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Archive for Thursday, April 22, 2010

Workplace wellness: More employers pursue initiatives to keep workers healthy

Physician’s assistant Kim Bogart, left, checks over Sarah Ritchie, Lawrence, a Huhtamaki employee, in the health clinic at the Huhtamaki plant in De Soto. Bogart and the on-site clinic are available to employees twice a week, one of many wellness initiatives sponsored by Huhtamaki.

Physician’s assistant Kim Bogart, left, checks over Sarah Ritchie, Lawrence, a Huhtamaki employee, in the health clinic at the Huhtamaki plant in De Soto. Bogart and the on-site clinic are available to employees twice a week, one of many wellness initiatives sponsored by Huhtamaki.

April 22, 2010

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Julie Stoetzer of Mission, left, a marketing manager at Huhtamaki in De Soto, visits with physician’s assistant Kim Bogart in the plant’s health clinic. During a checkup, Bogart noted signs of skin cancer on Stoetzer that led to Stoetzer getting immediate treatment.

Julie Stoetzer of Mission, left, a marketing manager at Huhtamaki in De Soto, visits with physician’s assistant Kim Bogart in the plant’s health clinic. During a checkup, Bogart noted signs of skin cancer on Stoetzer that led to Stoetzer getting immediate treatment.

Businesses are stepping up efforts to keep employees healthy and productive and help keep insurance costs down.

Joseph Leutzinger, president of the Academy for Health and Productivity Management, estimates at least 75 percent of companies nationwide are addressing employee health.

Lawrence Memorial Hospital’s Business Health Center is seeing an uptick in demand for its services, including providing flu shots, health fairs, educational presentations and helping with on-site clinics.

“We are getting a lot more calls,” said Greg Windholz, director. “I see that continuing because companies are looking at where they are spending their health dollars, and health insurance and the treatment of disease is obviously costing companies more and more every year.”

The center, along with other LMH wellness programs, assisted about 50 area companies in 2009, at least twice the amount five years ago.

Windholz said providing something as simple as a flu shot can make a big difference.

“That’s a small piece, but a very important piece,” Windholz said. “Just getting people vaccinated will save money on health care dollars and help keep employees at work.”

Windholz said health fairs can be eye-opening for employees, and sometimes even life-saving.

“I would say at almost every health fair that we go out and do — whether it’s a small employer with 30 employees or it’s done for as many as 200 employees — we will find several people who have significantly high blood pressure that needs to be addressed medically.”

Business Health Center employees usually sit down with employers and design a cost-effective wellness plan.

Among the companies it works with is De Soto-based Huhtamaki, a specialty packaging company that operates 24/7 and has about 400 employees.

Leading the pack

Huhtamaki formed a wellness committee in 2008, and began implementing changes.

“That’s when we began taking a preventative, proactive approach opposed to a reactive approach,” said Amy Peterson, human resources and safety manager.

In 2008, the company began providing an annual health fair for its employees where they can visit with dental, vision and health insurance providers. A local pharmacy, LMH and other vendors provide educational materials and free screenings. Last year, free pedometers were distributed.

The company also has quarterly education sessions on a variety of health-related topics. In the summer, there was one about skin cancer.

In January 2009, it opened an on-site health clinic available 10 hours per week for free to employees if they take a health risk assessment test. The test includes family history, height and weight measures, blood pressure check and a blood draw. The results are sent to each employee’s home. Employees are required to get the test every year if they use the clinic, and more often if they have high-risk factors.

About 260 employees use the clinic, or 65 percent.

The clinic is staffed by Kim Bogart, a physician’s assistant at LMH, who can write prescriptions and take care of colds, rashes and infections, among other things.

Perks for employees

Employees say the clinic not only saves time and money, but they also get care that they likely wouldn’t get otherwise.

In March, employee Sarah Ritchie used the clinic for a persistent cough.

Because she lives in Lawrence, she usually has to make doctor appointments for early morning or late evening, which often requires a longer wait to get in.

By using the on-site clinic, she signed up and got in the next day. It took 15 minutes and she didn’t lose pay or paid time off. It also didn’t cost her a penny. She was given a prescription for medicine.

“It’s great,” she said. “It is very convenient.”

The company employs people who live an hour away in each direction, so the clinic comes in handy, especially for lab work. For example, one employee needs blood drawn every two weeks. Instead of missing work, he gets it done in the clinic and Bogart sends it to his physician.

When Julie Stoetzer, of Mission, visited the clinic, Bogart noticed a clear, flaky spot on Stoetzer’s temple and she recommended getting it checked by a dermatologist.

“She was very insistent,” Stoetzer said. “I really would have blown it off.”

It turned out to be cancerous, and Stoetzer had surgery to remove it. Luckily, it was caught early.

In May, the company is increasing the clinic hours to 13 per week.

In 2010, the company initiated some wellness initiatives around insurance. It pays 100 percent of the costs for preventive care such as wellness exams, mammograms and colonoscopies. It also pays for smoking cessation products.

The company offers a monthly discount to employees who are nonsmokers. The discount ranges from $10 to $20, depending on the plan.

“So, we’ve got some incentives there for people to adopt a healthy lifestyle,” Peterson said.

Bogart said she gave out at least 20 prescriptions for Chantix since the beginning of the year.

Huhtamaki updated the equipment in its fitness center, which is open at all times and free for all employees. The center includes two treadmills, two elliptical machines, a stationary bicycle, a stepper machine and weight machine. There’s a television and iPod station.

To use the center, employees have to take a small training session. About 50 percent of the employees use the center.

It also began offering healthy options, such as grilled chicken, in the cafeteria. There’s a salad bar every day.

The facility also had a “Biggest Loser” contest last year. The contest took place over a 12-week period, and each participant put money into a pot. Bogart kept track of each participant’s weight each week. She said 42 people participated, and the winner lost 68 pounds.

Huhtamaki’s De Soto facility is the first to have a health clinic, but the company is opening its second one this year at an Ohio facility. Eventually, the company wants to have a clinic in all 10 of its U.S. facilities.

On average, the company spends $150 per eligible employee per year.

More incentives

Allen Press, a printing and publishing company in Lawrence, began focusing on wellness in 2008 as well.

If its employees participate in an annual health risk assessment test and attend four of six wellness presentations, they are eligible to receive four extra hours of paid time off.

“The benefit for them is to really get them to think about their health,” Angie Sommer, benefits coordinator, said.

Sommer said 220 of its 300 employees, or 73 percent, participate in the program.

The health risk assessment test results are sent directly to the employees’ homes, and the company gets an overall, comprehensive at their employees’ health. In turn, the company can look at insurance plans and other offerings to see whether they could be adjusted to better fit its needs.

“If we can prevent somebody who’s on the verge of having a heart attack from having one by lowering their blood pressure or cholesterol, it will save the company and employee money,” Sommer said. “It could save tens of thousands of dollars down the line.”

Leutzinger, who helps companies worldwide implement wellness programs, couldn’t agree more.

He often runs into company managers that don’t hesitate to spend money on corporate training, but think twice about spending money on health initiatives. Often companies pay for audits of travel, but not health.

He said the savings in productivity alone are well worth the costs.

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