Shaping the Conversation: Melinda Sorenson Promotes Healthy Community  

As Director of Workplace Wellness of Wellbeing Partners — and currently, as its interim CEO — Melinda Sorenson works every day to improve the health of the community one workplace and one employee at a time.

“I lead our workplace team, and our role is to translate all of the work that we’re doing in the community within the workplace,” she said. “We work really closely with employers to recognize that what we’re doing in the community, such as social determinants of health and mental health, translates into how the workplace can interact with this and engage their own workforce in these initiatives.”

Sorenson has only been with the organization for about a year, but in that time, she’s helped Wellbeing Partners make tremendous strides.

And just in time, too, considering the spike in need surrounding health issues coming out of the darkest days of the pandemic, particularly concerning mental health.

Ending Stigma

Those struggling with mental health can be inactive and turn to substance abuse.

“We’re kind of shaping those conversations around all of the different implications of not addressing mental health,” she said. “But, as a workplace conversation [mental health is] a whole different thing, because a lot of workplaces are just at different levels of readiness for talking about mental health.

“There’s a lot of liability that comes with that. There’s a lot of cost, especially if you’re reevaluating benefits and things like that.”

Some of Sorenson’s advancements through her role include leading an organizational design and culture assessment for a local university and producing strategic plans for adoption among senior leaders to build wellness into the institution at all levels.

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She also spearheaded a new initiative called Vivacity to implement a social determinants of health employer survey and data mapping to guide Pottawattamie County’s response to employee wellness needs. This effort identifies key health issues such as access to early childhood care, access to healthy food and access to physical activity. This data is being implemented throughout the HR department supporting the county’s 400 employees.

“We’ve been surveying people for the past year trying to figure out what they need,” she said. “We’re figuring out how to integrate what they’re suggesting with what they already have and then taking time to say, ‘Is what we have working, or should we try something else?’”

Challenges Remain

Sorenson said the focus on mental health is likely to be a primary driver of Wellbeing Partners well into the future.

“We’re definitely keeping our North Star as mental health and even mental health as a subset of social determinants of health,” she said. “Having these conversations at work comes with its own set of challenges when you’re opening this up to those who are practicing mental health and they’re getting burned out left and right. We’re facing a lot of problems head-on as to how we can equip everybody with equitable resources and ways they can support themselves.”

In addition to her work responsibilities, she’s also heavily connected to various community groups, including as a board member for the League for African Advancement Leadership Africa Summit and membership chairman for Omaha Network.

The Leadership Omaha graduate also co-founded SkateFest Omaha, an activity that supports youth, culture and key neighborhoods. This event, which has grown to a budget of $9,000 and 10 partners including BFF Omaha, Culxr House, Latino Center of the Midlands and NOISE Omaha, reaches more than 800 area residents at each event.

Sorenson graduated cum laude from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2012 with a degree in psychology and followed that up with a master’s degree in industrial organizational psychology from Bellevue University in 2018.