NATIONAL NURSES WEEK MAY 6-12
Kristen Henderson knows the sadness, anger, fear, and flood of emotions that come with a cancer diagnosis. In 2016, she learned she had early-stage breast cancer despite having no family history and being a lifelong health and fitness devotee.
Her experiences as a patient led Kristen, who is now free of the disease, to stake out a unique role in promoting wellness, but with a twist: Kristen developed and delivers health and wellness programs for the people who take care of other people—travelers in the healthcare industry including nurses and allied health professionals.
Kristen is the Human Resources Manager and leader of the Health & Wellness Committee for Travel Nurse Across America (TNAA) which is headquartered in Little Rock, AR.
When TNAA set out to re-launch its wellness program in 2022, they recognized that Kristen was the ideal person to lead it. Not only does she have experience as a recipient of medical care, but she has an unwavering personal passion for health and wellness and an incredible drive to create programs that do more than check a box. She also has earned degrees and has extensive professional experience in human resources.
Above all, Kristen is an outspoken leader who demands that TNAA’s Three Pillars of Wellness program is physician-backed. Partnering with Dr. Suzannah Bozzone, TNAA delivers mental health, nutrition and exercise benefits to more than 500 of Kristen’s co-workers at TNAA who are stationed all over the U.S. Most important, they also they also reach out to several thousand of TNAA’s travelers who are deployed in communities all across America at health care facilities that depend on the additional staffing of these professionals to deliver quality patient care.
After spending several months collecting her committee, researching the needs within TNAA’s ranks, and aligning with Dr. Bozzone as well as fitness trainer Matt Averyhart, Kristen launched a series of programs that support TNAA’s core values and culture under the Three Pillars of Wellness, which include mental health, nutrition, and exercise. The committee, under Kristen’s leadership, created programs for staff, colleagues, and their families, believing, as Kristen says, that “wellness spills over into our homes, making it all-encompassing and building a community of support.”
One of the most recent programs Kristen developed, in addition to others she has led at TNAA, is perhaps also the most challenging because it extends to on-the-move traveling nurses.
Knowing that “travelers” are living away from home without traditional comforts and support systems, and are working in new environments where they must constantly adapt to unfamiliar surroundings and people, Kristen was inspired to find a way to deliver health and wellness benefits to this mobile group.
She settled on finding a way to deliver the highly documented health and wellness benefits of gardening and nurturing plants to TNNA’s corps of health care workers.
But how could travelers, who are away from home take care of plants and a garden, and what would happen to them when they moved to another location?
Undeterred, Kristen poured over research and took a tip from experts at Cigna, the multi-national managed healthcare and insurance company, of which TNAA is a client, that the perfect partner existed in the form of a company called Gardenuity.
Gardenuity delivers plants and gardens to homes all over the country and conducts live and virtual gardening workshops with many of the most notable names in corporate America who understand the mental and physical health benefits that nurturing plants can bring in the workplace.
There is wellness power and team building that comes with employees gathering together to put their hands in the dirt and create desktop or portal gardens including everything from tropical plants to herbs and vegetables with zingy names like “Brunch Garden,” “Cocktail Garden,” “Some Like It Hot Garden,” and “Taco Toppings Garden.”
In special recognition of Kristen’s personal health and wellness crisis, she has teamed with Gardenuity to create a pink garden featuring a variety of beautiful plants imbued with the color which has come to symbolize the fight against breast cancer.
On behalf of TNAA, Gardenuity sends travelers, regardless of where they are temporarily based across the U.S., a desktop garden kit that features the fully-rooted pink-hued tropical plants, growing medium/soil, bamboo planter, custom plant nutrients, a water mister, and instructions to nurture the garden.
According to Kristen, having the opportunity to plant and nurture a garden as they could at home gives the travelers immeasurable health and wellness benefits and a feeling of place.
“Nature has undeniable healing properties, and the act of planting and caring for gardens and plants delivers mental health benefits that have been well documented such as generating calm, as well as physical benefits such as lowering blood pressure and many other positive impacts,” Kristen says.
“Because travelers are in stressful situations at work and in unfamiliar surroundings in temporary housing, they more than anyone need and deserve the opportunity to connect with nature and derive the many benefits that come with plants and gardening. It is something we can do to honor and support them at no cost.”
Recognizing that travelers are not likely to be able to move the gardens with them from location to location, Kristen and team came up with a way to help TNAA travelers “pay it forward.”
Upon departure to their next assignment, nurses are encouraged to gift the gardens to patients—especially breast cancer patients—or to other health care colleagues, leaving a bit of themselves behind to make another person’s life richer and healthier.
Gardenuity donates a portion of the cost of each garden purchased by TNNA to Susan G. Komen to keep the giving going.
“Kristen is a force of nature,” says Gardenuity’s Letier. “That’s probably why she so well understands the incredible connection between nature, health, and wellness. Kristen and her team have created a program that touches the soul, helps heal the body, and calms the mind for the travelers who are on the front lines delivering amazing care to patients.”
“TNAA is so advanced and forward thinking to put a leader like Kristen in place and to develop and deliver a program like this while others may be looking for something more conventional, or frankly easier, to do,” Letier says.
Cigna, which helped introduced Kristen to Gardenuity and works with Gardenuity themselves, agrees. In fact, Cigna nominated TNAA’s Three Pillars of Wellness program for a prestigious regional award that recognizes client health and wellness programs that demonstrate leadership involvement, participation data, program implementation, and more.
While the TNAA programming did not win, they were recognized in the top five of such programs, which is a fantastic accomplishment considering the TNAA programs had only been running for nine months at the time.
“I am so proud beyond measure of what we have done,” says Kristen. “We have much more to do and to accomplish, but I am so grateful to be part of such as progressive organization like TNAA, which has given our health and wellness committee the backing and freedom necessary to do meaningful things for the people who help other people.”