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Wellness a factor for 'best place to work'
Investments in employee health saves money
For one health system, the path to being a "Best Place to Work" began with small steps. It started with a focus on the well-being of employees as well as the outcomes of patients. And after years of work, while garnering accolades for its wellness program and other benefits, it yielded a substantial savings in medical costs and workers' compensation claims.
From 2004 to 2008, Baptist Health South Florida, a five-hospital system based in Miami, saved $1.1 million in reduced medical claims by improving the health status of 800 employees at high risk for heart disease or diabetes. It saved another $835,000 in reduced workers' compensation claims related to patient handling. That doesn't include the indirect cost-savings from a reduction in lost workdays of 72.5%.
Turnover is also below 10%. In a survey, "the number one thing that [employees said] they valued at Baptist Health was the caring attitude toward employees," says Maribeth Rouseff, assistant vice president of Wellness Advantage, the system's wellness program. That caring attitude scored above benefits and salary in importance, she notes.
"That spoke volumes to us. We have a bias toward doing the right thing and keeping them safe," she says.
Baptist Health was named one of the "100 Best Companies to Work For" by Fortune magazine for 10 of the last 12 years. In 2010, it ranked 32nd among the 100 companies. Among other awards, it recently received a Corporate Health Achievement Award from the American College of Environmental and Occupational Medicine (ACOEM).
ACOEM noted that Baptist Health focuses its wellness program to address the specific health needs of its employees.
Helping employees live a healthy life
The current wellness program dates back to 2000, when the health system decided to become self-insured for the medical costs of its employees, which now number about 13,000 in five hospitals and 26 outpatient centers. (A sixth hospital is due to open this year.)
The system's president and CEO, projected a strong wellness message, recalls Rouseff, saying: "We need to actively encourage our employees to make healthy decisions and live a healthy life."
The first steps were relatively inexpensive. The system maintained fitness centers at each hospital that were open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Every employee received a self-care guide with a letter from the CEO, to provide some basic information about common health concerns.
Wellness coaches made their own bookmarks with wellness tips and handed them out to employees at shift changes. They created "goal cards" for employees to record their cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar – and the optimal levels.
"We didn't have a big budget. We did all kinds of zany things in terms of contests," says Rouseff.
One contest coincided with the 2006 Olympic Games in Torino, Italy. Employees vied for gold, silver, and bronze levels by meeting goals for exercise and nutrition. The gold winners were placed in a raffle for an all-expense paid trip to Italy.
The health system didn't actually spring for a trip overseas. This trip took a family of four to the Italy attraction at Epcot in Disney World – about a four-hour drive away. "It wasn't quite the real deal, but it was fun," says Rouseff.
The wellness program was able to generate enthusiasm even without deep pockets, she says. "From very meager beginnings, we started little by little," she says.
Promoting health eating started at the workplace. First, the health system removed all trans fats from the cafeteria and dietary service. Then it eliminated monosodium glutamate (MSG). That meant no Doritos or Cheetos in vending machines.
Fried food was the next to go. Instead of using fryers, the system purchased the Rational Combi-Steamer to get a similar flavor and texture without the fat.
Baptist Health also created a financial incentive for employees (and others) to buy healthier choices. Wellness meals that are lower in fat, sugar, calories, and sodium cost just $3 and include a bottle of spring water. They're available for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
An animated icon – "Peppy" pineapple – marks the healthier choices in the cafeteria and vending machines. The healthier vending machine items are 25 cents cheaper.
One-on-one coaching works
Comprehensive health risk assessments and health coaching began in 2004. A nurse contacts employees who have a moderate to high number of risk factors for heart diseases or diabetes. The nurses have face-to-face interaction with employees as part of the Health Check program – a personal involvement that led to a significant drop in the average medical claims of this group.
In 2005, the health system focused on reducing patient handling injuries. Working with Diligent of Roselle, IL, a consulting firm that is a subsidiary of the ARJO patient handling equipment manufacturer, Baptist Health created a comprehensive patient handling program and purchased equipment. Today, when nurses complete an online patient assessment, the form requires them to input the patient handling needs. "It's no longer an option. It's an expectation," says Rouseff.
The job description for nurses once required them to be able to lift 80 pounds. Now that has been reduced to 25 pounds.
Over the years, Baptist Health has molded its wellness to the needs of employees. For example, employees can receive treatment for mild ailments during "employee care hours" at the employee health clinics.
Recently, the health system added domestic violence support, which includes security escorts to and from their cars, monthly support group meetings, and even emergency funds for shelter or other needs.
"Each decision we've made to add services has been in response to seeing a need for that service," says Rouseff.
Wellness Advantage has grown over the years, but it still runs with lean resources. There is one wellness coach at each of eight facilities and five personal trainers for the fitness centers. Four registered nurses work for the Health Check team.
"Our goal is for people to be comfortable enough [with the program] so that when they're ready for healthy change, they know we're here for them," Rouseff says.