Hospitals cut costs with on-site staff wellness programs

Like other employers, hospitals increasingly are turning to on-site staff wellness programs to curb employee healthcare costs. The financial consequences of poor employee health can be severe. For example, Advocate Health Care, Illinois' largest integrated health network, experienced almost $6 million in lost productivity in 2009 due to obesity (approximately six times higher than smoking), according to a recent report from The Fiscal Times at the Kaiser Health Network.

A health-risk assessment determined that 69 percent of the Oak Brook-based nonprofit's 24,000 employees are overweight. So Advocate now offers an incentive program targeting obesity, with employees and their dependents eligible to earn a $200 credit toward a medical-expense reimbursement, win $100 cash cards in bimonthly raffles, and even participate in a raffle for a $5,000 annual grand prize, reports The Fiscal Times.

But do wellness programs actually result in cost-savings? Much like disease management, wellness has its naysayers. However, more and more hospitals have data that support the bottom-line impact of providing employee wellness programs.

Several hospitals in greater Phoenix, Ariz., are generating savings via wellness programs, reports the Phoenix Business Journal. Gilbert Hospital has saved $1.6 million since rolling out a wellness program in February 2009. The primary driver behind those cost savings is that employees are going to the wellness clinic for such issues as fevers and sore throats instead of going to the emergency room like they used to do, Dr. Anne Borik, director of the hospital's wellness program, told the Business Journal.

Almost 75 percent of the self-insured hospital's 350 employees have participated in wellness classes. Employees who take part in 24 of the optional wellness classes each year get a discount on their insurance premiums, noted Borik.

Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale has offered an employee wellness program since 2005. While multistate Mayo couldn't provide Arizona-specific savings data, it has experienced significant decreases in ER visits and insurance claims from its 4,900 Arizona employees, benefits analyst Robert McGriff told the Business Journal. Mayo has provided healthy food choices and walking trails, as well as both in-person and online wellness classes.

Chandler Regional Medical Center, a member of Catholic Healthcare West, also has had an employee wellness program since 2005. The hospital is currently looking at its wellness data to determine just how much money the program has saved, but employee absenteeism and staff ER visits have definitely dropped, said  Kristina Bignoli, director of the wellness center.

To learn more:
- read this report from The Fiscal Times at Kaiser Health News
- read this Phoenix Business Journal article