For everyone’s benefit
Empower employees to set example of wellness in their communities
As healthcare providers, we are committed to helping people realize their full potential for health. The best place to start is with our own employees. At Truman Medical Centers in Kansas City, Mo., we put employees first in a host of wellness initiatives because we view each of them as a critical health ambassador who, in leading by example, can greatly improve the health of our entire community.
TMC has an active employee wellness program. Our employees can trade paid-time-off hours for reimbursement for wellness-related expenses. This puts the employees in control, empowering them to pursue the wellness strategies that work best for them. It also allows TMC to make a big investment in employee health at no additional cost. We also provide a variety of continuing-education and life-skill classes for staff and their families. Recently, we launched a tutoring program for the children of our employees who need additional support in their school work.
Our approach to building a culture of health is deeply rooted in the community we serve. Even though we sit in the middle of some of America’s most productive farmland, residents of the city center have very limited food store options, reducing their access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
One of TMC’s initiatives to address this issue is our Healthy Harvest Produce Market. We offer not only delicious and tempting foods, but experts to help shoppers learn how to prepare them. Employees, patients’ families and the surrounding community all benefit from the market. And our next project, which we hope to launch in the next 18 months, will be a full-fledged healthy grocery store.
We all know that better management of chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, sicklecell anemia and heart disease improves lives. So when TMC undertook a program to help patients and their families make lifestyle changes that will help them better manage their health, we started with our own employees and solicited input from community advocates.
Through education and a coached approach to lifestyle changes, our Passport to Wellness care team helps employees with chronic diseases better understand and manage their conditions. The care team also works to remove barriers that prevent employees from following through with their care plans, such as problems with transportation, preparing for appointments or general health literacy. While the program is a powerful statement to our employees that we care about them, we are also confident that it will have long-term benefits in attracting and retaining the best employees, improving performance, and lowering the number of days lost to illness and our healthcare costs.
The initial results have been phenomenal. Our sickle-cell readmission rate has been reduced by 26%. Our asthma patients on average spend 25% fewer days in the hospital and make 23% fewer visits to the emergency room. Care teams that include a physician, nurse, pharmacist and social worker produced these results with guided protocols and case management.
The American Hospital Association’s Long-Range Policy Committee, which I chaired last year, has released a report looking at current hospital employee wellness practices, exploring promising practices and providing recommendations. Survey results from 876 hospitals found that 86% have an employee health and wellness program. While most struggle to measure their return on investment for employee wellness, those that have show very positive results. A recent meta-analysis of existing peerreviewed literature shows that for every dollar spent on wellness programs, costs fall about $3.27 and absenteeism by $2.73.
Incentives can be important. For example, Ford Motor Co. increased participation in health risk assessments from 4% to 85% by offering a $600 deductible differential. Ochsner Health System in New Orleans gives employees who participate in a voluntary wellness program a $500 ($2,000 for families) insurance premium discount.
The committee made seven recommendations:
Serve as a role model of health for the community, creating robust health and wellness programs as examples to the community.
Create a culture of healthy living, starting at the top with the CEO and board of trustees in making wellness a strategic priority for the organization.
Provide a variety of program offerings, from health risk assessments to intensive coaching activities. One size does not fit all, and motivating high-risk populations is a challenge.
Provide positive and negative incentives to increase participation and improve outcomes.
Measure and increase participation and then build systems to track outcomes.
Commit to effectively measuring return of investment over several years to build the strategic case for sustaining the program.
Motivate employees over time, continually reinforcing wellness as a leadership priority.
Ours is an intensely personal line of work, and those of us who work in healthcare tend to think of our co-workers as family members. As a hospital CEO, I know that employee wellness is good business; as a member of a hospital family and a community that I love, I know that it is much more.
Making employee wellness a priority is an important way of delivering the blessings of health to the people we truly value. Empowering those same people to lead their families and neighbors to better health by example is the (sugar-free, low-fat) icing on the cake.
John Bluford is president and CEO of Truman Medical Centers, Kansas
City, Mo., and chairman of the American Hospital