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Q&A with 2016 Silver WorkWell MA Award Winner, Cambridge Health Alliance

Posted By Melissa Matheson, Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Cambridge Health Alliance WorkWell Massachusetts Award Winner Q&A
Interviewee: Carolyn Ballard, Wellness Manager

Tell us about yourself and your organization. 
Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) is a vibrant, innovative health system dedicated to providing essential services to all members of the community. With over 140,000 patients in Cambridge, Somerville, and Boston’s Metro North region, CHA is a local provider of choice for primary care, specialty care, emergency services, hospital care, maternity care and behavioral health. We are made up of more than 4,000 employees, all of whom are eligible to participate in the Wellness Program.

I have been with CHA since July of 2015. My background is in psychology and nutrition and I am a Registered Dietitian, so I have the ability to create much of our nutrition programming myself. My main responsibilities include project management, program development, marketing and communications, and outreach. I also manage our onsite yoga classes with the help of a part-time yoga program coordinator. 

Congratulations on being a WWCMA WorkWell Massachusetts awardee. What does this mean for team/you? 

We view an award from WWCMA as a message that we have developed an exemplary and comprehensive program. Because the WorkWell awards are based on both the HERO Scorecard and peer review, we feel that this award is especially meaningful.

Why are wellness programs important for your organization?

Having a wellness program is important for us as a healthcare system because we employ some of the most deeply passionate caretakers. We know from research that caretakers tend to neglect their own well-being in their drive to serve others, which is why we emphasize Self-Care as one of our four pillars of wellness at CHA. In addition, one of our strategic plan objectives is to be a great place to work, which we feel cannot be accomplished without a robust employee wellness program. Lastly, we see wellness as a pathway to employee engagement. While many organizations look to ROI as the primary measure of success, we prioritize measures of engagement when evaluating the impact of our program.

What wellness program(s) have you implemented? Any new initiatives planned?
The programs that we have implemented can be divided into four distinct categories, coinciding with our four pillars of wellness:


  • Key message: “Make time for you”
  • Offerings: Mindfulness courses, Ditch the Diet Club (video-based program promoting the principles of intuitive eating over strict dieting), tobacco cessation program, financial education seminars, depression and mental illness awareness


  • Key message: “Rest and recharge”
  • Offerings: Onsite yoga classes, onsite chair massage, sleep education


  • Key message: “Find what moves you”
  • Offerings: Annual walking challenge, bikeshare and gym discounts 


  • Key message: “One size fits none”
  • Maintain Don’t Gain (holiday weight maintenance challenge), healthy vending options, pickup location for Farmer Dave’s CSA

In addition, we also use our weekly Wellness Wednesday Newsletter to spread the word about upcoming events, programs, and healthy tips. We are planning a recognition program for 2017 which will allow employees to be acknowledged for engaging in healthy habits at work. Next year is also when we plan to roll out incentives tied to our health plan.

What impact is/are they having on your organization and employees? 
Through our program evaluations we have learned that:

  • Walking challenge participants had more motivation to be physically active after our annual walking challenge, and they also reported feeling more connected to their coworkers as compared to the start of the program. Both results were statistically significant.
  • One in three Maintain Don’t Gain participants actually lost weight over the holiday season, while another 63% successfully maintained their weight.
  • A 2016 field assessment revealed that 93% of employees are aware of the wellness program, which tells us that the potential impact of the program is significant. 
  • We have demonstrated an 80% retention rate in our programs.
  • Employee engagement surveys revealed that “wellness” was used in an open-ended question about what CHA is doing well. Wellness was also mentioned in another open-ended question that asked about what recognition programs are offered at the organization.

Are there aspects of your wellness program that make it unique that you would like to share? 

Our program reflects the inclusive nature of our organization. We respect and appreciate diversity at CHA, and the Wellness program is no exception. We feature recipes from many parts of the world, including Brazil, Haiti, Portugal, and Latin America. In addition, we custom build nearly all of our programs to ensure their appeal. Finally, we have developed a logic model as the basis for measuring the effectiveness of our program. The logic model informs our individual program evaluations, which are developed to assess outcomes, satisfaction, and process measures. 

Who are your wellness champions? (CEO, division leader, HR leader, an employee, etc) 
We have two senior leaders on the Wellness team and three levels of champions. Joy Curtis, SVP of Human Resources and Chief HR Officer, and David Porell, Chief Administrative Officer, are the two senior leaders on the Wellness team. 

Additional executives/senior leaders make up our Executive Steering Committee (18 members including CEO), while mid-level managers and directors from various departments comprise our Wellness Advisory Committee (17 members). Finally, at the employee level we have over 40 Wellness Ambassadors across 11 sites.

Any words of wisdom for organizations starting a new program? 

Begin with the end in mind. Before creating a single program, policy, or initiative, a clear end goal should be established. From there, comprehensive information gathering should take place – including employee surveys, focus groups, and analysis of claims data. Organizations looking to start a new program should plan to spend a minimum of 6-12 months in the planning stages. This can be difficult, especially when leaders are enthusiastic about beginning, but it is crucial to ensuring the success and longevity of the program.


Tags:  Cambridge Health Alliance  CHA  Wellness champions  wellness programs  Worksite Wellness  Worksite Wellness Programs  Workwell Massachusetts  workwell massachusetts awards 

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The Worksite Wellness Council of Massachusetts (WWCMA) is the preeminent, independent and objective resource for health promotion in the workplace and champions wellness programs to help employers encourage healthy employees, healthy families, and healthy communities across the Commonwealth.