Press Releases & Announcements

Western Connecticut Health Network Employees Walking to Wellness

Thursday, July 26, 2012 - Danbury, CT

Employees participating in wellness program

Employee Fitness Program Has Western Connecticut Health Network Employees On The Move! Together, Network employees have walked the equivalent of 42 times around the Earth!

A cornerstone of any wellness plan is physical activity and experts say thirty minutes of exercise per day is a good benchmark to strive for. Couple that with a healthy diet and you are doing most of what you need to do to get or stay fit. This is often easier said than done.

That’s why Leadership at Western Connecticut Health Network is committed to helping their employees get healthy and fit – not just for their own well being but also to set a good example for patients and the community. In July 2011, The Network, which has long provided progressive health benefits for employees, introduced “Your Wellness, Your Rewards,” a multi-pronged wellness program that offers health-related programs, activities and educational materials to get employees moving more and eating better. The foundation of this program is the Network’s partnership with Virgin HealthMiles, a nationally recognized, innovative wellness program that rewards employees, with cash incentives and other prizes, for physical activity and monitoring their basic biometrics.

Marking its first full year this month, the “Your Wellness, Your Rewards” program has truly taken off at Western Connecticut Health Network, with participation more than double the benchmark for such programs. Inspired by the program’s friendly competition, rewards and a social media platform, a growing number of benefits-eligible Network employees are jumping on the wellness bandwagon and increasing their physical activity.

An Employee Benefit And So Much More

Since the program’s launch in July 2011 more than 2,500 WCHN employees have taken advantage of the “Your Wellness, Your Rewards” program. The program challenges employees to integrate more activity – particularly walking – into their daily living, as part of adopting a healthier lifestyle.

When employees sign onto the program, they receive an official Virgin HealthMiles pedometer and can begin uploading steps and basic biometric data, such as blood pressure, weight and body mass index. Using the customized website, employees can track their progress and watch their rewards grow. The more steps employees take, the more “HealthMiles” they earn, which in turn are converted to cash rewards or gift cards, at the employees’ choosing.

One-Year Results are Promising

When the program first launched in 2011, 20% of employee participants were completing at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week – the recommended amount. One year later, that number has risen to more than 70%. To date, Network employees have walked a total of more than 2.7 billion steps –the equivalent of about 42 times around the Earth. The program’s pedometer has become a badge of honor for many employees.

Phyllis Zappala, Senior Vice President of Human Resources said “We adopted this program to inspire employees to take better care of themselves, and to be role models of wellness for our patients and our community. It’s been so successful because the program doesn’t require anything extraordinary – just walking more, whether at work or during off hours. No particular facility or regimen is need – ‘the world is your workout’ is the HealthMiles program motto.” The result is that employees are indeed participating, having a lot of fun with the program and taking steps, literally, to improve their health. Recently, more than 30 employees met at a local nature trail for a Saturday morning hike on their day off to increase their steps and earn bonus HealthMiles, together.

The Network complements the push for walking with an emphasis on healthy eating. Cooking demonstrations featuring healthy recipes, a “rate your plate” nutrition education component and monthly online learning modules are part of the program, along with individual and group challenges.

Goals of Engagement

The mission of the Western Connecticut Health Network “Your Wellness, Your Rewards” program is to provide employees with a comprehensive worksite wellness program that offers health promotion and resources, to create a culture of healthy living, and model a healthy lifestyle for patients and the community.

The longer term goal for the program is to have a measurable impact on the health of the Network’s employee population. Increased physical activity, weight reduction, better nutrition and smoking cessation can all result in better health and fewer medical claims. And, employees who feel better themselves can provide even better patient care.

As employee health and wellness improves, the organization hopes to achieve:

  • Decreased incidents of chronic diseases
  • Reduced number of injuries
  • Less risk for prevalent chronic conditions such as hypertension and diabetes.

Ultimately, what works to improve employee wellness at Western Connevticut Health Network might be applied to the community as a best practice.

Core Program Elements

  • Inspire and incent increased physical activity
  • Promote employee participation in Health Risk Assessments and Biometric screenings
  • Build awareness of health risk factors and preventative action
  • Provide nutrition support and incentives (“Rate your Plate”)
  • Offer targeted programs that address employee risk factors such as massage and meditation for stress relief, a weight management program and group activities that promote cardiac health.

Real Examples of Healthier Lifestyles

As a cardiology staff member at Danbury Hospital’s Cardiac Catherization Laboratory, Lee Whitmore, RN, sees patients every day who may have avoided a hospital visit had they been more physically active. Knowing the importance of exercise to cardiovascular health, Lee had always been physically active herself. When the “Your Wellness, Your Rewards” program was initiated, she was one of the first to sign up. “I was attracted by the incentives – both monetary, and for my own well being,” said Whitmore. She shares “the monetary savings are equal to the cost of a gym membership so it didn’t make sense to ignore the opportunity. I also enjoy the competition and interaction with my co-workers and, it keeps me active, which I enjoy.”

Henry Rappoli, evening Environmental Services Supervisor and Joseph Betkoski, Service Mechanic, can be seen chasing after one another up a flight of stairs of New Milford Hospital but it’s not an emergency. Rappoli and Betkoski are two employees who enjoy partaking in a heated, yet healthy competition in the program.

The two men are now involved in eight inter-hospital challenges they discovered on the HealthMiles website and discussion board. Henry Rappoli commented, “Most of the time I’ve won based on steps taken. When I am at work I am constantly on my feet and doing a lot of walking. The impressive numbers come from walking all the time.” His tracking numbers are big: 6.7 million steps since he started in the program last summer.

Joseph Betkoski adds steps to his day by constantly taking the stairs at the hospital. When he’s not working at New Milford Hospital, Joe is walking his dogs more often to earn more HealthMiles.

Faith Cooney, RN, a registered nurse in the Danbury Hospital Ambulatory Surgery Unit says she saw other employees having fun with the “Your Wellness, Your Rewards” program, especially enjoying the challenges. She longed to be in better shape so she joined the program. In her first “competition” her group won. “There was no prize,” Ms. Cooney stated, “just the glory-and that was enough to get me hooked!”

Faith now exercises more frequently. She prefers to exercise outdoors, so she likes to hike or bicycle every afternoon. Ms. Cooney has picked up her pace, distance and frequency and is now averaging 14,000 steps per day. As a result, her blood pressure has dropped and she’s lost inches so much so, people are noticing. “The program builds camaraderie, and inspires you to do more. With a little bit of motivation, you can really reap the health benefits,” said Faith.

Rita Kelley, Medical Records Clerk at Danbury Hospital said “I love the program and wearing the pedometer is addictive.” She should know – she’s racking up nearly 20,000 steps per day on hers and has just passed 9 million steps. “The cash rewards are part of the motivation,” she says, “but I enjoy the competition.” When the Pulmonary Group initiated a month-long challenge for the most steps, Rita jumped on board. She tallied 731,000 steps in 30 days. Her department celebrated her win along with her 67th birthday.

Rita sets a great example for her colleagues. She now runs three miles a day, never takes the elevator, and participates in every challenge she can. On a recent vacation, Rita’s sister called her “a health nut” because she insisted on walking and running every day and Rita is proud of that title. Her biometrics has improved – her weight and BMI are down, and her blood pressure is healthy. She is now aiming to “get more toned.”

She encourages coworkers to wear their pedometers. “The pedometer is a tool – but it gets you going! I don’t leave home with it. I check up on everybody to make sure they’re wearing it,” she shared. “Why not wear it and get rewarded? You’re moving anyway.”

Looking Forward

Based on participation and findings to date, future program focus will be on:

  • Weight reduction program
  • Hypertension education/management programs
  • Promotion of smoking cessation classes
  • Promotion of mental health and wellness
  • Diabetes Education and Management

About Western Connecticut Health Network

Western Connecticut Health Network is the region’s premiere, patient-centered health care organization serving residents of Western Connecticut and adjacent New York. The organization is anchored by two nationally recognized hospitals, Danbury Hospital and New Milford Hospital, as well as their affiliated organizations. In addition to the two hospitals, the continuum of care offered includes the following affiliates:

Western Connecticut Health Network has centers of excellence in women’s health, cardiovascular and cancer services; minimally invasive and joint and spine surgery; digestive disorders and radiology and diagnostic imaging. It also offers specialized programs for neonatology with a Level IIIb neonatal intensive care unit and accredited sleep disorder centers. Both hospitals also maintain active clinical research programs, offering clinical trials for patients with cancer and other health concerns.

For more information, visit,; and share your comments with us  or