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JONI TROESTER A staff member helps launch a spectrum of wellness services to improve the health of the University.

Building a healthy workplace makes good business sense, but that’s not what drives Joni Troester.

“We look at the overall numbers, but we never lose sight of the way we impact individuals,” says Troester, director of UI Wellness. “Their success stories are just tremendous.”

In 2006, UI Human Resources introduced liveWELL, a comprehensive faculty and staff wellness initiative. The program’s foundation is an online personal health assessment. Those who show potential health risks—problems with diet, smoking, stress, and other factors—can sign up for one-on-one health coaching.

In 2007, 53 percent of eligible employees took the assessment, and more than 400 completed the coaching program. This year, the program has already surpassed its 60 percent completion goal with 63 percent of employees taking the assessment.

liveWELL marks a dramatic enhancement of the University’s wellness initiative, which Troester helped get started in 1999 with health fairs, education programs, and a wellness ambassadors project. Today she oversees other health and productivity programs, too, including family services and workers compensation.

The UI alumna studied exercise science, drawn to the prospect of improving health across populations. At the University, this includes linking programs to offer a continuum of services.

“Someone who comes through workers compensation after an on-the-job injury may benefit from health coaching, which perhaps identifies stressful family situations we can help address,” Troester says. “We want to offer seamless assistance for the whole person.”

Troester helped implement the smoke-free campus policy that took effect July 1, 2008, after a statewide ban on smoking in public places. She ensured the University could help people quit by stepping up free counseling programs and reimbursement for nicotine replacement or medication.

This spectrum of wellness services has earned national recognition. The Wellness Councils of America have designated the University a Gold Level Well Workplace, and Iowa is one of only two universities profiled in a recent wellness report from Partnership for Prevention and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

UI wellness will get a further boost in 2010, when programs that benefit students, faculty, and staff are housed together in the 215,000-square-foot Campus Recreation and Wellness Center currently under construction at Capitol and Burlington streets.

Troester and colleagues measure their success with participation rates, satisfaction surveys, and estimates of dollars saved and costs avoided. As they identify what works, they hope to expand programs like liveWELL to employees’ dependents, or to people at lower risk for major health problems.

“Our future plans are just as exciting as what we’ve managed to do so far,” she says, crediting strong support from University and HR administration.

Creating and running programs with wide-ranging impact fulfills Troester’s long-held career goals. “We’re one of the few large academic institutions to offer such comprehensive programs,” Troester says. “We know we have an exciting opportunity to support a culture of health on campus.”

Story by Lin Larson; Photo by Tim Schoon

December 15, 2008