Wellness program a peach

Friday, November 30, 2007

Shield Healthcare trucks in fresh organic fruit each Tuesday for its employees. The Valencia, Calif.-based provider also offers cholesterol and BMI screenings, smoking cessation and Weight Watchers programs, free flu shots and a host of other healthy opportunities for employees. In October, the company earned the 2007 California Fit Business Bronze Award. Jennifer Puleo, director of human resources, says payback has more than offset any costs. She spoke to HME News recently to discuss Shield's healthy new attitude.
HME News: What inspired Shield to offer a wellness program?
Jennifer Puleo: Primarily, the rising costs of employee health care, but also, we're a healthcare company. We want our employees to have healthy attitudes and embrace healthy behaviors.
HME: How have employees responded to the programs?
Puleo: They have embraced a lot of the programs more than I would have expected. The fruit is gone within an hour of being delivered and we get requests for certain things. As the weather gets nicer, more people are outside walking. At employee meetings, instead of doughnuts, we're getting more requests for water and fruit. We're starting to see more employees suggest new ideas. With the cholesterol screening, we couldn't do everybody in one day.
HME: What are the benefits to the company?
Puleo: The more we can stop the behaviors that cause chronic conditions, the more we can reduce sick time. With the flu shot, even if they get flu, it lessens it. Everyone's mood is improving, they don't feel bad or get behind in their work. Any cost we have incurred, we've gotten back in being able to recruit (new employees) faster and keep people longer. Our biggest challenge now is to get health plans to recognize they should reduce costs to incentivize employers like us.
HME: Obesity is one of the last taboos. How do you work BMI testing into the program without offending anyone?
Puleo: It's a sensitive issue. We've approached it as eating healthy as opposed to losing weight. We offer it in a private setting and try to follow up with classes on food that tastes good that your family can eat. We have conversations about this in our Weight Watchers classes. If you have some other vice, you can avoid it but you have to eat.
HME: Will this evolve into a system of rewards for good behavior or higher costs for riskier behaviors?
Puleo: The world is getting there. We have to see what things will be OK from a legal standpoint. Our goal is to reward employees who pursue healthy behavior by making healthcare more affordable for those folks. I do think we will do it in an incentive fashion. For example, we'll take $5 off your health insurance costs if you go to the gym five times a week, or if you have a good cholesterol score.
HME: Is there a benefit to the group approach in behavior modification?
Puleo: I personally went through the smoking cessation program. People really watched out for me. They'd say 'You're not going to go outside and smoke right now are you?' In February, it will be two years. It's not the first time I quit, but it's the first time I don't think about it. I can run up the stairs and I don't smell like smoke.