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School refuses to comment on cost of ‘wellness’ program

Program offers cash, gift cards for healthy living

A private university is refusing to say how much it has spent on a faculty health and wellness program that offers payouts for healthy living choices.

The program at Lehigh University, called “Be Well,” was first announced on a 2013 post on the school’s website. Be Well is designed for faculty and staff at the school. To incentivize participation in the program, the school offers participants “a chance to earn points that result in rewards and special opportunities.” University members earn those points by completing various challenges and activities.

Challenges include “Dine In, Not Out,” in which participants are urged to cook meals at home, and “Clear The Clutter,” where program members earn points by cleaning up their own houses.

Upon the program’s launch, Be Well offered faculty and staff five levels of accomplishment. Participants advance levels by earning points in increments of 1,000. Monetary prizes are offered at most levels. At the time of its launch, the first level offered $15-per-month “payouts,” while the next three levels offered $50 gift cards. (Level two gave participants the option of a Fitbit.)

The highest level touted “an exclusive technical shirt, online recognition, and entry into a raffle to win special prizes.”

The program appears to still be active. In a Sept. 14 post on its website, the school said that the program “runs on an annual basis, starting in mid-October.” But when asked, school officials were pointedly unwilling to talk about the program, including how much has been spent on it.

The College Fix reached out to campus spokeswoman Lori Friedman via email. The Fix asked how much the school has paid out for the program, how the “wellness credit” is paid out, how many faculty and staff members have participated in it, and whether or not the school has observed any health improvements as a result from the program.

“Thanks for reaching out. We will pass on this request,” Friedman responded. When The Fix asked if Friedman’s response meant the school would not be commenting on the story, she responded: “We are not going to be able to do this one. Maybe next time.”

The Fix also reached out to Doug Strange, the director of the school’s fitness center. In announcing the program, the school said that Strange “has been involved in the development of Be Well since the start.”

Reached via email on Tuesday, Feb. 26, Strange told The Fix: “I need to confirm the correct information connection for your to ensure you have the full scope of information. I will not be able to connect with this person until Thurs[day].”

“I can tell you that our program is highly successful and has some great demographics on participation and success stories,” Strange said.

After his initial email, Strange stopped responding; multiple subsequent emails went unanswered.

A full accounting of Be Well’s costs is unavailable on the school’s website, though the program appears to have grown and changed over the years. A post from Feb. 14 of last year stated that when participants reach the highest level of Be Well, they “will receive a $150 Amazon gift card instead of a $100 gift card and a Dri Fit shirt.”

A post from Nov. of 2017, meanwhile, mentioned that the “monthly wellness credit” is now up to $20, a $5 increase from the amount at launch.

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