May 15, 2024/Nursing/Wellness

Counting on Colleagues: Nurses Lead a Unit-Based Wellness Program

Peer support and accountability drive program’s success

Group exercise class

Kristen Ramirez, BSN, RN, a clinical nurse on behavioral health units at Cleveland Clinic Lutheran Hospital and the mother of four children, recently lost 42 pounds. She credits the achievement, in part, to the units’ multifaceted Wellness Wednesday initiative.

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“I was becoming more active, taking my medications as prescribed and eating healthily,” says Ramirez. “You can do it if you have the support and you’re motivated.”

A return to the basics

Ramirez spearheaded Wellness Wednesday along with two colleagues – Stavros Koundourakis, BSN, RN, and Justin Braude, MSN, FNP-C, RN-PMH – at the tail end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At the time, there was a common theme on the unit. Many of us felt extremely stressed,” she recalls. “We knew there was a better way to deal with that stress than eating unhealthy food. We know what’s healthy and gives us energy. We really needed to get back to the basics.”

Ramirez, Koundourakis and Braude approached nursing leadership about adopting a Wellness Wednesday program, and they fully supported the idea.

Four core components

To jump start the program, the nurses held meetings on the third Wednesday of each month beginning in March 2023 to promote healthy lifestyle changes. Approximately 12 to 15 caregivers attended the meetings, which lasted between 30 minutes and an hour. They brought in healthy snacks to share on meeting days.

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During the meetings, attendees discussed the core components of the program:

  • Diet and nutrition – Caregivers were encouraged to adopt a nutrient-dense diet. Hospital dietitians provided information on the importance of healthy eating to physical and mental well-being. Dietitians and caregivers shared high protein, low calorie recipes, which were displayed in break rooms and compiled in a recipe book including meal plans, nutritional benefits and diet modifications.
  • Exercise and workout buddies – Caregivers shared workout ideas and online fitness videos. They teamed up with buddies to exercise together at the Lutheran Hospital Fitness Center and a local yoga studio. “Having a workout buddy helps hold you accountable,” says Ramirez. “They check in with each other and ask, ‘How was yoga class last night? Did you check out that online weightlifting video?’”
  • Mental health –“Wellness Wednesday was centered around eating healthy and exercising, but it also focused on mental health,” says Ramirez. Caregivers supported each other. For example, when a co-worker had a tough day, a colleague would ask if the caregiver wanted to talk about it or offer to take their first admission. The team also promoted Cleveland Clinic’s Caring for Caregivers program, which includes confidential counseling and coaching services.
  • Health and fitness challenges – The units participated in friendly competitions, including a weight loss challenge and contest to lower blood pressure.

A sign of success

Since the Wellness Wednesday initiative began, staff on the behavioral health units have lost weight and say their mood and overall unit morale has improved. The group continues to encourage one another through sharing recipes and healthy snacks, offering emotional support, exercising and more. However, they stopped the monthly meetings at the end of 2023.

“That’s actually a good sign,” says Ramirez. “If we can remain motivated without setting aside the third Wednesday of every month – if we subconsciously grab healthy snacks instead of high-calorie ones and keep up our workout routines – that’s a success.”

The continued motivation for Ramirez and many of her peers is trifold: “The main goal is being healthy for myself, my family and my unit,” she says.

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