3 reasons to invest in hospital employee wellness

Karen Cheung

 Karen M. Cheung

Like a forgotten New Year's resolution, employee wellness sometimes gets pushed to the bottom of the strategic plan. But it's time to move wellness from a nice-to-have to a must-have.

Speaking with one of the pioneers in the employee wellness movement, Cleveland Clinic, and hearing from readers about the topic confirms my belief that employee wellness has a domino effect--overall better care for individuals, improved care for populations and, of course, cost savings.

Sound familiar, right? It's that "triple aim" that Don Berwick first wrote about and the three goals the entire healthcare industry has been grasping to reach.

Here are three reasons the time is right to invest and implement employee wellness programs:

1. Employee health and satisfaction
Cleveland Clinic Chief Wellness Officer Michael Roizen told FierceHealthcare employee engagement at The Clinic went up 33 percent after implementing its controversial wellness program.

But controversy didn't hinder the program's success. Cleveland Clinic employees lost more than 330,000 pounds. They clocked 25,000 hours a month at fitness clubs, way up from the previous 2,500 hours. The number of self-reported smokers dropped from 15.4 percent to 6.8 percent, and more than 50 percent of those with chronic diseases are now in a disease-management program.

Although hospital employees might resent wellness initiatives, which some employees have described as a "big-brother approach," you can't argue with those results. One employee who commented on the Q&A said the free Weight Watchers and free dietician appointments helped her lose 50 pounds.

2. Catalyst for community wellness
But it's not just the individual employees who win out. Hospital employee wellness programs can extend to the community, as well.

Most (93 percent) hospital leaders say they have community outreach initiatives, such as health fairs or educational lectures, according to 2011 Aegis Health Group data. More than half (55 percent) have a formalized population health management program and 17 percent said they planned to add one within the next year.

For instance, Medical University of (Charleston) South Carolina (MUSC) converted a parking lot into a half-acre vegetable garden open to the community. The award-winning institution has won recognition from the South Carolina Hospital Association and NC Prevention Partners as a Center of Excellence for its work in changing the hospital's approach to nutrition, tobacco use and physical activity.

"We should be the model, not only for our own employees ... but for reaching out to the community as a leader and a model for what it means to be healthy and to provide those opportunities for the folks in our community," Wellness Program Coordinator Susan L. Johnson previously told FierceHealthcare.

3. Bending of the cost curve
In addition to employee and patient health, probably one of the most tempting reasons to launch an employee wellness program is the potential cost savings.

Employers expect health insurance costs to rise 7 percent next year, so they're looking to control those costs. that includes new and improved wellness programs, FierceHealthPayer reported. In fact, 19 percent of employers are considering wellness programs that incentivize employees to improve their overall health to be a strong cost-control option and, according to this month's survey by National Business Group on Health. Employers also plan on sweetening the deal by offering more rewarding, raising participation incentives by 50 percent from $300 to $450 next year, according to the survey.

As The Clinic's Roizen noted, though, it's hard to tell what the actual return is until a few years down the line.

"The return on investment is not a two-year return; it's a five-year return, but then it's substantial," Roizen said.

In other words, good things come to those who weigh ... and wait. - Karen (@FierceHealth)