Wellness provider expands: Summex Health planning bigger HQ on NW side

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A leading provider of wellness programs for large companies will triple its office space in June to meet demand from employers eager to save on soaring health care costs.

Indianapolis-based Summex Health Management Inc. and its 55 employees will vacate 10,000 square feet of office space in The Morley Group building on the northwest side and take up residence in roomier digs in nearby Woodland Corporate Park.

The Duke Realty Corp. property provides Summex nearly 30,000 square feet, or the entire third floor, in one of the office park’s buildings. In total, the move represents a $2 million investment the company is embarking upon that includes a significant infrastructure expansion, new-business development initiatives and more hiring.

The upgrade is necessary to keep pace with a recent growth spurt. The private company, founded in 1993 by Indiana native Rob Plankenhorn and Larry Chapman, increased annual revenue 45 percent in 2004 and is on track to double the amount this year. The company declined to divulge revenue figures.

Executives attribute the expansion to health-conscious corporations who are increasingly turning to wellness programs to reel in rising health care insurance costs. They also recognize the correlation between high-risk health habits and decreased workplace productivity and employee absenteeism, they said.

“Employers now understand the direct link between lifestyles and productivity,” Plankenhorn said. “You need someone who is knowledgeable about the lifestyle risks that can lead to chronic illness, and that’s our niche.”

Summex had expected to hit its growth projections quicker, but a lack of business spending during the economic downturn slowed productivity, said Jim McKneight, Summex’s chief financial officer.

The company provides wellness programs that identify and assess unhealthy risk factors such as obesity, smoking, depression, inactivity and stress. It offers health risk appraisals, personalized health information and education, and personalized counseling sessions via the telephone with certified health care professionals to help change the unhealthy activity.

The company has about 200 corporate clients nationwide, mainly on the east and west coasts, and in the South. Locally, Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana Inc. signed on a year ago. Roughly 550 employees-or all of those eligible for company health insurance-of the 1,300 are involved in Summex’s wellness program. Keith Reissaus, vice president of human resources, said Goodwill will expand the offering to part-time and transitional employees soon.

“This goes deeper than costs,” Reissaus said. “It’s the right thing to do. It does equate to productivity and it does equate to retention of the work force. It truly is a benefit.”

Entering the second year of a four-year initiative, Goodwill employees who need one-on-one counseling sessions are beginning to receive advice. The company is starting to see results from some employees, who are becoming more conscious about their health. Some, for instance, are asking about memberships to the National Institute for Fitness and Sport on the IUPUI campus, Reissaus said.

The average cost for corporations to participate in the Summex wellness program runs $30 to $50 annually per employee, McKneight said.

Besides corporate clients, large health insurers such as Blue Cross Blue Shield are using Summex’s products. The insurance companies take its surveys and customize or alter them for their own use.

Of the four main wellness companies in the country serving the corporate market, Summex probably is the third largest, McKneight said. The others are StayWell Health Management in Minneapolis; Gordian Health Solutions Inc. in Franklin, Tenn.; and Harris HealthTrends Inc. in Toledo, Ohio.

David Hunnicutt, president of the Wellness Councils of America, a not-for-profit in Omaha, Neb., with 2,000 member companies, praised Chapman and Plankenhorn as leaders in the field.

“[Summex is] coming into [its] own,” Hunnicutt said. “You have to look at the quality of the people leading the organization, and these two are two of the finest people in the industry. They’re smart and highly respected. That speaks volumes.”

Plankenhorn of Fountain City is president and CEO of Summex. Before launching the firm, he was CEO for occupational medicine, fitness and rehabilitation equipment companies and as executive director of an Olympic sport national governing body. Plankenhorn is a two-time U.S. Olympian in the kayaking and canoeing events. He missed the 1980 Olympics due to the United States’ decision to boycott the event, and participated in 1984.

Chapman is chairman of the company and serves as editor for both the American Journal of Health Promotion and the Art of Health Promotion newsletter. He has had more than 110 articles and columns, and 13 books, published on the topics of wellness programming and health cost management. He is a consultant to the National Institutes of Health; the Centers for Disease Control; the U.S. Army, Air Force and Navy; the Department of Veterans Affairs; and the Health Care Financing Administration. He maintains a consulting office in Seattle.

Once Summex moves in June, the company plans to begin hiring up to 50 new employees within the year. The majority of the hires will be professionals with college degrees to provide counseling and education.

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