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Vol. LXI, No. 9
May 1, 2009

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Resources for Employees
Help, Health and Wellness in a Time of Recession

On the front page...

Morale is what keeps us believing in ourselves and our goals, especially in tough times. In a global economic downturn and a nation in recession, how are NIH’ers doing?

“We see employees living in counties with cutbacks in services,” says NIH Recreation and Welfare Association President Randy Schools. “They’re worried about the long-term effects that deficits have on federal retirement. They have a family member who’s lost a job or a brother and a sister who’ve been furloughed. All these, we’re hearing stories about.”


  NHLBI’s Dr. Rachel Permuth-Levine (l) leads a class in hip-hop dance.  
  NHLBI’s Dr. Rachel Permuth-Levine (l) leads a class in hip-hop dance.  

If you find yourself in such a predicament, take heart. An array of employee services and amenities—some old standbys, others just launched—can help.

Most employee resources come under the Office of Research Services (one exception is the Work/Life Center, part of the Office of Human Resources, which offers career services). Otherwise, visit the ORS web site (see sidebar) and see “Employee”; some services are also open to contractors. Here are a few highlights:

The first thing you notice about the Employee Assistance Program consultants—Dr. Michael Bowler, Eva Chen and Craig Kalman—is how easy they are to talk to. It’s reassuring to know that you’re not alone.

“The current economic situation is anxiety-provoking, and it trickles down to any organizational or family problem,” says program director Bowler. “We are seeing people who were planning on retiring and now their spouse has lost their job, so their whole retirement plan is in question.”

A branch of the Occupational Medical Service, EAP is really “a life transition center,” Bowler says, where folks can “feel comfortable about coming and having conversations with us about anything.”

Permuth-Levine (c) leads class in a stretch you can do at your desk.
Permuth-Levine (c) leads class in a stretch you can do at your desk.
Consultations include one-on-one and organizational assistance, problem-solving, crisis intervention and referrals as well as training, workshops, seminars and coaching. All services are free and confidential.

Many stressors are hitting “the sandwich generation,” says Chen. “They might have a 19-year-old, plus two elderly parents to care for. We try to give them a broader perspective and help them plan ahead.”

EAP does not provide material or financial assistance, yet it does offer referrals and coordination with other services.

“This is a benefit, not a liability,” says Kalman. “You’re not being sent to the principal’s office. It’s a wise move, so come in proactively.”

Meanwhile, the Division of Amenities and Transportation Services, ORS, offers many other resources. “Taking care of employees is the main function of our division,” says director Tom Hayden. These services include banking, child care, fitness, food/concession, interpreting, retail, transportation, travel and wellness.

Now, about the bottom line: Nationwide, credit unions, compared to banks, are relatively healthy. The NIH Federal Credit Union offers a full range of services, from mortgages to money management. Employees, contractors and their families can join.

Cheat Sheet to Beat Stress

ORS Employee Services— services.htm
Employee Assistance Program—
Recreation and Welfare Association—
Parking and Transportation Services—
Fitness Centers—
Focus on You: NIH Wellness—
Work/Life Center— default.htm
National Naval Medical Center fitness center—

Next up: How’s your commute? Need to offset costs? Looking for a carpool or parking assistance? Transportation Services project officer Joe Cox can help. He says 5,000 NIH’ers—up to 6,000 in summer—are using Transhare, a tax-free benefit to subsidize employees using public transportation.

“It helps the environment,” says Cox, “and it helps the wallet.” Transhare allocation levels (set by the IRS, not NIH) may soon see an increase.

But some things don’t change. Even in a recession, “people want to have fun,” says R&W’s Schools. “Our movie ticket business is up. We also have services that provide convenience and save time: getting greeting cards, picking up gifts, dry cleaning or a honey-baked ham. Time is so valuable now and the R&W can help.”

Such help includes housing—R&W provides listings—and much more: health and wellness programs, a low-cost prescription plan and supplemental group disability insurance. Employees, contractors, patients and their families can join R&W for $7 a year. Employees and contractors can also join one of the fitness centers in Bldg. 31, Rockledge or Baltimore at a discounted rate.

“What’s really cool,” says fitness trainer Terry Bowers, “is that exercise teaches your body how to appropriately respond to stress. The more you exercise, the more your body will appropriately respond to other stressful situations.”

If you like a group vibe, try the classes. Robert Geter leads 12 boot camp classes each week, supporting his participants as “a fitness coach, not a drill sergeant.”

EAP consultants include (from l) Dr. Michael Bowler, Eva Chen and Craig Kalman.
EAP consultants include (from l) Dr. Michael Bowler, Eva Chen and Craig Kalman.
Meanwhile, Fitness Center Director Laura Lavrin has noticed an increase in attendance at both the Bldg. 31 and Rockledge centers. “We are happy NIH employees and contractors are taking advantage of our fitness centers,” she says. “The services we offer help them relieve their stress.”

Lavrin offers fun and practical activities and sessions, complete with handouts, that you can do at your desk, office or home. And in concert with the NIH Office of the Director and the Office of AIDS Research, she’s also providing a month-long series of activities in May to help people create a balanced lifestyle and make wise choices leading to good physical health. She’s also assisting other institutes with their wellness initiatives.

Mind you, this is Wellness with a capital W. A trans-NIH initiative spearheaded by NHLBI and sponsored by ORS as well as other ICs, Wellness is a lecture series (“Focus on You!”), a web site (just launched) and other events like “Mind/Body Week,” slated for September.
Permuth-Levine (l) leads class in a leg stretch exercise.
Permuth-Levine (l) leads class in a leg stretch exercise.

Dr. Rachel Permuth-Levine is getting the word out: “I’m tasked with looking after employee health at NHLBI at Rockledge,” she says, “where we saw people lose a lot of weight, then come off cholesterol medication, blood pressure medication…they got on the Wellness Train. It would be terrific for other ICs to see these benefits.

“People are very stressed,” she observes. “They tell me about bad eating habits, poor sleep…If we have to deal with this recession, there must be a culture of change, focusing on health and wellness…and we’ll be much more resilient.”

Those who enjoy swimming for exercise and relaxation may join the National Naval Medical Center fitness center and pool.

You may also be eligible for discounted memberships at non-NIH fitness centers; check the R&W web site for details.

And finally, at least it’s spring. This month, the NIH Farmer’s Market returns with affordable, freshly picked produce trucked onto the Bldg. 31 patio. Even in a time of recession, we can still taste the sweetness of life. NIHRecord Icon

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