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Presbyterian programs create environment for healthy eating, change

Susie MacLean’s typical salad with a piece of seared ahi tuna on top.

Susie MacLean’s typical salad with a piece of seared ahi tuna on top.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — You intend to eat healthier, but your busy life seems to conspire against you.

If you work full time and have a family, squeezing in hours of preparing and cooking fresh food may just be impossible sometimes.

What if someone understood that? And what if that person helped make it easy?

Susie MacLean, executive director of health and wellness for Presbyterian Healthcare Services, says creating innovative ways to stay healthy is her job for the company’s 10,000 employees.

Many efforts start with food, because “it all really starts with eating well and nourishing our bodies. I had an eating disorder when I was in college.”

MacLean recently gave a talk at TEDxABQ Women about that experience. The video of her eight-minute talk will be up in a few weeks at

“It brought me to a career I love,” she says. “It’s taught me to value a healthy diet. We all have to eat, but learning to eat moderately and making better choices is what I do here.”

Along with her staff of dietitians and exercise physiologists, MacLean has implemented a host of programs since her privately owned Solutions Group was incorporated into Presbyterian two years ago.

Programs are offered to Presbyterian Health Plan and The Solutions Group wellness clients throughout New Mexico.

“We offer programs to employers of all sizes, regardless of whether they have Presbyterian Health Plan,” MacLean says. “This is the beauty of being part of the Presbyterian Health Services integrated system. The programs that prove to be most successful among Presbyterian employees will be made available to other employers beginning in January 2016. Community health is part of our mission.”

This breakfast salad features a poached egg, crumbled turkey bacon and citrus vinaigrette reduction. (Courtesy of Susie Maclean)

This breakfast salad features a poached egg, crumbled turkey bacon and citrus vinaigrette reduction. (Courtesy of Susie Maclean)

Good choices

If Presbyterian employees are too busy to make lunch before they drop off the kids and get to work, most locations have a salad bar, with dozens of choices of fresh vegetables and fruit, proteins and complex carbohydrates. To make it even more attractive, the wellness staff is piloting a program of salad bucks, so employees get a free salad after so many purchases.

The wellness group frequently hosts one-time events, such as a recent Chopped competition modeled after the Food Network television show, to inspire attendees to cook more creatively with healthy ingredients. In that show the challenge for the chef contestants is to take a mystery basket of ingredients and in a short amount of time turn them into a dish judged on creativity, presentation and taste.

Another incentive program, Colorful Choices, had employees log vegetable and fruit choices on the company intranet to show the health benefits – increased vitamins, antioxidants, fiber and more – when they expanded their food color palette.

“If you don’t have time for breakfast, you can get an egg-white omelet with veggies. We’ve pulled out all our fryers (from facility cafeterias). We’ve pulled all the candy out of the gift shops. If you work for Presbyterian, you get Weight Watchers for free,” she says.

Susie MacLean, 55, is executive director of health and wellness for Presbyterian Healthcare Services.

Susie MacLean, 55, is executive director of health and wellness for Presbyterian Healthcare Services.

Getting results

Those efforts are paying off. For example, the 1,123 employees who have taken advantage of Weight Watchers have lost 5,343 pounds. MacLean and her crew are collecting data to demonstrate results across the Presbyterian employee community. Already, employees are showing up with more enthusiasm and taking fewer sick days.

For meetings, employees can order a fruit basket instead of bringing pastries. The food service staff rolls a cart of healthy snack choices around offices, like the customer service call center, where workers have to stay at their desks.

“Bringing doughnuts to work just isn’t that cool anymore,” she says.

All employees are encouraged to stand up and stretch every hour and take a little longer exercise break at least twice a day. Exercise classes are available and walking with co-workers is common.

“We see it as a big picture,” she says. “For every hour of sitting you need to get up and move.

“Sitting is the new smoking – that’s how dangerous it is. My wellness department advocates small changes. Stretching is a small change that makes a big difference.”

Her efforts along with other managers and staff have earned Presbyterian honors as a Top Workplace in a recent Journal survey and high marks as a healthy work environment in other polls.

Sophia Gettys, 34, shown here with her children, Gabriella, 9, and Gabriel, 7, says being part of Presbyterian’s wellness program helps keep her on track. (Courtesy of Sophia Gettys)

Sophia Gettys, 34, shown here with her children, Gabriella, 9, and Gabriel, 7, says being part of Presbyterian’s wellness program helps keep her on track. (Courtesy of Sophia Gettys)

Staying on track

Sophia Gettys, who works in the Cooper Center Presbyterian Customer Service Center, says volunteering to be a wellness ambassador has helped her and her co-workers stay on track for better health habits. As a volunteer, she keeps her co-workers up to speed about new wellness programs and brings feedback to MacLean.

“I make sure I make healthy choices because I know eyes are on me,” she says. “In the call center we sit all day, so it’s very important that we make time to work out.”

She and co-workers often take a shorter morning and longer afternoon exercise break, she says.

Several years ago before moving to Albuquerque, she participated in the Worst Cooks in America Food Network show. A chef helped her understand the artistry and effort behind a good, healthy meal. “Food is something I really appreciate now. It’s nourishment. I slow down and appreciate it.”

Gettys, 34, mother of two, says she has struggled with weight her whole life. At one point she had 260 pounds on her 5-foot-3 frame, but now is down 45 pounds.

“I get down sometimes, but those moments will pass if you just stick it out,” she says. “It’s me supporting my co-workers. It all of us understanding that we are worth more than a number on the scale.”

Sophia Gettys and Susie MacLean say these recipes keep them on a healthy eating plan:


Serves 1

1 poached egg

1 slice turkey bacon, crisp and crumbled

Chopped raw spinach, about a ½ cup

Packaged salad greens with herbs, about ½ cup

½ avocado, sliced

1 ounce apple or nectarine, julienned or cut into matchstick pieces

Parmesan, salt and pepper

Citrus Vinaigrette

1 ounce red or white table wine

1 ounce red or white wine vinegar

3 lemons zest/juice

3 limes juice

1 tablespoon chopped shallots

2 cloves of garlic, finely diced

1 tablespoon honey

3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Pinch of salt

In a small saucepan, combine vinaigrette ingredients and reduce liquid by half over high heat for approximately 15-20 minutes. When you can put a spoon in the reduction and it becomes lightly glazed, it’s right. Taste a cooled spoonful for flavor. Strain over another bowl or serving container to remove any solids. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, combine spinach leaves, herb salad, diced bacon and sliced apples. Add about a tablespoon of the vinaigrette and gently toss. Reserve a few bacon bits to top salad.

Create a shallow indentation in salad, frame with avocado slices and gentle slide poached egg in center. Sprinkle with Parmesan, salt and pepper to taste.

– Recipe by Sophia Gettys

Simply Roasted Veggies

Use a wide variety of fresh, local seasonal vegetables.

Suggested ingredients:

Summer squash

Fresh mushrooms

Brussels sprouts

Red and yellow bell pepper





Cherry tomatoes — add during the last 15 minutes of baking in order to avoid bursting.

Seasoning such as Nature’s Seasons

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Cut vegetables into bite-size pieces. Place vegetables in large bowl, spray with olive oil cooking spray and toss to coat evenly. Spread in one layer on foil-lined, rimmed baking pan. Generously season vegetables with your choice of spices, such as Nature’s Seasons.

Place baking pan in upper half of oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Turn the vegetables every 15-20 minutes for even roasting. Remove vegetables from oven, coat again with cooking spray and sprinkle with additional seasoning.

Serving suggestions: Prepare the roasted vegetables in large quantities and store in the refrigerator. Use them in egg white omelets, salads, side dishes or combined with crackers and a light spread of soft goat cheese for a healthy snack.

– Recipe by Susie MacLean

The All but the Kitchen Sink Salad

Roasted beets: Slice off the beet leaves close to the base of the beet, wash the beet, cover it with foil and roast in the oven at 425 degrees until tender, approximately 30-45 minutes — remove, let cool and hold the beet in a paper towel while using another paper towel to easily rub away the skin.

Simply Roasted Vegetables (see recipe above)

Peruvian aji chiles

Canned hearts of palm

Canned quartered artichoke hearts, packed in water

Lean protein, such as grilled chicken breast, ahi tuna, shrimp, halibut or baked tofu

Cherry tomatoes

Feta or crumbled goat cheese, about a tablespoon

Quinoa or spinach quinoa cake, prepared

Chopped egg whites

Pomegranate seeds

COOK’S NOTE: I love to eat an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables each day. I make salads for lunch and create a salad that’s a meal. I begin with a base of kale. If you don’t like kale, any dark, leafy greens will do. I spray the kale with olive oil and massage in order to wilt the stiff leaves. I add any or all of the ingredients above and then coat the entire salad with high-quality balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and toss to mix thoroughly.

For the protein, use what you have left over from the previous night’s dinner.

Peruvian ahi chiles are small, red sweet peppers found on most olive bars, such as Whole Foods.

– Recipe by Susie MacLean