NHBR's Health Innovator Award: Nancy Puglisi, University System of New Hampshire

Nancy Puglisi doesn’t hesitate to say she has the best job in the world, in part because 28 years ago she created the position she holds at the University System of New Hampshire — to help employees live healthier lives. Puglisi is director of organizational wellness for the 4,000-plus-employee, multi-campus USNH. Over the years, USNH has been a major force in working with its employees and families on wellness programs, such as the recent and increasingly popular Healthy Returns initiative. For their innovative and sustained efforts, USNH and Puglisi have been recognized by Harvard Pilgrim Health Care of New England and NHBR with a Health Innovator Award.

Puglisi says it’s an honor to be recognized, but it really reflects the combined efforts of dedicated workers across the multi-campus system, employees determined to change their lives and a successful collaboration with Harvard Pilgrim.

Q. What’s the focus of Healthy Returns?

A. We started in 2007 after we began working with Harvard Pilgrim. Participants go through a screening process to check their blood pressure, body mass index, cholesterol, glucose, and whether they smoke. They sit down with a coach, have those numbers analyzed, and then we put programs in place to help them reach goals.

The goal is to develop lifestyle and behavioral changes, and one of the keys to success we believe is a hybrid coaching model. Participants can meet twice a year with their coach but also have an 800 number to Harvard Pilgrim to get a trained coach on the phone when they need it.

It’s also a program that doesn’t cost the participants anything but their effort — in fact we’ve also introduced a rewards program with gift cards of $25 and $50 for keeping with the program.

Q. How successful has Healthy Returns been?

A. We’ve been very happy with what we’ve accomplished so far, but we want to do more. We had 355 participants in 2007, and that number grew to 1,037 in 2009. I’d like to double those numbers in the next year by building on this success and getting more people involved because they’ve heard it work in helping them support their lifestyle changes.

 Q. How important are education and communications?

A. Education is vital. Our key concepts are value, choice and engagement — in helping people understand where they are. With a Health Risk Assessment, we ask people “What are your barriers to being well?”People may not be ready to make a lifestyle change, but when they sat down and had a conversation with a coach and learned about what they could do to help themselves, it makes all the difference.

Our marketing and communications outreach has been instrumental in giving people a lot of information and stories about how people have changed their lives. If we can’t get people in the door we can’t help them change behaviors. Q. What is the feedback from employees who take part?

A. Many realize they needed to change their behavior. I talked to a participant recently who told me he was on the path to being a diabetic but had made changes and lost a lot of weight — I almost didn’t recognize him.

In the fall of 2009, participants lost a total of 700 pounds of weight and here is one example about what happens when changes are made. One of our participants who lost a lot of weight attracted attention when she started walking regularly in her neighborhood. She told me, “You’re not gonna believe that my neighbors said, ‘We watched you walk and melt away (pounds). Now the whole neighborhood is walking.’” Talk about a ripple effect.

NHBR’s Health Innovator Awards Program is presented in partnership with Harvard Pilgrim.


Categories: Health Innovator Awards