Interview with Patricia Hollingsworth, Director of the IU Health Engagement Program


On July 26, just eleven days after Patricia Hollingsworth took up her new position as Director of the Health Engagement Project, June Wickboldt and I (Hans van der Genugten) had the pleasure of meeting with her. Ms. Hollingsworth is an alumna of HPER at Indiana University, and her career since graduation has been in health and wellness. She has directed programs at St. Vincent Health, Clarian Health Partners, and Ball State University and was president of a health care consulting firm. Patricia Hollingsworth seems genuinely passionate about wellness and the means of achieving this. She also seems open to suggestions and input from all involved. We look forward to a fruitful and successful partnership with her.

With the assistance of Rachel McCann, we compiled Ms. Hollingsworth’s responses to a list of questions derived from earlier discussions on the listserv, meetings with Bruce Jacobs, independent research and her initial presentation. So, here goes…

Privacy Issues
Will any information provided by employees to the Wellness Plan administrators about their health be accessible to IU in anyway? If so, how?

Employee confidentiality is a priority; we will ensure all internal and external programs meet regulatory guidelines. Wellness programs and services are voluntary, and we will always be transparent about why we are requesting information and what is done with the information we request.

I do not anticipate having a repository of individual health information, only indication that the employee has participated in a screening or program for the purposes of incentives. We want to be recognized as a leader in wellness, working with vendors to provide quality programs that meet the needs of employees. Only through your input can we continue to provide quality services. I will do all I can to ensure employees have choice. At the end of the day, it’s helpful to know the program is effective, but if we impact someone’s health and don’t know it, I’m ok with that. The goal is healthy IU employees, success in your well-being is more important than outcome data.

Health Engagement and Cost Savings
How and when will IU evaluate evidence that the implementation of the Health Engagement Plan is resulting in significant cost containment?

The health and well-being of the employee population is my concern. I was fortunate to have patient/employee focused care drilled into my head early in my career. I truly believe if you provide quality health and well-being programs and service in a caring manner that meet the employee needs, cost containment will follow.

That being said, it usually takes wellness initiatives about three years before a financial return on investment is seen in medical claim costs. In my view, cost is a measurement of goods and/or services exchanged. Although there are many reasons for increased medical costs, health status is one. The greater evidence of the program’s success will be in the vitality of the university employees.

To what extent do high BMI’s or high blood pressure contribute to the recent increases in Indiana University Health care costs? Statistics seem to show that increases in physician fees, pharmaceuticals, cost shifting (insured paying for uninsured), and more expensive screening/diagnostic tools (MRIs, CTs, etc.) are the primary causes of the increases in costs.

Employee health engagement programs alone will not solve the health care crisis in America. It is a complex problem and will take a number of complex shifts to slow rising health care costs. As noted in the earlier question, health status is reflected in health care cost, and positive lifestyle choices impact health. Your everyday choices have the greatest impact on your health.

Why set biometric targets? Isn’t this demotivating (sticks instead of carrots)?
It’s important for people to check their numbers regularly even if they don’t feel sick, as many diseases do not have symptoms until it is too late. Targeted measures are values that indicate a lack of disease state, at risk for a disease state, or in a disease state in which the individual needs to be treated.

I welcome your input on how we can encourage each other to embrace and take care of ourselves.

Is there perhaps a danger that older people will consistently fall behind in health standards and therefore eventually end up paying a higher premium?

As we age health risks go up, but screening is critical for older people; the expectation is not for people to only get to recommended biometric values through lifestyle alone. We want people to be treated for the disease they have so they can feel good and prosper.

Making healthy lifestyle choices early in life and taking preventive measures, such as screenings for early interventions, will help keep us healthy as we age.

The Onsite Campus Employee Clinic
Regarding the employee health clinic—with the cut back from the state is this still a viable option? Will it utilize services from IU Health - Bloomington Hospital in Bloomington, the local Student Health Center, or is this still to be decided? Do you know the range of the services that will be provided?

My understanding is the employee health clinic is yet to be decided. You may want to discuss the status with Dan Rives in Human Resources.

When will we see a roll-out of the Health Engagement Plan for 2012?

I am currently meeting with the system wide groups. IU is fortunate to have so many resources throughout the state. I would also like input from all employees. This is your program, and we need to know from you how we can best support you on your health and well-being journey. Watch for an electronic mechanism to provide input or feel free to send your suggestions to me via e-mail at

The Personal Health Assessment questionnaire portion of the Health Engagement Program for 2011 was cancelled. Can we expect a revised version to be rolled out for 2012 or later?

I don’t anticipate using the assessment this year.

For any program to work well, communication is of the utmost importance. How are you going to interact with all sectors of the university community? Will employees have input into the program? How will you get feedback from them? Employees would, I think, be more open if they knew that information would be kept confidential. Will there be a way of assuring confidentiality?
We want IU to be the healthiest campus in America. The only way we will do this is team work. We want to build a wellness program with employees that will work for employees. There are 17,500 employees, and one shoe does not fit all, so input from all constituents is critical.
I can’t be everywhere all at once, but I will do my best to work within all sectors of the university community to deliver services that meet you where you are. We will use face to face meetings, focus groups and social media sites for input on existing services and employee needs.
We will be building a website to provide information about the Wellness Programs and hopefully highlight information for individual campuses. We will use many of IU’s current communication tools to inform employees of what is happening. These include electronic newsletters, social media, email blasts, etc.
In your presentation you indicated tools to support the employee:

Biometric screening
Health coaching
Individual nutritional counseling
Disease education
Disease management
Educational classes
Population health initiatives
Self-care programs
Physical activity
Recreation opportunities
Safety and ergonomics
Financial well being
Resiliency/Stress management
Work/Life balance services
Employee assistance programs

Which of these do you consider already in place? Which of these have not been implemented yet and deserve priority in your estimate?
Every day I learn of more and more programs sprinkled across Indiana University. I’m thrilled there are so many people passionate about health and well-being. As this is my 11th day of work, I would like to come back next month and answer this question.

On Campus Healthy Living Promoters
As part of weaving health engagement into sectors of influence you mention, “Ensure access to healthy and affordable food both on campus and in the communities we live.” How would you like to see this materialize on campus?

We have started the conversations but I would like more input to understand the needs of employees and develop an effective program that meets everyone’s needs.