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1,000 Sarasota Memorial Health Care System employees trekked across South America, completed 15 circles around the Earth, and hiked from the North Pole to the South Pole an astonishing 30 times. They accomplished these incredible feats virtually, as a group, with the support of funds allocated toward employee wellness from the Healthcare Foundation.

In December 2016, The Foundation awarded a $180,000 wellness program grant to the SMH Clinical Research Center purely for the benefit of employee healthcare. The grant covered the cost of Fitbit wearable technology bands for 1,000 SMH employees who signed up for the program. This included the cost of meal-logging software, customer and technology support, and guidance from a part-time nutritionist. The American Heart Association advises people to take 10,000 steps a day. The Fitbit grant aimed to help employees have an awareness of their activity levels and not only reach that goal, but maintain it as a consistent lifestyle.

Studies have proven that employee wellness programs can improve employee retention and institutional savings, as well as decreasing absenteeism, but the program was meant to do much more than benefit the corporation, it was intended to better the health of its staff for the sake of improving health across our region.

"What I can very confidently say about this program," said Allison Lauderdale, Grant Research Coordinator for SMH in charge of organizing the program, " is that the staff felt so honored that their employer was investing in them and investing in their health. We, as healthcare workers, historically take care of other people and this was a chance for us to take care of ourselves."

To launch the program, Allison sent an email to the hospital staff encouraging employees to sign up for the Fitbit and a 5K walk. "It was motivation for our staff an opportunity to have camaraderie and to participate in unit-based challenges. It created that friendly competition and engagement with peers," she said. Once the program was in place, she would create activity-based challenges within each unit, with each group competing for the top of the leaderboard.

Debbie Musselman, an HRIS Data Specialist for SMH and a Fitbit recipient who has lost 30 pounds since signing up for the wellness program, credits SMH and the Healthcare Foundation for the change in her lifestyle. "When I received the Fitbit, I thought I didn't just want it just to have it," she said, "I wanted it to make a difference in my life. It gave me the incentive to be a better person."

The Fitbit program is just one example of how the Foundation utilizes donations to work together with SMH to create catalysts for for health, wellness and lifestyle changes for the community. "It's our civic duty," says Debbie, referring to why philanthropy is so important. "We need to help each other."

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