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Wellness gains full-time presence: Hospitals try to bulk up health promotion at employers' offices

April 9, 2007

Wellness is good for business.

At least that's what Community Health Network and other Indianapolisarea hospitals are finding as they ramp up the wellness programs they offer onsite to area employers.

Community has grown its health promotion division an average of 30 percent in each of the last three years. And this year, it had two corporate clients ask to have wellness staff at their offices daily.

Community parks a wellness coordinator five days a week at Celadon Group Inc., an Indianapolis-based trucking company. And four days a week, it has a wellness coordinator stationed at Keihin IPT, a Japanese auto parts maker in Greenfield.

Chris Dobbins, Community's director of health promotion services, said she expects more employers to request similar services in the future.

"It's the trend," Dobbins said. "Wellness is getting the attention because [employers] have tried everything else."

Keihin is happy, said its Human Resources Manager Krista Horine, because its employees are healthier and its benefits costs are lower.

And Community is happy because it has seen more and more Keihin workers use its doctors, hospitals and outpatient services.

Indianapolis' other hospitals are hoping to accomplish the same. Clarian Health, St. Vincent Health and St. Francis Hospital & Health Centers all say they're placing significant emphasis on providing wellness programs to employers.

"Within the last year, we've been more aggressive with that," said Greg Torrison, director of community relations and marketing at St. Francis. "The benefit we gain by being out there is introducing people to St. Francis and our level of care."

Such efforts make sense, said Duane Sobecki, a principal of Focused Results, an Indianapolis health care and business consultancy.

"You're hoping that you can improve the health, and that when something extraordinary happens-somebody needs open-heart surgery-that [the employers] think of that hospital first," Sobecki said.

At Keihin, Community stations wellness coordinator Danielle Harpe in the company's employee cafeteria. She checks employees' blood pressure regularly, conducts health screenings and tests, and coordinates classes on everything from weight control to smoking cessation to mental health.

She's also a cheerleader for the employees trying to improve their health.

"She got excited. She was jumping up and down and yelling," said Keihin employee Tammi Wilkerson, describing the reaction she got upon telling Harpe she'd been able to get off her anti-diabetes medicine because she was controlling her blood sugar merely by eating right and working out.

"That makes you want to do it more," said Wilkerson, 48, whose job is to wash fuel-injector parts before they are assembled.

Wilkerson said she learned about eating right in a Weight Watchers class Community administers at Keihin. She also took advantage of Keihin's offer to pay for gym memberships for its employees, so long as they participate in wellness programs and use the gym on average once a week.

Getting employees to buy in to the wellness programs has been a slow process at Keihin. The first full year Keihin offered wellness classes, only 30 percent of employees participated, even though the company offered $100 prizes.

Participation steadily climbed into the 60-percent range as Keihin kept sweetening the incentives. This year, however, it told employees they could either participate in wellness screenings and classes-or pay nearly twice as much in premiums for health insurance.

Participation leapt from 61 percent last year to 97 percent this year.

After three years of wellness programs, Keihin studied its health care costs and found they were 25 percent lower than it had projected. Total medical and pharmacy claims were 22 percent lower than industry standards.

Last year, Keihin found that medical claims from employees participating in its wellness programs were $462 lower than those who were not.

"I'm a true believer in the effort," Horine said.
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