Since our inception back in 1972 Living Well Disability Services has been heavily committed to the wellness of the people we serve. It was one of many reasons the founders wanted to find a better way to care for their children living with disabilities. From the start we wanted to create opportunities for community outings, inclusion, and healthy lifestyles—so that the people who called Living Well home or used our services could fully live their lives and thrive.
Karen Pate, one of the founders who you may remember from our 2022 Gala Video, loves gardens and fresh air and knew it was important to get people outside and to encourage relationships with nature. With the devotion of a thousand mothers, Karen and Jean Larson, who met while both were working at the Institute on Community Integration, created a garden program. In the past 30 years, the amount of time from our first co-op garden until now, that level of devotion has found its way into all corners of the Living Well mission of transforming the lives of people impacted by disabilities through the delivery of exceptional services. And our vision statement was updated last year to reflect that as well, with the addition of staff wellness—”when all people impacted by disabilities and our employees live well.”
Back in August of 2014 Living Well rebranded from Dakota Communities to Living Well Disability Services to better state our purpose while showcasing our desire to bring wellness to all. It was our goal to really find out how people with significant needs and disabilities not just live but live well. We really dove into physical health and wellness initiatives, instituted nutrition programs, established a tobacco free workplace, and evaluated the implementation of our menu systems to learn if people could reduce medications with improved nutrition.
We also established a Wellness Committee. Comprised of staff at all levels, the goal was to find ways to engage employees and help them to lean into health and wellness for themselves in addition to those they serve. Regional Director, Josie Jeffery, who has been with Living Well for 15 years and is a member of the committee, says, “Caregiving can be depleting, so you have to figure out how to fill your own cup.” Josie adds that being on the wellness committee has given her the opportunity to support employees with mental and emotional wellness, which is a joy because it is important to her to encourage whole-person wellness. She says, “Finding the ability to release yourself from daily stress is important.” Josie said when she came to Living Well over a decade ago, she immediately realized that as a nonprofit the organization had the same values she did, which is how she knew she was home and found her career. And she really loved that when we rebranded that we had a wellness focus.
After a few years of doing the work as a committee—without resources beyond personal experience and Google—Living Well started working with HealthSource Solutions in 2021. The partnership has been a turning point as they have seemingly endless resources and a team that is committed to helping us spread the word about wellness and why it is important. HealthSource Solutions has the infrastructure in place to help and they keep people on task, provide notes and action items, help with goal and programming setting for the year, and provide health and wellness information and programs. A big part of what makes their services helpful is they share health awareness materials that are easy to read and devour. There are monthly topics, chosen in tandem with the committee and tailored to the needs of our staff, and a newsletter which is a one pager with educational content geared to the topic of the month.
Volunteer Manager and committee member, Kathy Anderson, enthusiastically says, “What I like about this program is that it is so turnkey. We do not have to reinvent the wheel or start from scratch. They help us with materials, and tracking and concepts.” Like Josie, Kathy has always appreciated wellness and inherently understood its importance. Kathy says, “I have always believed that it is more than just the training in the specific skills that matters to employees. It is the bigger picture of being part of the mission.” Adding, “To do my best I need to be healthy.” She believes we must be in a good place in order to be supportive of people. In her 30 years with the company, and two years on the wellness committee, Kathy has seen lots of things rolled out to boost wellness, and says with obvious enthusiasm, “HealthSource Solutions blows it out of the water.” Kathy also loves that the committee doesn’t have to be experts or to create content. And points out that their team is amazing at tailoring programs to what we need, and finding what fits our unique situation with 36 residential locations with 24/7 staffing, as well as our customized services team and office staff.
HealthSource Solutions is based out of Plymouth, Minnesota, and was referred to us by our health insurance broker. This small woman owned business started as part of a local health system back in 1979, then in 2009 became under private ownership. The main goals of partnering with a group like them is to promote healthy behavior and create a culture of wellbeing at the workplace. Physical environment support like onsite yoga and healthy snacks in the homes are one way to see the things encouraged in action. But they also look at behavior to get people interested in their health and how it affects mindset, and physical and mental health. Studies show that higher engaged employees are more present, that they show up at work regularly, are more engaged, and express more interest in creating social opportunities and making friendships while at work. So, it’s a win-win, as productivity can rise at the same time health insurance providers are able to work at keeping chronic conditions at bay.
Courtney Conkel has been with HealthSource Solutions since 2016 and is the program manager for our account. She says, “I think this kind of programming is essential because we all spend so much of our day at work. To promote healthy habits and behaviors in a place where we spend so much of our day is an easier way to get people interested.” She points out that it can take time to increase interest, and sometimes action can be as small as having an employee make a doctor’s appointment for a physical after reading about family history and its implications on our health (February’s topic) or more intense like signing up for a challenge contest. When we did ‘Move To It’ last March there was a punch card that required 10 minutes of physical activity daily over three months. This had higher buy in as it had people served included to be inclusive, offering even more excitement. There was great feedback from participants, and we will likely employ something similar again soon.
When asked how she ended up in the business of health, Courtney says, “I was not drawn to the industry at first. Once I got here, I learned more about the WHY and adapted things to my own life. I love the philosophy of small changes having a huge impact on my health.” She says the small habits she has taken on have made her more aware of her physical, mental, and financial health. Courtney explains, “It does not happen overnight, it took years to get here.” She is now a passionate advocate for work life balance and all that is required to help people feel seen and heard at work while also in control of their bodies, minds, and spirits. It is obvious their whole team is invested in the work and rooting for our staff to thrive.
Seems taking a whole person approach has been a part of the way we do “business” since we opened our first home in 1972. We are so grateful for Karen Pate paving the way all those years ago. And now for HealthSource Solutions for helping us step up our game. As Josie said when discussing the program, “We have always been focused on supporting the people we serve with their wellness, and our partnership with them has increased our focus on supporting our employee’s wellness, too.” Josie is proud of our success getting 60 people registered in the mindful minutes program last year. And she loves the emphasis on mental health and meditation, not just on food and exercise. And we are proud to offer such incredible programming to our staff and people served.
It feels good wanting everyone to truly Live Well. We are all worth the investment in wellness.
Living Well Disability Services Wellness Committee: Colleen Pladson, Lyndsey Thomas, Carrie Jensen, Kristina Backman, Kathy Anderson, Josie Jeffrey, Alison Nelson and Heather Heier.