Makeba Harris, right, a wellness
Makeba Harris, right, a wellness "champion," walks the Clinton Billing Office track with fellow billing specialist Evelyn Richardson.
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Wellness at UMMC needs a champion - and it could be you

Published on Thursday, November 15, 2018

By: Ruth Cummins

Don’t look for administrators and managers at the University of Mississippi Medical Center to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to advocating for a healthy workforce.

Look also to the wellness champions, a cross-section of employees from the main campus, Jackson Medical Mall and Clinton Billing Office who are volunteering their time to promote health and well-being. “They’re someone with enthusiasm about health and wellness, and someone who will be an advocate for working toward a healthy lifestyle,” said Brea Cole, manager of the Medically Integrated Wellness Program in the Office of Wellbeing.

The Office of Wellbeing strives to promote awareness and education, provide motivation for positive behavior changes, and influence campus practices and policy to support a healthy environment. “We strive to create a UMMC community where all members feel valued and experience well-being,” Cole said.


Cole selects wellness champions from those interested in making a difference in helping to empower employees to lead a healthy lifestyle. “They are UMMC’s key communicators of the Everyday Wellness program, and they help direct employees to programs and resources,” Cole said.

The champions encourage their coworkers to improve their health through diet, exercises and well-being, but they also serve as examples and leaders. Candidates “need the support of their supervisor,” Cole said. “It doesn’t take a lot of time. They’ll have one meeting a month for about an hour. When we have an event, we’d like them to come for a time slot to help out if they can.”

Wellness champions also spread the word by disseminating flyers about Everyday Wellness programs and promoting initiatives by word of mouth, Cole said. “We’d like them to be a good communicator with motivational skills to help others. Some of our champions are on the quiet side, and some are great cheerleaders who pump people up and make them want to be involved.”

Champions can personalize well-being to their work areas, Cole said “They can plan activities, even if it’s just something at lunch or during a break. Sometimes when we do large institution-wide events, everyone can’t come. But if we do smaller things in our work units, more people can be involved and mindful.”

Jasmine Key, left, a School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences students, checks Joan Ball's blood pressure. Ball is a billing specialist in patient financial services.

Today, the Office of Wellbeing put the spotlight on 10 new wellness champions at the Clinton Business Office. The office hosted a fair for employees at the Clinton office that included blood pressure and glucose screenings, a healthy cooking demonstration, a walk on the outdoor track, a farmers’ market and live music.

Fiona Lewis, a dietician in the Medical Center’s Department of Preventive Medicine, drew a crowd as she sautéed kale in one skillet and squash in another – but with a tasty twist. The kale was seasoned with smoked paprika; the cubed squash, with a “Chinese five-spice” selection of cinnamon, ground clove, fennel, star anise and Szechuan peppercorns.

Seasoned rightly, they are holiday selections, said Lewis, who trained at the National Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts and received her doctor of public health at Loma Linda University in California. “People who usually would not try greens are really into this kale,” she said.  “We want people to eat vegetables in a healthy but flavorful way.”

“I wanted to see what’s going on, and to get away from my desk,” said MonaLisa Shavers, a billing specialist. “I’m going to get my blood pressure and glucose checked, and I did the walk.

“I’m interested in the food. I want to get a taste of the kale. I’ve never had that before.”

Fiona Lewis, a dietitian in the Department of Preventive Medicine, cooks kale and squash dishes during the Office of Wellbeing's fair at the Clinton Billing Office.

Among the newest wellness champions is billing specialist Makeba Harris. “We feel kind of disconnected in Clinton. We miss out on some things,” Harris said. “But, I was talking to Brea about the Zumba classes on campus, and I thought, a wellness champion could be me. I’m definitely social, inside and outside of work.”

Xavier Johnson, a compliance analyst in Integrity and Compliance, said her public health experience gives her an appreciation for the need to champion wellness.

“I am a wellness champion by trade,” said Johnson, who took on that role at UMMC about a year ago. “Living in Mississippi, I do understand why health is such an important thing. This gives me the opportunity to spread what I know to employees who might not know what’s going on around campus.”

Interested in becoming a wellness champion? Contact Cole at

“We definitely need this at UMMC,” Johnson said. “It’s a city within a city. Outside the city, you have fitness trainers in the community, but on campus, we need that also.

“We have people coming here from all over. Some people in my department drive an hour to work, and they can benefit from what we do on campus,” Johnson said. “We need even more wellness champions here.”