By Mark Rountree
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Since becoming first cowgirl in 2008, Ann Hargis has made it her mission to improve wellness at Oklahoma State University.
The wife of OSU President Burns Hargis has been one of the driving forces behind the America’s Heathiest Campus initiative.
“We have made great strides in the areas of physical activity and nutrition, and I am excited about expanding our offerings in the area of emotional well-being,” Hargis said. “It is so important to maintain a balance in life, and I love this campus for all it has to offer. The president and I believe being healthier means being more fulfilled, and we look forward to continuing the journey of becoming America’s healthiest campus.”
Hargis not only talks the talk, but walks the walk. She is a certified yoga instructor and has taught classes on campus, participated in Wellness Walks, regularly attends healthy cooking demonstrations, promotes bike safety and champions the Tobacco Stops Here campaign.
Last October, she made a presentation at the TEDxOStateU program and led the audience at the Seretean Center for Performing Arts in group stretching exercises.
“She doesn’t just talk about wellness but lives it through her healthy lifestyle,” said Carrie Hulsey-Greene, associate director of communications.
“President Hargis and Mrs. Hargis are so supportive of having an environment of wellness,” said Mary Talley, wellness program manager at OSU.
OSU recognized 41 departments across campus in April that earned Certified Healthy Department status, an increase of 14 from the previous year. Each of the departments were issued a Certified Healthy Department logo to use on all of the department’s communications.
“It is my honor to recognize the 2013 Certified Healthy Departments,” Hargis said. “A special thank you to each of these departments for promoting a culture of wellness for faculty, staff and students. We commend these departments for their efforts and leadership as we strive to be America’s healthiest campus.”
The program, launched in 2011, encourages employees to complete health screenings and gives staff the option of flexible work schedules to allow them to participate in health-related programs such as weight loss events or smoking cessation classes.
The departments also are encouraged to promote and make available mental health and stress management programs.
“We know that healthy employees are more productive,” Talley said. “They take less sick leave, they make fewer insurance claims. So part of it is about the well-being of the employee and making them healthier and happier. The other end of it is that we all know about rising insurance costs. It helps the university save money. So it’s a win-win situation.”
The success of the wellness programs at OSU was used as a model for a similar program enacted this spring for city of Stillwater employees and staff. The employee plan includes the purchase of fitness equipment and renovations to a building to provide a fitness center for employees and their spouses. The program includes health screenings, health risk assessments, a year-around health education program, a walking program and incentives for completing wellness activities.
OSU has seen improvements in health risk factors such as nutritional balance, mental health, stress management, risk behavior and physical activity since it launched the America’s Healthiest Campus initiative, according to university spokesman Gary Shutt.
Shutt said the wellness initiatives have reduced medical claim costs, which was passed on to OSU employees through a 3 percent reduction in health care premium costs this year.
The Seretean Wellness Center and Colvin Recreation Center have seen the number of unique visitors triple since the facilities were added to the employee benefit package. Unique visitors went from 751 in 2010-11 to 2,338 in 2011-12.
Talley said the university is creating a culture of wellness.
“If students see that it’s normal to see their English instructor in an exercise class, it gets instilled in students that wellness is a way of life,” Talley said. “And we believe that when students leave school, if they have learned how to take care of themselves while they were in school, those students will be a more attractive potential employee out in the real world because that student will be a more productive employee.”
Talley said more than one-half of OSU’s benefit-eligible employees took part in some sort of wellness program last year.