Integrated team seeks speed, decisiveness

Seeking to link its future efforts more closely to the corporate mission, the health promotion professionals at Tacoma, WA-based paper products company Weyerhaeuser are embarking on a major initiative to develop an "integrated priority health issues management approach" to health promotion and disease prevention.

"We’re looking to leverage our internal and external resources to the key issues in our company, and make an impact where it matters most," explains Mary Merten, MA, health promotion coordinator. "Bottom-line issues are hot; we need to be viewed and measured more in a business fashion." She and her strategic team (which also includes the medical director and several nurses) are seeking upper-management sponsorship for a cross-departmental team.

Causes for optimism

Merten is optimistic for a number of reasons. First, their vision supports the corporate mission of "speed, simplicity, and decisiveness." Her department, formerly called "Wellness," is now Occupational Medicine and Wellness, and is transitioning to Occupational Health and Wellness. This reflects a change in the way management views health and occupational wellness. "Those people in occupational health work on an entire continuum — from prevention and health promotion through medical care to disability management and disease management," she explains.

Merten envisions a partnership between her department and other internal departments, as well as the company’s third-party administrator.

"Eventually this will impact sites all over Weyerhaeuser, and hopefully will lead to stronger partnerships with providers," she says.

Internally, links between efforts in wellness and health promotion, employee benefits and workers’ comp will all be enhanced. This team, Merten further explains, will "define the scope, customer, measures, and overall strategies for implementing an integrated health management approach to a priority health issue."

After benchmarking other companies, Merten’s "Priority Health Issues" team already has identified one critical issue: insurance data.

"We’ve run across a barrier on getting insurance data because we have way too many plans," she explains, noting this structure runs counter to the corporate mandate of "speed, simplicity and decisiveness." In fact, she says, "employee benefits is trying to get the mills and plants to reduce the total number of plans."

Once the initiative has been approved, the key players will examine the refined (they hope) insurance data, and identify the priority health issues at Weyerhaueser. "Right now, our current team has tentatively identified nine; but to me, nine doesn’t say priorities,’ she says. "After we review the other data, I’d like to see no more than probably two a year, if not one. We’re going to look at where to get the biggest bang for [the] buck. I can encourage and empower our staff; give them the tools to do just so much, and they do a lot as it is." Seeing themselves as part of a larger corporate vision will help motivate them, she adds.

Once an integrated health management approach to a priority issue has been developed, specific strategies, resources, and time lines will be presented to company leaders for implementation.

Merten explains how such a program might work. "Let’s say the priority issue is back pain. In health promotion, we would develop Priority Health Kits’ around back health. Working off the stages of change model, it would give our coordinators materials for employees to help them assess their own stage, and provide tools for each stage."

In this integrated system, all departments would communicate closely. When a call comes in to workers’ comp about a back injury, for instance, that unit is required to develop a return to work program. It not only will alert the employee’s physician, but the occupational health and wellness department as well. "My group might be able to provide additional motivational literature, stretches, and so forth, to complement what the employee receives from the physician," she says.

Employee benefits will be responsible for more than just providing the data. "They sponsor our nurse lines and deliver literature as well," Merten explains.

Will the fact that her plan is in line with the corporate vision help win the backing she seeks? "Absolutely," she says. "It is a targeted, focused, measurement-oriented plan, and so far, it is being pretty well received."

[For more details, contact: Mary Merten, Weyer haueser, MS WWC1E3, P.O. Box 2999 Tacoma, WA 98477. Telephone: (253) 924-6311. E-mail mertenm@]