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January 2009
Choose Wellness
By Janet Kropinak

     The benefits of a healthy work/life balance can’t be ignored and employers in greater Charlotte are recognizing that employee-oriented wellness initiatives can no longer be viewed as simply optional extras. Based on current health care trends, aggressive action to maintain employee wellness is increasingly perceived as the best way to control premium and insurance costs, decrease absenteeism and maintain higher levels of productivity.

Promoting employee health is a proven key to controlling health care costs and as a result businesses are searching for employee wellness programs that are affordable, easily managed and readily available.

Quality wellness programs encourage healthy dietary choices and active lifestyles including regular exercise which are known factors in reducing the risk of heart attack, stroke, cancer, diabetes and other serious impairments.

To meet these objectives, two of Charlotte’s premier, health-oriented organizations, Carolinas HealthCare System (CHS) and YMCA of Greater Charlotte (YMCA), have teamed together creating LiveWELL Carolinas! Corporate Health, a corporate health initiative designed to promote health and wellness throughout the business community.

LiveWELL Carolinas! Corporate Health gives employees making unhealthy choices the knowledge and support they need to adopt and maintain a healthier lifestyle, while encouraging and rewarding employees engaging in healthy lifestyles to continue.

 

Natural Synergy

Although the program was formally launched in January 2008, there has been a synergy between the YMCA and CHS for many years.

“We’ve had a strong business relationship with YMCA for years,” explains Jared Pankowski, manager for occupational health and wellness for CHS Corporate Health. “Our missions mirror each other in that we are both looking to serve the community by promoting health and wellness.”

In fact, most YMCA facilities have a health center with a full-time CHS nurse, an arrangement that has been in place for over nine years.

Before LiveWELL Carolinas! Corporate Health was launched, both organizations had been promoting health and wellness independently. The YMCA had been running a similar wellness program through its 17 branches, and although they were able to encourage people to participate in the fitness side, they were looking for more to offer in terms of health education.

CHS Corporate Health had been providing health and wellness services to employers in the Charlotte Metro region for over 15 years. Three years ago Carolinas Healthcare System established its own internal wellness program promoting health and wellness to its employees, which was in conjunction with the YMCA.

It soon became apparent to both groups that by combining their resources they could become a one-stop shop for employers looking to create health and wellness offerings to their employees. A new, combined program was designed and branded under LiveWELL Carolinas! Corporate Health.

Bill Watson, corporate health director for YMCA, expounds on the relationship: “Our partnership with CHS has allowed us to combine our resources and offer a more comprehensive program to the business community.”

The program includes subsidized YMCA memberships, health risk assessments and biometric screenings, health fairs, wellness seminars and behavior modification programs.

“The unique thing about the program is that a company can pick and choose which elements they are interested in for their employees,” explains Pankowski.

Companies that are looking to get a handle on the current health and wellness of their employees might enlist in a health risk assessment, which includes a lifestyle questionnaire identifying both strengths and weaknesses in the employee’s health. A company-wide report is also provided to the employer giving them an overview of their company’s health as a whole.

The program is designed to offer companies a variety of programs and services suited for people of all ages, fitness levels and health status, the convenience of locations across the greater Charlotte area, as well as the option of bringing the services to the workplace, the expertise of nurses, certified personal trainers, dieticians, and fitness and wellness experts, and the element of a team-dynamic in getting healthy together.

Watson explains the YMCA membership component: “Part of the program includes subsidized YMCA memberships. The level of subsidy is at the discretion of the company, but must be a minimum of 20 percent and the employees’ joining fees will be waived.”

Another feature are wellness seminars, which are conducted at the workplace by a representative of the corporate health group, offering insight into topics such as Nutrition 101, Cold vs. Flu, Life Balance, Stress Management, and Getting the Most of Your Doctor’s Visits.

Health fairs and behavior modification programs are also growing in popularity among program participants. Pankowski lists stress management and smoking cessation seminars among the most in demand offerings.

A year into the program, both Watson and Pankowski are happy with the results and the evolving relationship between the companies.

“We are still learning how to work together but we are very proud of the strong working relationship we have,” says Watson. “The program is constantly evolving and expanding as we learn more about what companies are looking for and what works.”

 

Customized Solutions

Recognizing the different needs and financial means of participating companies, LiveWELL Carolinas! Corporate Health can tailor the program to meet each company’s needs and budget.

Don Nowak, president of Charlotte-based Falcon Metal, enlisted the help of CHS Corporate Health in October when he sponsored health assessments for each of his 16 employees and he is currently working on a more structured program based around Pankowski’s recommendations.

“We had been discussing the need to address wellness with our staff for over a year. We have very low turnover and an aging employee population,” explains Nowak. “We were looking to provide them the opportunity to maintain and improve the quality of their lives.”

Although participation in the health assessments was optional, Nowak says they had 100 percent participation. “We saw that some of the folks were quite serious about making lifestyle changes after reviewing the results with the corporate health representative. Our one smoker quit and at least two of the staff have joined health clubs.”

Being a small business owner, Nowak is aware that he isn’t likely to see much relief in health care costs, but feels strongly the benefits of the program outweigh the monetary savings.

“We are too small a group to get any tangible benefits like reduced insurance costs. Our goal is to have more healthy employees,” says Nowak. “This is a small investment to provide our staff the opportunity to improve the quality of their lives. If 20 percent of the staff does something positive with the results, it will be well worth it.”

Another example of a business wanting to do more for their employees’ health and wellness is Cox Schepp Construction who enrolled in LiveWELL Carolinas! Corporate Health in August.

HR Manager Barrett Trapnell explains the catalyst for their decision: “Our COO, Rodger Foresman, wanted to make sure our superintendents had the option for all around better wellness. Superintendent is a very stressful position both mentally and physically.”

Cox Schepp’s program includes partially subsidized YMCA memberships for its employees and their families. “The company pays a portion of the monthly dues, if they go a certain amount of time we give them an additional reimbursement,” Trapnell explains.

What would Trapnell say to an employer worried about the return on investment (ROI) of such a program? “If you are doing it solely to see an ROI on your medical premiums, you are in it for the wrong reason,” he comments. “There is so much more to consider. Ask someone who is using it and you will get your ROI. And if you still need more measurements, then there is a simple formula: happy employees = better production.”

Perhaps one of the most compelling stories of the program’s success comes from Blythe Construction, who began their health initiative last summer. During a company-sponsored health assessment test, it was discovered that Jerry Queen, a bridge superintendent, had a blood sugar count of 311, a red flag for diabetes.

Through his participation in the program and after visiting a doctor, it was determined that he was suffering from type 2 diabetes. “If not for the Blythe program, I may have suffered a heart attack or coma. I could have been permanently disabled due to a disease I had no idea I had,” comments Queen, who today controls his diabetes through medication and better nutrition.

In addition to health assessments, Blythe also hosted a health fair for its employees. “Employee reaction to the program has been very positive. We’ve had 198 people participate out of our 450 employees,” says Sandy Whitaker-Pratt, Blythe’s communication manager. “We are currently working on specific programs for the new year that focus on nutrition, exercise and smoking cessation.”

 

Benefits of Balance

Pankowski and Watson both acknowledge that for some employers, it still comes down to the numbers and the return on their investment.

“It is important to understand that this is a long term investment you are making,” Pankowski explains. “It can be challenging to get management to buy into the investment but once they understand the impact it can have on morale, productivity and overall performance, I think it is hard to argue against.”

But for those employers who are still asking why their company should invest in a corporate health plan? Consider this. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, of every 100 employees, 27 have cardiovascular disease, 24 have high blood pressure, 50 have high cholesterol, 26 are at least 20 percent overweight, 59 do not get adequate exercise, and 21 smoke.

Convinced yet? You might be when you learn about the impact a corporate health and wellness plan can have on your health care costs. A review of 56 published studies of worksite health programs (The Art of Health Promotion) shows an average of 26 percent reduction in both sick leave absenteeism and reduction in health care costs, an average of 32 percent reduction in worker’s compensation and disability management costs, and an average of $5.81 to $1.00 savings-to-cost ratio.

“If done right, creating a health and wellness program for your company creates an environment where people feel valued and cared for,” Pankowski explains.

Currently there are over 150 companies who have enlisted services from either the YMCA or CHS. Nearly every company who enrolled in 2008 has committed to continuing in 2009.

As for Pankowski and Watson’s commitment to 2009 and beyond, they are focusing on expanding services and the program’s exposure in the business community, which they hope in turn betters the overall health of the community-at-large.

“Every indication we are getting from the community and businesses is telling us that we’ve got a home run with this program,” Watson says enthusiastically. “I am so proud to be part of a program that is truly helping make a difference and impacting peoples’ lives.

Pankowski shares in Watson’s enthusiasm: “It is really exciting when you are part of the catalyst that helps people live a healthier lifestyle.”

So as the New Year begins, consider taking advantage of the many benefits of the LiveWELL Carolinas! Corporate Health program. Benefits to your company include reduction of injuries, reduced health care costs, lower absenteeism and increased retention and productivity…and happier, well-cared-for employees.

Whether your business is small, medium or large—whether you want elaborate on-site programming or simply a few motivational tools to reward healthier employee choices—LiveWELL Carolinas! Corporate Health initiative has an option that will fit your needs and budget.

 

 

Janet Kropinak is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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