Are Wellness Programs Changing The Culture Of Corporate Arkansas?

by Talk Business & Politics staff ( 50 views 

Editor’s note:  This article, written by Jeanni Brosius, first appeared in the latest magazine edition of Talk Business Arkansas.

Without hesitation, Jayme Mayo puts on her hard hat, safety glasses and boots and walks onto one of Nabholz Construction Corporations worksites. She’s not there to swing a hammer or to study blueprints. She’s there to help the employees of the Conway-based company get, and stay healthy.

Nabholz has one of the most successful wellness programs in Arkansas, and Mayo is a physician assistant and the company’s wellness director. She believes that by getting to know the employees in their environment helps her to understand their health needs better.

Six years ago, Nabholz – the largest commercial contracting company in Arkansas – started its wellness program and made the decision to have self-funded insurance for its 1,000 employees. Mayo said it was a way to control the rising costs of health insurance premiums.

“Our health insurance premiums were creeping upward,” said Mayo, who oftentimes will go grocery shopping with the employees who need dietary help. She said she is also available to visit families in their homes for nutritional counseling and to help them to understand food labels.

After trying several wellness methods, including a points system, Mayo said the company finally found an incentive program where the employees are held accountable, and it really works. In fact, Nabholz’s program was featured in a four-part HBO documentary film series, “The Weight of the Nation,” which aired on May 14, 2012.

All the employees and their spouses are screened at least once a year. Because the company pays 100 percent of the employee’s health insurance, if anyone refuses a health screening, they are charged 20 percent of their premium, Mayo said.

There are five areas of incentives: tobacco cessation, obesity, blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol. If an employee lowers body-fat percentage, stops using tobacco or lowers blood pressure, glucose levels or cholesterol, he can earn up to $400.

“One hundred percent of our employees are getting screenings, and 99 percent get monetary incentives for good results in one or more of those categories. …The folks who don’t meet the requirements for tobacco or obesity can sign up for our Super Incentive program where people can earn up to $500 for quitting tobacco and up to $1,000 for losing weight,” she said.

In the last three years, Mayo said the company’s healthcare premiums have only gone up four percent, and in the last year, it’s been zero percent. She said that Nabholz has chosen to invest that savings back into the people of the company.

Although Nabholz has a wellness program that is doing well, Greg Hatcher of the Hatcher Agency said it isn’t always that easy for many employers.

“A lot of employers want to talk about it, but few of them want to spend money on it,” Hatcher said about wellness plans. “Just because we take your blood and tell you what to do, doesn’t mean you’re going to do it.”

Hatcher is one of the top 12 insurance agents in the United States, and he said his company represents 650 corporate accounts.

“It’s a culture, and it starts at the top,” he said. “You need support from the CEO on down. … I tell my staff that if you’ll do your workout first, you’ll have the rest of the day to make phone calls, and I’m OK if they come in a little late because they’re getting their workout in…. Fitness is power,” he said.

Mayo agrees that executive leadership in a wellness program is key.

“They have to be behind this 100 percent,” she said. “It’s not a cookie cutter. … Companies need to put somebody on the ground.”

She said that employers shouldn’t hire a third party to facilitate a wellness program. Employees respond better to someone who looks them in the eye and cares about them than someone on the phone who “suggests they wear a pedometer.”

Mayo believes that wearing a pedometer isn’t a sole solution to obesity. She said educating employees about healthful lifestyle changes while providing motivation and support can curb obesity-related illnesses.

When Nabholz began screening its employees, the number of serious health concerns was staggering. According to the HBO documentary, 55 percent of the company’s employees weighed more than 200 pounds; 30 percent weighed 225, and 20 percent weighed more than 250. Prediabetes rates among the employees have dropped 13.4 percent, and cholesterol rates have dropped 18 percent.

Obesity costs employees millions of lost work days and more than $70 billion each year, according to the research of Duke University economist Eric Finkelstein, Ph.D.

Nabholz isn’t the only Arkansas company that is changing its culture. Arkansas Children’s Hospital also promotes wellness among its employees.

Christine Ferguson, director of the ACH Wellness Program said the hospital has a robust menu of wellness programs offered to its employees, including health screenings, on-site vaccinations, two fitness centers, healthy food options and stress management.

“First and foremost, we want to offer benefits that encourage employees to actively participate in their own healthcare,” said Ferguson.

In addition to promoting good physical health, ACH has an on-site daycare to help alleviate stress among employees who have children.

“As a parent myself who has benefited from this resource, I believe this benefit definitely relieves employees stress,” Ferguson said. “ACH’s Child Enrichment Center recognizes the hours and demands of healthcare workers. Childcare is open everyday except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. If Little Rock experiences inclement weather, child-care workers spend the night so that parents who have to report to work are available for these employees. It’s a very special benefit.”

Many companies choose to take action to increase the awareness of a healthful lifestyle among employees, legislation has also passed to promote the health of the state’s employees, too.

The Arkansas Healthy Employee Lifestyle Program (AHELP) is a worksite wellness intervention designed for state agencies, boards and commissions, said Ann Russell, Arkansas Department of Health director of communications.

Russell said in 2005, Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, (formerly Rep. Chesterfield) sponsored a bill to provide an incentive to change the health of Arkansas state employees.

Act 724 of 2005 provides leave, up to three days per 52 weeks, for state employees who participate in AHELP, which uses a point system for healthier choices.

“The employees track their daily behaviors and earn points for the activities that include physical activity, fruit and vegetable intake and tobacco cessation,” Russell said. “In addition, employees can track and earn points for participating in annual healthy worksite challenges, health education interventions, wellness screenings, walk/run events and for completing a health risk assessment.”