Steel company takes wellness into the mills

Messages, medical services on all three shifts

Sometimes, asking employees to come to your wellness program isn’t enough. Sometimes, you’ve got to bring it to them. When the wellness professionals at Weirton (WV) Steel Corp. began providing services directly to employees in each of the company’s 12 mill sites, participation in wellness offerings increased dramatically.

"The attitude around here used to be that wellness programming was for the employees of our general office, the majority of whom are non-union workers," says Dale J. Block, MD, director of medical services at Weirton, a steel producer and the state’s largest employer. "But 75% of our [5,400] people actually work in the mills, and most of them are union workers. In my opinion, they had been neglected; we had to make our wellness services more mobile."

That’s exactly what Weirton Steels wellness program has been doing for the past several months, and the results have been impressive. Since wellness services were introduced directly into the mills last fall:

• Almost 1,500 employees have participated in a flu vaccination program.

• 855 employees participated in a blood-pressure screening program.

• 343 employees participated in a cholesterol screening program.

• A significant number of employees in whom risk factors were identified have sought additional help and have begun exercise or nutrition programs.

In the spring of 1996, Block was clear on what he needed to do — he just wasn’t sure he had the financial resources to pull it off. "We’re currently involved in downsizing," he says. "There had been many attempts in the past to increase [wellness] activity, but not much buy-in from executive management, who looked at wellness as cost-inefficient. They were reluctant to hire a full-time coordinator."

So Block contacted his insurance third-party administrator, Highmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield (which covers Western Pennsylvania), to see if they would be willing to partner with him. "They were more than willing," he recalls. "They saw an opportunity to become more involved with a client." In fact, Blue Cross/Blue Shield agreed to provide a full-time wellness coordinator as part of its administrative fee for the health insurance plan.

The wellness coordinator, Michelle Chappell, MS, came on board in July 1996 and quickly assessed the situation. "Each of the [12 mill] areas has its own human resource manager, so I contacted each of them to find out what times and locations would be most accessible for working with the staff," she explains. "When a shift change takes place at four or five in the morning or six or seven at night, that’s when we need to be there."

Assessment and targeting

Marketing efforts were aided by the fact that Chappell’s program shares a building with outpatient services, rehab, audiology, and perhaps most importantly, public relations and communications. "We disseminated our marketing material through the PR [public relations] program," says Chappell. "With every single program, we do payroll stuffers announcing them a month in advance, a monthly calendar is published two weeks before each program, and the communications department has video tapes put in each mill site."

Once the program was launched, Chappell "took it to the employees," visiting the mills with two nurses from the medical department and meeting with the employees at clock offices, conference rooms, and cafeterias.

The programs themselves were targeted to the employee population and/or timed to coincide with national health-related programs. "The population is predominantly male, with an average age of 48 to 49. This is a very large farming area, so people eat a lot of beef, dairy, and eggs," Chappell says.

Here is a summary of the monthly programs implemented to date:

October: Flu shot inoculation program

November: Diabetes education (in conjunction with National Diabetes Month)

December: Depression (stress and the holidays)

January: Blood pressure screenings

February: Cholesterol screenings (during National Heart Month)

March: Weight loss programs (in coordination with National Nutrition Month)

April: Prostate and skin cancer screenings

After each program, Chappell has the participating employees fill out preventive care records, which can then be sent to the workers’ primary physicians.

The new program, called the Wellness Center HealthPlace, is already having a significant impact on employee health.

Following the blood pressure screenings, "We actually pulled one man off the work site," Chappell recalls. The man, while classified as Stage 4 (systolic greater than 210, diastolic greater than 120), had no symptoms or awareness that he had high blood pressure. "He thanked us for helping him get on medication," says Chappell.

In all, 56 people were shown to have hypertension, and most have started exercise and/or diet programs or followed up with their primary care physicians.

Of the 343 employees who participated in the cholesterol screenings, 123 were found to be at borderline risk, and 94 at high risk. "Of those 217 employees, 148 have contacted me personally to conduct follow-ups and tell them what they can do to lower their cholesterol levels," says Chappell. "[The test results] really scared them, and they are now more concerned about their health."

"I’m ecstatic," adds Block. "I’ve been involved in the managed care environment since the 80s, and I’m actually starting to see a significant interest from the workforce. Each month, people have come into the wellness center who have never been there — and that’s an important first."

[Editors Note: For more information on this wellness program, contact: Michelle Chappell, Wellness Center HealthPlace Administrator, Weirton Steel Corp., 400 Three Springs Drive, Weirton, WV 26062. Telephone: (304) 797-5105.]