The folks at Kaiser Permanente Richmond Medical Center want their employees to be big losers. Not in a bad way, but in a healthy way.
For eight weeks Kaiser hires a boot camp instructor to come in on Monday and Wednesday to make their employees sweat. Like NBC’s popular reality weight loss show, “The Biggest Loser”, results can be dramatic. But it’s never easy.
So far 20 women have signed up for the challenge. They use their lunch hour to change out of medical outfits and into workout clothes. Once they hit the Medical Center’s gym on the third floor there’s no looking back.
Drill instructor Sharon Garrett, of El Sobrante, puts the employees through 18 workout stations for two minutes each. Stations include lifting and throwing medicine balls, running and jumping in place, push-ups, sit-ups, and pulling stretchy exercise ropes. The final challenge is to walk up and down three flights of stairs carrying small hand weights.
So much for easy lunch breaks.
And like any good drill instructor, Garrett told the women as they stretched, cooled down and prepared to return to their workstations that next week they’ll be doing 10-minute drills.
Carol Azar, director of Kaiser Permanente Northern California Health Education program said one reason Kaiser started the award-wining Live Well Be Well workplace strategy is that they wanted their health care practitioners to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.
“We are here caring for patients and as we care for patients we give them health messages about how to take care of themselves,” she said. “We needed to do the same thing for our employees because most of them are Kaiser members. And on top of that, the healthier our staff was the more likely we’d prevent injuries and have fewer sick days.”
Azar went on to say that the shift in health education is on early intervention and prevention. “Total health is mind, body and spirit,” she said. “We feel exercise is like a wonder drug in itself.”
Drugs aren’t something Jackie McGuire wants to talk about. The program assistant in the chronic conditions department said she was diagnosed with hypertension last year and had to start taking medicine. After having lost 18.5 pounds she said she’s close to getting off the prescriptions.
“I used to walk up my stairs at home and my heart would be pounding to where it would scare me,” McGuire said. “Now I’m racing up them. I can do the whole boot camp and not feel like I’m going to literally die.”
Jennifer Bear, administrative services coordinator in the chronic conditions department and die-hard Oakland Raiders fan, said it’s been hard to reconstruct her life after she’s lost 42 pounds.
“I’ve had Raider season tickets forever,” she said. “My downfall is every August through December I gain weight tailgating. And I like good beer. So my husband broke down and bought me the Michelob Ultra Light—and I drank less because it wasn’t as good.”
Bear, a mother of three and a full time student, said when her daughter grumbles about swim practice and doing homework, she tells her daughter to put her health as a priority. “I feel accomplished and sweaty after boot camp,” she said. “Exercise is my Prozac. As long as I’m working out everything else works.”
Thao Pham, a chronic conditions program assistant, lost 21 pounds in five-and-a-half weeks doing the boot camp. She said she’s no longer interested in just losing weight but now wants to gain muscle.
“I have a son and before I started boot camp we’d just go home, eat and not be active,” she said. “Now we go hiking and swimming all the time. I even got my sister to come.”