Wellness a winner for hospitals, HCWs

OhioHealth helps employees become healthy

Almost six years ago, OhioHealth in Columbus began to face up to a problem: Many employees at the multi-hospital system in central Ohio were unhealthy. They were smokers, overweight, physically inactive, stressed out.

Chronic diseases were getting them down. They were also costing the health system in higher medical costs and greater absenteeism. The medications for asthma alone could run hundreds of dollars a month for a single patient. The health system is self-insured and pays 80% of employees' premium costs.

OhioHealthy, a comprehensive wellness program, began in 2006 with a program targeting employees with asthma or diabetes. Pathways to Wellness provided the medications at a significant discount — or even free — if employees met with a pharmacist quarterly to monitor their progress. Diabetics needed to get quarterly A1c blood tests, annual eye exams and ongoing foot care.

The pharmacists coordinated with the employees' physicians as they helped employees manage their conditions.

"We really want [employees] to have the best quality of life they can have," says Linda Wagner, RN, MA, NE-BC, clinical director of OhioHealthy, noting that employee wellness also benefits employers. "If they feel better, they can be more productive," she says.

Over the years, OhioHealthy has evolved and added new programs, from nicotine replacement therapy for smoking cessation to wellness incentives. It is also gathering outcomes information to evaluate the impact of the wellness program.

If employees and their covered spouses or partners participate in the biometric screening and online health risk assessment, their insurance premiums have not gone up. Employees who do not complete the screening and assessment pay an extra $10 per biweekly pay period or $20 for coverage that includes a spouse or partner.

A pedometer program encourages employees to exercise for incentives. If they take 20,000 steps in a day, they receive 100 points. The points accumulate so that someone who is physically active can receive up to $500 a year. There are kiosks on hospital campuses to download the pedometer totals and to monitor health indicators such as blood pressure, body fat, and body mass index.

OhioHealthy Heart is a cardiovascular program for people with risk factors who receive extra assessments (such as a lipid profile) and education sessions.

The benefits go far beyond cost-savings. "When you find someone who is hypertensive and didn't know it, and who can then begin treatment, that's hard to put a dollar amount on," says Wagner. "As a health care professional, it gives you a good feeling about what you're doing."

In one case, a nurse was just 10 pounds below the weight cutoff for having gastric bypass surgery. Rather than gain weight to qualify for the surgery, she was determined to lose it on her own. With support from OhioHealthy, she lost about 100 pounds.

"The nurse met her goals and her life has turned around," says Lisa Meddock, MBA, manager of benefits administration at OhioHealth. "She's off her diabetes medications. She's happier. She was able to lose all the weight she wanted to lose through a gastric bypass without going through surgery."

That is the kind of success story that OhioHealthy aims to achieve.