Making staff wellness a top priority

Dr. William Chen is in between surgical cases so he grabs his pager and quickly leaves the operating room. Will he make it back in time for his next surgery? His colleagues are not concerned because they know he’s just one floor down at the on-site Wellness Centre at Barrie’s Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH).

If he has 10 minutes between cases he will run a mile on the treadmill and if he has a longer turnover time he will workout to an entire Insanity exercise video. Fresh, invigorated and feeling great, Dr. Chen will once again don his scrubs and head up to the operating room.

“Places like this are crucial in a health centre. We have been given an amazing machine called our body and it is meant for movement. It was not made to sit at a desk all day,” says Dr. Chen, a family physician and surgical assistant at RVH. “Let me just put it out there – no one likes exercising – at least when you start. But then, as you reap the benefits, you love it more and you become addicted to it like I am.”

As Dr. Chen jumps on a Stairmaster for a lighter workout, the door to the Wellness Centre swings wide open and six radiation therapists walk through. Dressed in workout gear with water bottles in hand, they methodically place blue exercise mats on the floor while a colleague turns on the television. No sitting and watching a mid-day talk show for these medical professionals, they are here to workout.

RVH 2In fact, the idea of sitting scares Greg Chapler just a little.


The radiation therapist said he has read way too many articles on ‘sitting being the new smoking’ and since being re-assigned from clinical duties to treatment planning, he’s been doing nothing but sitting.

When you are a radiation therapist working directly with the patients you are always in motion, but in planning you are sitting in front of a computer all day and that got me motivated to get moving,” says Chapler. “The timing was perfect for us because the Wellness Centre had just opened. We hit the jackpot when they installed the TV and we could workout to DVDs.”

Dr. Chen and Chapler both have the right prescription for a healthy life. Being active for at least 150 minutes per week can help reduce the risk of premature death, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, certain types of cancer, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and obesity, and can lead to improved fitness strength and mental health.

“After I work-out here I go back to my computer feeling super good – energized, healthy and alert,” says Chapler. “When people take care of themselves they can take better take of their patients.”

Standing at the back of the room taking it all in is Iris Laycock.

As the Health and Wellness Coordinator with RVH’s Organizational Effectiveness department and a tri-athlete herself, seeing all this activity is a dream come true. Laycock is also a member of the Health and Wellness Committee which was instrumental in ensuring RVH’s Phase 1 Expansion was designed with room for a staff gym. Currently 586 staff, 23 volunteers and 37 physicians use the Wellness Centre on a regular basis.


“The Wellness Centre opened in September 2012 along with our expansion, dedicating 1,000 square feet to the wellness of RVH staff, physicians and volunteers at no cost to them,” says Laycock. “Just by spending a short period of time in the Wellness Centre, participants are rejuvenated, energized and ready to get back to their departments to provide exceptional patient care. Even 10 minutes on the treadmill can make a huge difference.”

RVH’s success is workplace wellness has not gone unnoticed. For the second year in a row RVH has been awarded a Gold level Quality Healthcare Workplace Award from the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) at its annual Health Achieve conference. The Wellness Centre is one of the many initiatives the health centre has implemented to improve the quality of work life for staff.

Janice Skot, RVH’s president and CEO, is a huge advocate for health and wellness, booking exercise time in her calendar like any other important meeting.“We opened a Wellness Centre at RVH based on feedback from staff, physicians and volunteers. We want to create an inspiring, engaging and healthy workplace and the onsite Wellness Centre is one of the steps we’ve taken to achieve that goal,” says Skot. “I know in healthcare our days can be so hectic and it really is a struggle to include some exercise or relaxation, but we hope this Wellness Centre will help our staff achieve their own personal goal for work-life balance. I truly believe that when we are at our healthiest we can provide the best and safest quality care for our patients. This centre is their space for mind, body and spirit renewal, and I fully encourage everyone at RVH to make the most of it.”


Last year RVH took staff wellness to the next level by creating the New year- New You program. The five-week program helped staff, physicians and volunteer focus on one aspect of wellness a week, from smoking cessation, nutrition, mental health, cancer screening and prevention to the final week which focused on random acts of kindness. This month the program begins again with the theme “Make This Your Year.”

Chapler has already made it his year and so how does he feel after he finishes what he calls a ‘doozy of a workout video’? “I feel super good, awake again and healthy – I have lots of energy.”

The video ends and it’s time for the radiation team to get back to work. And not a moment too soon, because as they walk out the door another team arrives for their weekly exercise session.

Out come the blue mats again and that makes Laycock smile.