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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI to coordinate statewide wellness initiative

Media Contact: Jhodi Redlich, 401-874-4500

KINGSTON, R.I. -- July 7, 2005 -- The University of Rhode Island will take a leadership role in an effort to make the State of Rhode Island the first official ‘well state’ in the nation through a worksite wellness program.

Governor Donald L. Carcieri made the announcement at the “Get Fit, Rhode Island” kickoff event at the Statehouse on Wednesday, June 29. The Governor’s wife, Sue, led the steering committee that developed the program.

The state’s effort will initially focus on the more than 14,000 state employees to encourage them to become involved in improving their health and wellness as individuals, to have a collective improvement of health in people statewide.

The program will be overseen by the Department of Health and managed by the University. This new initiative will focus on behavior change related specifically to stress, physical activity and nutrition. These are all areas in which the University has a great deal of experience in programs and applied research.

“We are putting the expertise and the many resources of the University of Rhode Island into play to help us all live healthier lives. URI researchers and faculty will advise on the best strategies to promote wellness, analyze and track outcomes, and contribute significantly to build a healthier state,” said URI President Robert L. Carothers.

Carcieri appointed URI’s current wellness specialist, Anne Marie Connolly of Wakefield, as director of the new State Employee Wellness Program based on her experience as an exercise physiologist and her background in behavior change. Connelly will be based at URI and will coordinate efforts of the program’s new “Wellness Champions,” employees who have volunteered to encourage involvement of staff at each of their departments.

The first step to shape the wellness program calls for state employees to participate by filling out a confidential health survey online through United Healthcare, the state’s health insurance agency. Employees are asked to complete the online survey July 15 through August 15. The survey will provide individuals with initial information to guide them toward wellness and will help the new program develop the most appropriate programs for the employees.

“The survey will encourage everyone to take the first step in the ‘Get Fit’ effort. Knowing where we all stand health-wise is a critical benchmark for the program so we can build the best interventions for individuals and groups, monitor progress and evaluate the overall outcomes,” said URI Vice President Robert A. Weygand who has worked with the governor’s office and health department to structure the initiative.

“Not only will this new partnership benefit the health and wellness of the University’s 2,300 employees, it also provides an opportunity for all Rhode Islanders to learn about the resources available through their state’s university,” said Weygand, who resides in Saunderstown.

At URI, Weygand said Connolly will work with faculty and staff in URI’s Colleges of Nursing, Pharmacy, Arts and Sciences, Human Development and Family Studies, Business, and even Engineering who are involved in efforts related to healthy living and wellness in their teaching, research, and public service activities.

Students in many of these disciplines will now have the opportunity to participate in hands-on research and applied projects to help Rhode Island achieve the “Well State” status. With this involvement, students will gain skills that will be critical as they enter the growing health-related workforce.

This fall, Connolly will work with URI’s “Wellness Champion” and others to implement new University-wide wellness activities. URI’s Human Resources Director Laura Kenerson of Wakefield is the University’s Champion.

Connolly has worked at the University for more than 10 years with faculty members on various health and wellness research initiatives focused on behavior change. She received her bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1982 with a focus on marketing and her master’s degree in exercise science in 2002. As an undergraduate, she initiated and ran the first aerobics classes at the University in 1981. Before joining the University, she owned and operated the Wakefield Fitness Center in Wakefield.

The ‘well state’ moniker that the governor seeks to attain for Rhode Island is based on specific standards outlined by the Wellness Councils of America, a national organization dedicated to promoting healthier life styles for all Americans, especially through health promotion initiatives at the worksite. This distinction would require that 20 percent of the working population be employed at sites that have been certified as “well workplaces.” More than 200 Rhode Island employers are actively working toward their certification, and 28 have received it.

Photo caption
Partners in health: University officials and others at the “Get Fit, RI” kickoff at the statehouse June 29th. Shown in front are URI’s Vice President, Administration Robert A. Weygand, Human Resources Director Laura Kenerson, Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, new State Employee Wellness Program Director Anne Marie Connolly, Governor Carcieri’s wife, Sue, and URI President Robert L. Carothers. R.I. Department of Health Director David R. Gifford. URI News Bureau Photo by Michael Salerno Photography.