Since 2008, Living Well Disability Services has worked to transform the system of service for the people it supports to one that models health and wellness. Our innovative health and wellness initiative supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities includes:

  • A health and wellness coaching program pairing people served with employees, in conjunction with ‘Ways to Wellness’ at Woodwinds Hospital, HealthEast Care System
  • A seasonally based menu system in all Living Well Disability Services homes, emphasizing fresh and whole foods naturally lower in salt and fat
  • Gardens at our homes and access to farmer’s markets
  • Pet therapy
  • Volunteerism
  • An organization-wide “tobacco-free” policy
  • An employee wellness program supporting individual and group wellness goals and activities

We have expanded wellness programming to reach each of our 34 residential homes in the 20 communities in the Twin Cities where we provide services. The initiative is creating measurable improvement in the lives of participants, going beyond measurable results: it is bringing about a culture change as it builds a stronger partnership between people served and staff.

In support of our health and wellness initiatives, the Greater Twin Cities United Way awarded a multi-year grant that extended to 2019. This was used to expand the scope and strengthen the evaluation of our health and prevention work.

Contact Annelies Stevens for more information on our innovative Wellness programs,

Why Health & Wellness?

Physical exercise, good nutrition, stress management and social support are important for everyone but are even more critical for people with disabilities who have a thinner margin of health.

  • Maximizing health for people with disabilities is a key determinant in the level of independence possible and the amount of support needed throughout their life.
  • More people will have increased opportunity to age in place, rather than in ever more restrictive and costly settings.

Wellness Programming

Our innovative wellness initiative includes personalized health coaching, gardening, healthy nutrition, pet therapy and volunteering for those served by Living Well Disability Services. We are also creating a ‘culture of wellness’ in the workplace through our employee wellness program.

Living Well Disability Services partner is the Ways to Wellness program at Woodwinds Hospital, HealthEast Care System. Employees and individuals supported by Living Well Disability Services are offered the opportunity to participate in a 12-week program, which includes the setting of individual goals, education in wellness and nutrition and fitness training. Ways to Wellness is not just about losing weight—it is a one-on-one program to learn new behaviors for healthy lifestyles that can be practiced for a lifetime.

People supported by Living Well Disability Services are paired with an employee, such as his or her direct support professional, a nurse, occupational therapist or someone from the management team at Living Well Disability Services. Individuals volunteer to participate in the program. Once each pair has completed the 12-week intensive program, they enter the six month maintenance program. Results from individuals who participated are evidence of the beginning of a culture change.

(Peggy with Rita at ‘Ways to Wellness’)

Bill Spencer lost 10 pounds and gained greater excitement and confidence in being involved in his community. “I have better self esteem and now I want to get out in the community more.”

For Peggy, who is supported by Living Well Disability Services, Ways to Wellness has broadened her exercise beyond the treadmill to include yoga, weights, exercise balls and boxing – a new favorite. The program has taught her how to weave wellness throughout her life and share what she has learned with others. Rita McAninch-Hastings says, “Peggy has become my fitness coach! She challenges me and the other staff and people in the house to exercise and eat well.”

“Ways to Wellness is an incredible program,” said Rita McAninch-Hastings, Senior Advocate. “It’s an individualized program adapted to a person’s needs based on their level of physical functioning. And it’s a whole-body approach to wellness, addressing nutrition, the mind and a holistic approach to exercise.” Read more about our United Way partnership.

Mealtime in Living Well Disability Services homes has changed dramatically since the introduction of wellness programming and will continue to evolve. In 2009, Julie Jones, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus at St. Catherine University collaborated with students to overhaul Living Well Disability services menu system. New and healthier menu plans are now enjoyed by people at all of our 34 homes each season. Breakfast, lunch and dinner menus now take advantage of fresh, seasonal ingredients which are naturally low in sodium and fat.

Gardens are planted and cared for by volunteers, staff, and those supported by Living Well Disability Services at more than half of our homes. Living Well Disability Services master gardeners and the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum assist us in educating and planning our gardens. Those without gardens are encouraged to frequent farmers markets to incorporate more fresh produce in their meal planning.

Pet therapy visits brighten the days of people we support at more than half of Living Well Disability Services homes. Therapeutic use of pets can help the people we support enjoy stress-free friendships. We bring pets to our houses to give the people we support a fun and memorable experience. Studies have shown that the presence of a pet can decrease heart rate and blood pressure significantly. When combined with our other initiatives, pet therapy will increase the quality of the lives of the people we support.

Living Well Disability Services created the Employee Wellness Program as a way to grow a culture of proactive thinking and practices of health while enhancing team building. Employees are encouraged to partner with people we support as a way to enhance their personal well-being. This challenge is for all employees to improve their health and fitness levels, lead by example, and build teamwork. It is designed to help employees succeed in their individual health and wellness routines to lead their healthiest life.

Employee wellness benefits include:

  • Healthier employees – mind and body
  • Improved mental health and sleep habits
  • Improved diet and exercise
  • Decreased absenteeism

Wellness is an embedded part of the Living Well Disability Services culture. Given our successes, we are currently committed to demonstrating the impact of our wellness investments and are interested in helping to replicate the model nationally.