As employers all across the country look for ways to curb rising health-care costs, many are turning their attention to prevention and wellness.
A recent survey by the Rand Corporation on behalf of the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows that approximately half of U.S. employers offer health and wellness initiatives in the workplace. That same survey found that these initiatives often involve wellness-screening activities designed to identify health risks and interventions to reduce risks and promote healthy lifestyles.
At UPMC Hamot, the hospital has recognized this increasing need and has been making major investments in its corporate wellness initiative across UPMC Hamot’s geographic service area from northwest Pennsylvania through neighboring Northeast Ohio and southwestern New York. The medical center has expanded its corporate health team and recently opened a new executive physical office inside the UPMC Heart & Vascular Institute in Erie, Pennsylvania.
The driving force behind this effort is to provide employers with a comprehensive, accessible and effective resource that can empower their employees — from top executives to front-line workers — to help them lead healthier lives, which in turn can lead to improved performance in the workplace and reduce health care-costs.
“Our goal really has been to assemble a team of care providers who provide excellent care and do it as close to home as possible — and to bring that directly to the employer and have it available for their employees wherever they are in the region,’’ states Lynn Rupp, vice president of operations at UPMC Hamot and president of Regional Health Services. “We want to consider that option and consider what the employer needs, because the reality is people really don’t like to travel for health care and will oftentimes forgo the care that they need if it isn’t really easy to get started. Sometimes having that service right there can help.”
“While we provide excellent care within the acute care hospital setting, we also know that there’s been a glaring absence of involvement in the corporate world,” adds Ron Keene, manager of Corporate Health Services at UPMC Hamot and manager of the hospital’s vascular screening program and executive physicals. “Breaking down that barrier and being able to deliver health care in a new creative way has been the goal as we move forward.”
At UPMC Hamot, services are tailored to each employer and aligned with a highly skilled and knowledgeable team of physicians, dietitians, counselors and other medical professionals specifically working with employers and their employees to get the most out of their corporate wellness program. UPMC Hamot’s professionals provide everything from executive physicals, blood work, lab tests and health screenings to health management and lifestyle consultations, such as nutrition, diabetes education, stress reduction and smoking cessation programs.
Hospital officials recognize that just as each patient is unique, so too are the employers that are seeking to enhance their wellness program. A small manufacturer, for instance, may have different needs than a large manufacturer in terms of the services they want to offer, but UPMC Hamot’s program is as individualized as possible. So, if an employer determines that 50 percent of its workforce is smoking, UPMC Hamot’s team can come in and offer smoking cessation training.
“We’re very flexible,” explains Rupp. “Tell us what you need and then let’s try to figure out how we can help you with whatever those specific needs are, because it’ll be very different population to population and industry to industry. We want to reach as many employers as we can and tailor a program that’s very specific to what they need. Our goal is to really offer a service that can be individualized to any employer in our region that’s interested in working on improving employee health.”
For most employers, the health of their bottom line depends on the health of their top executives. But taking time away from busy schedules can prove to be an ongoing challenge when it comes to taking care of their health. How do you convince your best and busiest people to break away from the office for a doctor’s appointment? That’s where UPMC Hamot’s Executive Health Program can help.
Executive physicals are really a critical checkup for company leaders, whether they are running a small, family business or a Fortune 500 company.
“Losing an executive from an unexpected heart attack or an unexpected stroke can be debilitating for a company,” notes David Hutzel, M.D., a board-certified internist at UPMC Hamot, who assists with the executive physicals program. “Executive physicals are a way to keep these companies moving forward — a way to make sure that your key leadership stays healthy and help prevent an unexpected loss.”
Indeed, many conditions — such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers — have a high rate of successful treatment when detected early, and executive physicals can help identify medical problems before they become serious. “It’s way more than just a routine physical exam you’re going to get at your physician’s office when you go for your annual checkup,” explains Hutzel. “It’s like taking your car in for the 60,000-mile very thorough evaluation.”
Executive physicals include everything from vascular screenings to chest X-rays and hearing tests, flexibility, and complete blood work. “It’s taking a routine physical exam with your PCP (primary care physician) one or two steps further,” Hutzel adds. “It’s an all-day affair, and when you leave there, you walk away with a good sense of, ‘I’m in great shape,’ or ‘Look, there are some serious red flags that I’ve got to work on.’ ”
Executives who choose to participate in the UPMC Hamot Executive Health Program also receive the benefit of continuity of care — because the doctors at the site perform the executive physical or work in concert with the client’s PCP or other doctor whom the client specifies. With such a relationship, the PCP and the UPMC Hamot physician who performs the executive physical can act together at the first sign of trouble.
Kevin Kuric, M.D., a board-certified family physician who retired from private practice in order to dedicate his time to preventative health and health coaching, describes the effort as a pyramid representing the augmentation of health care between patient, primary care physician and employer-corporate wellness program. “We are all part of a team. It’s not one telling the other what to do. I’m augmenting the relationship and care between their primary care doctor and themselves. But the information that we have in this program to give to the patient and the provider is so comprehensive! They can then discuss the results and recommendations with their PCP and proceed to make further decision about their health using this valuable information,” he says.
After the tests and health screenings are completed, a timely summary is sent within a week to the patient and primary care doctor.
“Hopefully, that begins a dialogue between the patient, their primary care doctor and their employer, of here’s where I’m at in my health assessment and where I need to go,” Kuric explains.
Nutrition and Diabetes Education
In the workplace, putting health and wellness first can seem like a huge hurdle, but employers, such as Erie Insurance, recognize the benefits that can happen when it is a part of their health and wellness strategy. The Fortune 500 insurance company has worked with UPMC Hamot to ensure that a registered dietician is onsite to meet with employees as part of their wellness initiative.
Tessa Wellmon, a registered dietician and nutrition counselor, spends each Wednesday meeting with Erie Insurance employees, an average of eight a day, educating and counseling them on everything from how to balance their diets, identifying hidden sugar sources and fat, to developing effective and healthy meal planning.
“People know I’m there and they come in to meet with me to learn how to eat right,” she says. “I just meet people where they’re willing to change. Many times, I give them two goals because I want them to come back so we can keep building on the changes that they’re making versus intimidate them and make it feel impossible.”
Small changes in eating healthy and weight loss can make a huge difference when it comes to employee health, especially in the area of diabetes. According to UPMC Hamot Diabetes Care and Education Specialist Selena Laufenberg, MSN, RN, CDE, who has worked with several employers, including the Barber National Institute, to bring diabetes training to their workplaces, roughly 8 percent to 10 percent of the population in the Erie County has been diagnosed with diabetes. In neighboring Crawford and Venango Counties, that number is even higher — anywhere from 11 percent to 13 percent.
States Laufenberg, “There’s also a huge population labeled pre-diabetes, and if we can start identifying and working with patients in this population, we can prevent or delay the onset of diabetes down the road and some of the complications that go with that.”
Recent statistics show that diabetics have a two and a half to three times higher risk of having heart attack or stroke than those who don’t. The disease is also the leading cause of blindness and kidney disease, and can often lead to complications from infections, including amputations.
“If we can manage this early and help patients work on lifestyle changes, we can prevent some of these complications,” says Laufenberg. “The underlying disease that we should focus on is diabetes, but it’s overlooked a lot. If we can help them manage diabetes better, we can possibly prevent a lot of these complications of diabetes and the costs associated with it.”
Focused on Results
As more employers realize the benefits of corporate health and wellness programs to their workforce and their operations, experts anticipate the investment in such programs will continue to grow. Spending on workplace wellness is already estimated at $50 billion globally and expected to grow 7 percent annually through 2025.
“There’s been a lot of studies that have been done to look at prevention and wellness activities within companies,” says Keene. “One of the most recent statistics was that for every dollar that’s invested by an employer, there is a $4 savings in whether it’s reduced absenteeism or increased productivity.”
Keene says he believes the program will continue to expand as demand rises, with additional screenings for skin cancer, depression and anxiety, even opioid abuse. Because, when it comes to the bottom line, healthier companies just perform better.
And, in the area of corporate health and wellness, it generally starts from the top down.
“A lot of this is dependent upon leadership, so the company has to be the impetus to start all this. They have to want to change, and we’re there to try and help them through this,” says Keene. “Our goal is to really offer a service that can be individualized to any employer in our region that’s interested in working on improving employee health.”
For more information, visit UPMCHamot.org