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Wellness and the bottom line.

"Physical fitness is equating to fiscal fitness"

Nearly two years ago, an employee at the Endress+Hauser manufacturing plant was diagnosed with breast cancer, and the entire Greenwood company, which makes leveling and measuring devices, felt the pain of one suffering worker.

"We're a fairly small company (about 200 employees), so when you do have a woman with breast cancer, it heightens your awareness," says Patty Harmon, personnel manager. "We went through a lot of things with her," seeing the effects of the chemotherapy and cancer treatment, Harmon says.

The timing was right for the company to upgrade its wellness program. About that time, Harmon heard about on-site mammography testing provided by St. Francis Hospital and Health Centers, and now the company offers on-site testing annually.

"We have tested about 70 percent of the eligible women" through the on-site mammography mobile unit, Harmon says.

The wellness program at Endress+Hauser also includes on-site screenings for other health risks, like high cholesterol and blood pressure, and the company reimburses part of the cost for health club memberships and cancer screenings.

Harmon has no doubt that the company is saving money in the long run. "It's hard to put your finger on the numbers, but there can't be any question that early detection of breast cancer does help," she says.

Bringing health screenings to the employees has a variety of benefits. Seven or eight of the women at Endress+Hauser were beyond the age when they should have been screened for breast cancer, Harmon says, "so had it not been for the convenience and cost, they may not have had it done at all."

St. Francis, in Beech Grove, has been a leader in wellness programs for companies, and like many other hospitals, is now blazing a trail toward preventive medicine, rather than being a place people come to heal.

According to Tom McMullen, manager of corporate health services at St. Francis, the hospital has been pursuing corporate wellness programs for about seven years, and has served more than 300 companies and 40,000 employees.

As companies grapple with soaring health-care costs, an increasing number are looking at ways to keep employees healthy in the first place.

McMullen cites the average price of some of the surgeries and procedures that could be avoided with healthier living: $30,000 for heart surgery, $29,000 for lung cancer treatment, $22,000 for stroke rehabilitation.

Wellness programs from St. Francis cost from $2 to $5 per employee per month, depending on the programs a company chooses.

A four-year study by Control Data Corp. and Milliman and Robertson Inc., a Milwaukee actuarial consultant, studied lifestyle risks of 15,000 Control Data employees around the country. The risk areas included exercise, weight, smoking, hypertension, alcohol use, cholesterol level and seat-belt use. Results showed that, in general, high-risk persons use more medical care than others, and generate higher claims costs.

The study showed that employees who did not wear seat belts had 54 percent more hospital stays than those who did; smokers had 18 percent higher medical claims than those who did not, and hypertensive employees were 60 percent more likely to have claims exceeding $5,000 per year.

Saving money motivates companies and employees, but it is not the only factor involved in wellness programs. Increased productivity and decreased absenteeism also are benefits of keeping employees healthy.

According to Dr. D.W. Edington, writing in the March 1992 Health Behaviors, Dupont reduced absenteeism by 47.5 percent over six years for its corporate fitness program participants.

Commercial Magazine reported in 1988 that General Motors found that employees in the physical fitness program had a 50 percent reduction in job grievances, 50 percent reduction in on-the-job accidents, and 40 percent reduction in lost time.

Getting employees to believe the numbers might not be as difficult as getting them to embrace a lifestyle change. Many companies are giving a reduction in health insurance costs to employees who choose a healthier lifestyle. Also, results of health screenings are kept confidential; company executives are only given a "snapshot" of the employees' overall health, not the results of individual screenings.

Motivating employees "is my biggest challenge," says Lainie Collins, wellness coordinator at the WorkWell occupational health program of Welborn Hospital in Evansville.

Like most of the hospitals offering wellness programs, Wellborn puts its practices to work on its own staff.

The wellness program there encompasses anything to do with preventive care, including health screenings, nutrition seminars and weight management.

"Employees who already are health-conscious will always take advantage of whatever programs are available," she says. "The challenge is to bring in those who aren't as eager." She offers gift certificates and other incentives.

At Parkview Corporate Health Services in Fort Wayne, vice president of regional outreach Beth Battell tries to motivate the employees of wellness programs by setting up a health carnival and giving away prizes and coupons.

Parkview's program, Health Sense, is a comprehensive package allowing a company to offer health reminders and seminars all year long. Employers are given planning calendars with a theme designated for each month. January is back month, March is nutrition month and April is cancer month. Health education then becomes "a lot broader, and gives them a lot of flexibility," Battell says. Employees get audio cassettes, payroll stuffers, and more--all relating to the theme of the month. "It keeps something in front of their employees all the time," Battell says.

Cost varies depending on the size of the company--a health carnival costs about $400; for Health Sense, companies with fewer than 100 employees pay $10 per year per employee, maximum $750, and the scale continues with more than 1,000 employees, who pay $3 per employee per year, maximum $4,000.

St. Vincent Hospitals and Healthcare Centers in Indianapolis began its wellness services in 1979, and has served more than 200 companies. Barbara Burke, manager of sports medicine and wellness services, says they look for incentive programs to offer employees that might include trips or reimbursed money.

If an employee realizes that he will pay more in health insurance, or he can improve his lifestyle through the company's wellness program, the employee will be more likely to participate in the program, says Tracey Jose, director of the center for educational services at the National Institute for Fitness and Sports in Indianapolis. The non-profit institute has six centers devoted to health. Jose offers wellness consulting to companies, and the center also offers seminars in a variety of health subjects including time management, exercise and nutrition, at a cost of about $150 per hour for companies.

Motivating employees to take part in programs often involves paying them back for being healthy, she says. "We all have to be motivated by something, and if it means we get a little cash back around Christmas time ... it benefits both the company and the employer."

Companies are increasingly inquiring about wellness programs, Jose says, and often are panicked by rising healthcare costs. The mistake they sometimes want to make is to mandate healthier lifestyles for their employees. A company can only ask for voluntary participation among employees, and cannot penalize them for not choosing to live a healthy lifestyle. Forcing employees to be healthy also fosters "a real negative feeling," she says.

Some companies may choose to reward their employees with access to and incentives for using health club facilities. "We have a special corporate package that the company pays an annual fee and any of their employees can come over to our club and only pay a monthly fee," says Marci Crozier, assistant general manager at Omni 41 Sports & Fitness Centre.

Some companies, she adds, increase motivation to use the facility by subsidizing all or part of their monthly dues.

Businesses might also look for an immediate payoff, but in fact, they need to have a wellness program in place for two to three years before they see benefits. If a company spends $1 on wellness, it can save an average of $3 in a well-designed program, Jose says. A well-designed program focuses on the employees, and is not just a "hit and go" informational program, but fits into an employee's lifestyle.

A wellness program "benefits both the company and the employee," Jose says, but adds, "It's unfortunate that companies don't look at this until they have to look at their insurance costs."

Pat Dunn, rehabilitation program manager at St. Catherine Health and Fitness Center in East Chicago, says it's ironic that companies provide health insurance that will pay for medicine for high cholesterol, or for the problems surrounding obesity, but will hesitate to pay for wellness programs.

"It's crucial for companies to get involved," he says. He also thinks it's crucial for hospitals to lead the way in preventive care.

In addition to its wellness programs and fitness facilities, Pro Health of St. Joseph's Medical Center in South Bend, offers an increasingly popular service: on-site massage. With its two massage therapists, program coordinator Mary Labuzienski explains the program is designed "to help those in high stress areas and to release the muscle tension so they might increase productivity."

Roger Wait, director of community relations at Whitley County Memorial Hospital in Columbia City, says companies sometimes don't get involved in wellness programs because they think it costs too much.

In fact, companies will see increased productivity and reduced absenteeism from a wellness program, Walt says. Like many of the hospitals, Whitley does health screenings almost at-cost. "This is not a charity," he says. "It's a way of enhancing our community's lifestyle."

James Evans, vice president of business development at Union Hospital in Terre Haute, believes corporate executives hesitate to start such programs because they don't understand the long-term benefits. "They perceive it as being fluff," he says. "Nothing could be further from the truth.

"This isn't a short pay-back kind of thing. This is a fairly major, long-term corporate commitment strategy. It doesn't have to cost a lot if it's approached correctly."

Bob Block, owner of Bob Block Sports and Fitness Equipment in Indianapolis, says the corporate fitness market is growing. His firm installs corporate gyms for companies, costing $5,000 and up.

"I think they're realizing a fit employee is a more productive employee," Block says.

"Physical fitness is equating to fiscal fitness."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Curtis Magazine Group, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:employee wellness programs
Author:Martel, Judy
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Jul 1, 1993
Previous Article:The smoke-free workplace.
Next Article:Curing the sick building.

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