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August 2011
Carolinas Corporate Health & Wellness improves health, reduces costs
By Zenda Douglas

     Hyunghee Chun attended the Johnson & Wales University Mind, Body and Soul Health Fair last September out of an immediate concern over her health. While she had a vague awareness that diabetes ran on her father’s side of the family, she had no symptoms.

     “It was so convenient that I thought I might as well go,” says Chun. She stopped by the Carolinas HealthCare System (CHS) biometric screening station and was surprised to learn that her blood glucose level was a whopping 471. Since she had eaten recently, the nurse had her wait for a second check which revealed a still alarming 280. (Blood glucose numbers between 90 and 100 are considered normal.)

     The health fair wake-up call led Chun to work with student health services and her primary care physician to become an active participant in her healthcare. She embarked on a low-calorie weight-loss program and learned techniques for stress management. Today, the culinary arts student, who is looking forward to working as a chef and managing her own restaurant, is 30 pounds lighter and managing her diabetes without medication.

     “They are truly saving lives,” says Chun.

     Chun’s story is but one example of the many ways in which CHS Carolinas Corporate Health & Wellness is working to have a positive impact on healthcare. “They are already invited back to the 2012 fair,” says Karen Hiney, Johnson & Wales’ health and counseling services director.

 

The need for wellness

     For the past 25 years, Carolinas Corporate Health & Wellness has been providing one of the most extensive and respected corporate health programs in the Charlotte region. Their broad range of services available to employers includes occupational medicine, wellness services, health fairs and on-site clinics. A department of Carolinas HealthCare System, Carolinas Corporate Health & Wellness operates within a 13-county area. Services are performed by knowledgeable staff, health educators, nurses and other medical staff, including physicians.

     The occupational health network is comprised of approximately 50 facilities such as urgent care centers, family practice offices and emergency departments to provide 24-hour medical resources for employers. Additionally, CHS operates 13 on-site clinics.

     While most employers claim as their first priority the health and well-being of their employees, there are also other benefits including reduction of employee absenteeism, improved employee retention, and increased productivity—with a reduction in healthcare costs. Healthier employees contribute to a financially healthier workplace.

     Carolinas Corporate Health & Wellness is headed up by Director Betsy Hayden, who has been involved since the beginning of the program.

     “For all these years, I’ve been knocking on doors and building relationships. It started with occupational health, and then expanded into a health promotions department, says Hayden. “Then employers wanted us to come on-site and provide interactive services.”

     Originally from Timmonsville, S.C., Hayden started out in occupational medicine by registering injured employees in an urgent care setting. Although her mother, sister and niece are all nurses, Hayden says, “I’m rightfully situated in the sales arena; I can’t even look at a wound.”

     Dr. Larry Raymond, medical director of Carolinas Corporate Health & Wellness, is one of two physicians board-certified in occupational medicine within Carolinas HealthCare System. Occupational medicine is focused on safety, prevention and the treatment of injuries or illness that happen in the workplace.

     “We provide a service for many employers who need to be compliant with government mandates through the Department of Labor, Department of Transportation, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration,” says Hayden.

     “Carolinas HealthCare System understands occupational medicine better than anyone else,” declares Danny Reece, safety and training specialist with Dole Fresh Vegetables out of Bessemer City. Reece, who has spent his career in manufacturing, says he has influenced a number of companies to switch to Carolinas Corporate Health & Wellness and now works with them on behalf of Dole employees.

     “They save us money and help to keep our employees working,” says Reece, who explains: “If an employee tells the nurse or doctor that they can’t run a particular job, most programs will put them out. Maybe what they mean is that they can’t lift 50 pounds—something that is part of the job only twice per day and can be handled by someone else. Carolinas Healthcare looks deeper. By acknowledging that the employee can do the majority of the job, they allow the employee to stay on the job and help to lower reportable injuries, which can increase insurance premiums.” Dole has had three reportable injuries this year, down from six last year.

     Long-time client, Time Warner Cable, headquartered in Morrisville, N.C., utilizes Carolinas Corporate Health & Wellness in the Charlotte region. “We use Carolinas Healthcare because they care about our employees,” says Louis Caraballo, manager, Risk Management & EHS Services. TWC technicians are out in the field on a daily basis doing installations and repairs. Often going into difficult spaces or climbing ladders, injuries can happen.

     “If the employee feels that they are taken care of, they want to return to work,” says Caraballo. Carolinas Corporate Health & Wellness also handles Department of Transportation exams for TWC.

 

A choice of healthcare approaches

     Carolinas Corporate Health & Wellness has close to 2,000 clients ranging from one to 10,000 employees. “A client with only one employee may only need a drug screen,” explains Hayden. Clients come from diverse settings within manufacturing, food services, retail, transportation and government.

     “Every employer is different,” says Hayden. “Some want injury or acute care treatment, physicals for employees or HazMat care; others want wellness education programs, flu and pneumonia shots, or help with managing chronic conditions through an on-site clinic. We customize a program for each client according to their needs.”

     Charlotte Pipe and Foundry, a client since 1993, established an on-site clinic with Carolinas Corporate Health & Wellness in 2004 to give their employees access to a mid-level health provider (a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant) without having to leave work. The company now has on-site clinics in each of their two manufacturing plants and their corporate office in the Charlotte region.

     “They treat acute conditions such as sinus/allergies and the common cold,” says Brett Henderson, associate benefits manager. “Now it has evolved into health coaching and counseling for chronic conditions.” Henderson explains that the Foundry is a dangerous place and the labor, very manual. The company makes cast iron soil pipe and fittings for the plumbing industry. There is significant physical demand.

     There are occupational nurses who focus on safety departments. Carolinas Corporate Health & Wellness also offers employers an Employee Assistance Program, which covers an array of issues such as mental health counseling, financial concerns or transportation. “We have an excellent relationship with Carolinas HealthCare System; they are a great partner,’ says Henderson.

     Radiator Specialty also offers employees an on-site clinic staffed by Carolinas Corporate Health & Wellness which attends to a variety of problems such as earaches, sore throats and prescription refills. “We don’t rush employees through. And we help them avoid the costs of taking off work to go to the doctor,” says Ronald Weiner, vice president of human resources of the Indian Trail company that batches and ships formulas of cleaners, degreasers, lubricants and functional fluids. Like many companies, Radiator Specialty is focusing more and more on wellness issues and the management of chronic disease such as hypertension, according to Weiner.

 

Treatment is good; prevention is better

     When Premier Healthcare Alliance began offering biometric screening to their employees, some were very surprised by the outcomes. Most of those took immediate action, according to Allison Golding, senior director, Total Rewards. This is exactly the response companies and Carolinas Corporate Health & Wellness hope for.

     “We’re working with employees who don’t take care of themselves as well as they should,” says Deborah Jolly, director of human resources for the City of Shelby, speaking of the City’s 77 percent male-majority staff. “Like everybody, our health insurance claims are up and we are trying to reduce them to keep our insurance premiums under control.”

     The City utilizes Carolinas Corporate Health & Wellness’ services and, more recently, on-site health coaching. Each year, baseline screening is done for employees which includes measures for blood pressure, blood glucose levels, cholesterol and triglycerides, weight and waist circumference. Employees are then broken out by the number of health risks identified and scheduled for appropriate coaching.

     “Prevention is key,” says Jolly. “Just one or two employees experiencing major hospitalizations would make a huge impact on premiums.”

     During Radiator Specialty’s health fair this past June, 140 associates were screened. Nineteen of them were referred for specific action follow-up, according to Weiner. Two out of 78 had indications of peripheral vascular disease; out of 100 screened for blood pressure, 44 were above normal. Of the 45 screened for blood sugar, one was above normal range, and that one, and three others were referred to a primary care physician or diabetes center.

     “There is no dispute that wellness efforts comprise the most constructive investment we can make to curb the cost of health care,” stresses Weiner.

     “Each year we try to do something a little different,” says Ben Nice, GE Capital’s commercial marketing manager. “For this year’s health fair, we added mobile mammograms.” The company, whose staff is a call-center population, also focuses on ergonomics.

     Smoking cessation and weight management programs are givens for most corporate clients.

     Charlotte Pipe and Foundry’s Henderson reports that an employee was successfully treated for prostate cancer after a health fair PSA test returned positive. “There have been people who have been on the verge of a stroke. We were able to ward those off plus the nurses have gotten numerous people to be compliant with their medications for blood pressure and cholesterol.”

     “You would be surprised how many employees do not have a primary care physician,” says Hayden. “Health insurance is there, but it’s not convenient,” she continues, citing scheduling and waiting for appointments as deterrents to regular doctor visits. “We’re taking it to them through on-site physician scheduling services.”

     Tony Austin, production supervisor with McLean Power, likes to tell his story to encourage others. He knows firsthand how participating in an employee health program can be life-saving.

     “I started work at McLean Power wearing size 56 pants; my belt was 74 inches long.” Carolinas’ Nurse Practitioner Heather Shiflett helped him realize the risk he was in.

     “She told me things my family doctor hadn’t told me—about the fat build-up in my liver. She recommended the low-carb/high protein diet and plenty of water.” Austin went on to become the winner of the company’s Biggest Loser Contest, slimming down to a size 36 pants and losing 65 pounds. Then, with a 90 percent blockage in his right coronary artery, he had a heart attack.

     “My doctor said that if I had still been carrying the weight, I would not have made it.” Austin has now lost a total of 160 pounds. Now, life is easier, according to Austin. “When it’s hot, I don’t get out of breath. My abilities have increased and that is reflected in my job.”

     Participation in wellness services can have a favorable impact on an individual’s healthcare costs as well, due to company incentives. The City of Shelby offers a $360 discount on health insurance for employees who go through screening and follow up with health coaching. Charlotte Pipe and Foundry uses a results-based incentive program. Employees can save up to $800 per year in healthcare premiums.

     “At the end of the day, employees understand that we’re all in this together and with the rising cost of healthcare, about the only thing we can do is have people accountable for their health,” says Henderson.

     Return on investment for a company is difficult to calculate. “I can’t prove the heart attack that did not happen,” says Weiner. One or two bad claims will drive higher premiums but that doesn’t mean you didn’t have a successful wellness program.”

     Jolly agrees, “I like to think it will eventually allow us to break even on the cost. In the beginning cost may actually increase because of problems being identified and treated, but we’ll have healthier employees and our employers are the most important of what we’ve got.”

 

Zenda Douglas is a Greater Charlotte Biz freelance writer.
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