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UM Wins State’s Healthiest University Workplace Award

The University of Mississippi has again been named one of Mississippi’s Healthiest Workplaces by The Mississippi Business Journal, the Mississippi Business Group on Health and the Mississippi Department of Health. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications
The University of Mississippi has again been named one of Mississippi’s Healthiest Workplaces by The Mississippi Business Journal, the Mississippi Business Group on Health and the Mississippi Department of Health. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

The University of Mississippi was named the state’s healthiest workplace among all Mississippi college and universities Wednesday (July 27) at an awards luncheon that honored both government and private sector employers for their wellness efforts.

The Mississippi Business Journal, the Mississippi Business Group on Health and the Mississippi Department of Health honor employers at the annual “Mississippi’s Healthiest Workplaces” awards luncheon. The university was recently named as a nominee in the colleges and universities category and Wednesday, officials found out UM took the top honor among Mississippi colleges and universities.

“We are excited about this honor because it acknowledges the efforts of many people – especially the RebelWell team – to improve the health of faculty, staff and students across our campuses,” UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “It is our responsibility to take the lead in providing a healthy environment, and to help set an example for our state. We are grateful for this recognition, and we pledge to continue to find ways to improve the well-being of the Ole Miss family.”

The university developed the RebelWell program, which provides a range of opportunities for employees to become educated about living a healthy lifestyle through group fitness classes, cooking demonstrations and nutrition counseling, among other services.

The wellness successes are due to hard work and dedication to health initiatives by many people, both on and off campus, who have used partnerships to create momentum toward a healthier Ole Miss, said Andrea M. Jekabsons, the university’s assistant director of employment, professional development and engagement and a project manager with RebelWell.

“We are honored to receive the recognition as the healthiest workplace,” Jekabsons said. “I would like to express my deepest appreciation and gratitude for the assistance provided by ActiveHealth, the Department of Health and, of course, for the continued support from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation.”

Campus health programs have benefited from $575,000 in wellness grants from the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation. The funding came through a $326,000 grant earlier this year and a $250,000 wellness grant from the foundation in 2014.

Grants have been used for nutrition educational expenses and to buy physical activity equipment and supplies, buying educational equipment for school-age children and promotional items and funding for campaigns, contracted services, community programs and sponsorships for major events. There’s also funding for fresh fruit for school programs and a national certification for a strength program aimed at women over 40.

RebelWell offers nutrition education through counseling sessions, seminars and demonstrations and also executes programs to highlight local wellness role models.

Earlier this summer, the university again made the Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Great Colleges to Work For” list, which measures employee overall satisfaction. Ole Miss has made the list for eight of the nine years it has existed.

The healthiest workplace recognition is a tremendous honor for the university and those who made it happen, said Brandi Hephner LaBanc, vice chancellor for student affairs and chair of the RebelWell Campus Committee.

“It is wonderful to be recognized for supporting faculty and staff in their efforts to be healthier and happier,” Hephner LaBanc said. “It is also wonderful that our students are offered myriad opportunities to learn and integrate healthy practices into their lifestyles.”

University leaders created the UM2020 strategic plan with specific wellness objectives. They included developing and implementing a multiyear plan for promoting and advancing health, nutrition, exercise and individual wellness among all workers.

The university’s leadership also made changes to two employee policies in 2015 to promote a healthier work environment. Department heads are allowed to be flexible with scheduling to let employees participate in physical activity and UM wellness programs. Employees are also allowed breaks twice per day to encourage them to stretch, walk or take short bike rides around campus, which can benefit work performance and individual health.

“As charged in the university’s strategic plan, UM2020, our goal is to set the university as a beacon of leadership throughout the state by educating and fostering a community that is committed to a healthy and sustainable lifestyle and campus environment,” Jekabsons said.

By Michael Newsom and the Ole Miss News Desk

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