drinking soda, and has been able to lose 20 pounds. Her daughters have jumped on board with her healthy choices, she adds.
Burke-Sinclair notes that a high level of self-care is important for Four Seasons to facilitate. “In order for us to create the best care possible for all of the patients and families we serve, it is imperative that all of our staff are well,” she says. “Self-care is directly correlated to performance and therefore incredibly important for all of us.”
Israel echoes this sentiment by pointing out that healthy employees make the organization more efficient. “They add value back into the organization because they’re taking charge of their health and their well-being,” she notes. “They’re more productive; studies are very, very clear on this. When people are well, they do better in their life. They’re better parents, they’re better people, and they’re definitely better employees. They’re more engaged, they’re happier at their job, and what that translates to is better outcomes for our patients’ families, because people really want to be here, which means it’s a better place to work.”
Israel notes that wellness initiatives also improve employee retention and that by integrating these initiatives into Four Seasons’ messaging “hopefully the result over time is that we create a magnet culture,” she says. “People are naturally going to be attracted to come and work here that care about things like that.”
Israel says Vibrant 4 Life makes sense as a way of creating a healthier environment for everyone involved — employees, volunteers and patients. “We all spend the majority of our adult lives at work,” she says. “That’s why it makes sense to integrate these things into your culture as an employer because you can really help people.”