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Here's to your health: an innovative wellness program to reach the high-risk employee.

Since most employees today spend close to half their weekday waking hours at work, companies are taking steps to promote health and wellness at the worksite. Doing so not only can cut health-care costs, but also can promote a healthy bottom line through increased productivity.

Statistics show that as many as half of all illnesses are the result of unhealthy lifestyle habits, conditions which could have been prevented. And employer-paid health-care costs, which are directly affected by these illnesses, represent as much as 30 percent of all health-care expenditures. This expense is likely to increase as the age of the work force rises, unless employers take the lead and offer employees assistance to improve their lifestyles and kick unhealthy habits.

Hospitals throughout the state are working hand-in-hand with the business community to ensure the health and safety of the workforce. For example, Parkview Memorial Hospital in Fort Wayne developed the Health Sense program--a system enabling employers to encourage health and prevention among their employees and make that awareness ongoing.

Each month, focus is given to a specific health topic, in accordance with the national health calendar. For instance, January is National Back Health Month, April is Cancer Control Month and October is Family Health Month. Services such as back screenings, mammograms, pulmonary-function screens and stress-management classes are offered to support each month's theme.

"There's just a whole variety of services. It gives a lot of flexibility to fit the needs of both white-collar and blue-collar employers," says Beth Battell, vice president of Parkview Regional Outreach. She says most of the programs can be conducted on-site.

The cost varies. Parkview offers an all-inclusive program for $10 per employee to companies with under 100 employees; the price drops to $3 per employee for those with more than 1,000 workers. Components are priced individually: A health carnival costs $400, plus extras, and puzzle boards are $150 each.

To entice fence sitters, or even hard-core resisters, into the program, Health Sense incorporates incentives to promote employee participation. "If we're telling employers that we're going to save them money on their health-care costs, then we better be reaching those employees that we call the resisters or the stalwarts," Battell says.

Keltsch Pharmacy in Fort Wayne offers a drawing for gift certificates, product discounts and even a color TV/VCR to employees who complete various health-related puzzles. Answers are provided on handouts discussing the topic of the month. Other businesses in the area also offer discounts on products and services. "The bottom line in what we're trying to do is to educate employees about health and get them to change their attitudes and behaviors," Battell says.

Parkview also uses the Health Sense program to improve the wellness of its own staff, and it offers cash incentives for smoking cessation, weight loss and other lifestyle improvements. Employees can earn up to $100 in cash health bonuses.

In the long run, wellness programs actually save employers money, but there are start-up and ongoing costs to contend with. Battell suggests cost sharing. For example, a company could refrain from paying the total cost of a smoking-cessation class until the employee can offer proof that he or she has kicked the habit for good. Then the cost can be reimbursed, and a bonus may even be offered.

Spouse participation also is encouraged. "Studies have shown that spouses spend more health-care dollars than employees," says Battell. "So if an employer is really looking to save costs, they should think about the whole family."

Parkview markets the Health Sense program to other hospitals as well. "Most hospitals have all these services, but they haven't found a real good way to market them and pull it all together. That's what Health Sense does from a hospital's perspective," Battell explains.

St. Francis Hospital and Health Centers in Beech Grove recently implemented Health Sense for its own employees and began marketing it to corporate clients in the Indianapolis area.

The program begins with a health carnival kickoff, based on the theme "Are You Puzzled About Your Health?" The carnival features a dozen booths tying into the national monthly health themes.

Health Sense at St. Francis is an extension of its mobile-unit services. "In the past we would drive away in the van after doing maybe a couple hundred screenings, and the person in charge of bringing us in gets busy doing their other tasks. They don't have time to think about contests, or smoking cessation or weight-loss programs," says Tom McMullen, director of marketing services. "With Health Sense, we have a vehicle which is constantly in front of the employees. And it's interactive. Employees can ask questions and receive answers the following month."

Historically, the wellness field has used a shotgun approach to educate the populace, often hitting low-risk individuals who already were actively trying to improve their health. "We're trying to get at the high-risk people," McMullen says. "The incentive program allows us to do that."

An Indianapolis Target store and a mall sponsor incentives for St. Francis. The hospital also offers cash incentives--approximately $2,000 for such goals as weight loss. Teams of six employees compete against one another to see which can lose the most weight and keep it off. Last year each member of the winning team received $300. Area employers also have offered an overnight hotel package in downtown Indianapolis, complete with carriage ride.

Education components include payroll stuffers and a puzzle board as well as videos. McMullen says these can be used to create a wellness library, to be shown at safety meetings or even for employees' home viewing.

The St. Francis mobile unit, a 40-foot motor home, is virtually a doctor's office on wheels. On-site services include complete physicals with cholesterol screening, treadmill stress testing and more, at $85 per employee. The mini-exam package at $19 per head includes cholesterol, blood sugar and hearing screens, as well as a computerized health-risk analysis. Mammograms are available.

Companies also can take advantage of a computerized health-risk analysis of their entire work force as a whole, through a program called Modifiable Claims Audit. "It actually looks at their paid health-care claims and prints out the illnesses that they paid for which were preventable," McMullen says.

An audit of St. Francis work force claims showed that $2 million of overall health-care expenditures were related to lifestyle. "It gave us 11 risk factors like prenatal health, accidents, smoking, obesity and lack of exercise," explains McMullen. "For females between 30 and 39 years old, the biggest claim utilization was obesity-related incidents--such as diabetes claims and other things that relate to carrying too much body fat."

Like Parkview and St. Francis hospitals, St. Mary's Medical Center in Evansville has been working to boost the wellness of its own employees. Administrators had learned that preventable factors and lifestyle habits were behind a significant portion of the hospital's more than $5 million annual health-care costs. So St. Mary's and its health-plan administrator, Acordia of Evansville, developed a prevention program called HealthStyle Plus..

In creating the plan, the hospital drew upon the experiences of another Evansville employer, sporting-equipment maker Escalade Inc., which had been working with St. Mary's and Acordia to boost the wellness of its workforce. Among other things, the St. Mary's program targets participants who smoke, have high blood pressure or cholesterol, or who are overweight. The program combats these problems by rewarding employees who have adopted healthy lifestyle habits.

The Occupational Health Center at Saint Margaret Mercy Healthcare Centers is another example of a hospital's efforts to help businesses promote wellness. The center has facilities in Hammond and Dyer.

In addition to pre-employment physicals and drug screenings, client companies are offered a number of other services, including seminars on skin cancers, stress management and nutrition. "Any time an occupational-health program is hooked to a hospital, we take advantage of other services," says Debbie Burris, manager of the Occupational Health Services program.

Staff from Saint Margaret Mercy make visits to assess a company's work environment and then tailor a plan designed to cut medical costs and prevent injury. Client companies receive discounts on emergency-room treatment for employees injured on the job, as well as follow-up care and return-to-work evaluations. And best of all, there is no enrollment fee to become a client company.
COPYRIGHT 1994 Curtis Magazine Group, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Prata, Kathleen
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Nov 1, 1994
Previous Article:The region's top employers.
Next Article:Creating the drug-free workplace.

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