At the place where employee health and hospital benefits and wellness programs intersect, some striking results can be achieved. For JFK Health in Edison, NJ, an employee wellness program, fueled by individual and group biometric data, has resulted in these encouraging outcomes:
- 31% decrease in hospital admissions among employees and their families;
- 50% decrease in hospital readmissions;
- 48% higher cancer screening compliance than the national average;
- 35% higher diabetes disease management than the national average;
- $2.8 million in benefit savings returned to employees in 2013, and more than $5 million in health care cost savings over the past five years.
“Back in 2006-2007, we initiated our wellness initiative within our health system,” says Pat Cooke, corporate director for human resources for JFK Health. Cooke’s roles include some employee health services.
Hospitals should start with some sort of wellness program as a building block to achieving employee population health improvements, she suggests.
“We started with an employee wellness team, identifying what our vision was for wellness and the three main strategies we were trying to accomplish,” Cooke says. “Our vision was to help employees lead healthier lives, to build awareness, and to get employees involved in our education, awareness, and wellness activities.”
Another goal was to create a workplace atmosphere that reflects wellness and chronic disease prevention.
The hospital started by promoting walking and stairclimbing. They put inspirational posters on stairwells throughout the hospital.
“We used posters that showed someone running and not giving up,” Cooke says. “We painted the hospital staircases and made them bright, trying to encourage people to take the stairs.”
Then the hospital added some healthy snacks to the vending machines.
“The biggest thing we did was create a passport to wellness, rewarding employees for getting health screenings,” she says.
Linking employee health to health care benefits
These efforts raised awareness and created a foundation that made employees aware of the hospital’s focus on healthy behavior, but they didn’t result in significant population health improvement until a third component was added: a health care benefit program that provided financial incentives for positive health actions.
The hospital teamed up with Dallas-based HealthMine Inc. to unite employee health and wellness into JFK Health’s benefit plan.
“The trick is to engage employees continuously and in a sustainable manner over a long period of time,” says Jon Watson, senior vice president of operations at HealthMine.
“There’s a dynamic that has changed,” Watson adds. “We measure and look at data and see how employees’ behavior affects the hospital across the health care continuum.”
The more buy-in a health system achieves from employees, the more engaged employees are and the better the results.
“We started a Healthy Plus Plan,” Cooke says. “There are six different benefit plans for employees, and three of these are Healthy Plus Plans.”
When an employee selects the Healthy Plus Plan, he or she is committed to doing health screenings and taking preventive care actions. In return, the employee receives lower employer health care contributions and other rewards that the hospital provides, such as taking a half day off to get wellness screening and lower co-pays for prescription drugs, Cooke explains.
One incentive is extra life insurance: “It doesn’t cost us a lot, and they appreciated it,” she says.
“We rolled this out, and it’s perfectly voluntary, but if they choose the Healthy Plus Plan, they have to do the cancer screening: PAP smears, mammographies, PSAs, and colon-rectal, which only 20% to 25% of employees were doing,” she adds.
Only one in four employees participated in the Healthy Plus Plan at first, but that has grown over the past few years to 82% of employees.
The last piece to the employee wellness puzzle was to obtain biometric screenings of employees. These include body-mass index, blood glucose levels, blood pressure, nicotine and cholesterol levels.
“We told employees they could earn additional rewards based on goals we set up related to these results, so our program’s progression is moving from efforts to results,” Cooke says.
All of these population health efforts are a growing trend thanks to the accountable care organization model of the Affordable Care Act, she notes.
“Our employee benefit plan was doing population health before population health became cool,” Cooke says.
The hospital’s wellness team continues to focus on traditional employee health issues like slips, trips, and falls through education and exercise physiology and on employee stress reduction. But it’s in the wellness side — following the collection of biometrics — that the most impressive results have occurred.
“We tell employees that they have lost two carloads of weight,” Cooke says. “We communicate their wellness results in a way that employees can understand.”