Hospital wellness efforts look at innovative ways to drive participation - April 26, 2015

Courtesy of Post-Tribune

Christin Nance Lazerus, Post-Tribune
2:00 am, April 26, 2015
Kathy Dominguez, a health information analyst at St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart, knew it was time to make a change.

The Portage resident had been dealing with high cholesterol and high blood pressure for a while when the results of a biomarkers screen, as part of her employer’s New Healthy Me program, revealed that she was prediabetic.

“I took my results to my family doctor, but I just knew I had to make a change,” Dominguez said. “By changing my eating habits, I lost a little bit of weight. But then I started exercising — which I never liked — and I lost a little more.

“I’m almost 64 years old, so if I can do it, anyone can do it.”

Three years later, Dominguez has lost 80 pounds — and saved money as well.

Employees who enroll in Community Healthcare System’s new Healthy Me wellness program can rack up points by undergoing routine health screenings, logging their exercise, losing weight or quitting smoking. Employees can receive up to $520 annually back into their paychecks and convert points into Target gift cards.

The New Healthy Me web portal recently received a Health Innovation Award from Microsoft Corp. for its innovative solutions to employee engagement and health education.

Andrea Newton, wellness coordinator for the New Healthy Me program, said the program started in 2010 after several attempts at creating an employee wellness program.

“We’ve only collectively been a system for about 10 years, so each hospital did its own thing,” Newton said. “We had Get Hip, which was a very grassroots program, in that there wasn’t a lot of participation. We knew that we had to beef up the program and our insurance claims kept growing and growing. We were looking at cost containment, while also promoting a healthier, happier workforce.”

In the past five years, enrollment has increased from 100 to 3,000 people. Enrollment is voluntary and employees need not be on the employee health care plan to benefit.

“For years I was on my husband’s health care plan, but then he lost his job so we switched to mine,” Newton said. “We still need to encourage our employees to stay healthy because you never know what may happen.”

The program has been such a success that Community is now selling the program to other businesses hoping to improve employee wellness.

“We are beginning to sell the program to local industry and employers,” Newton said. “We really held off for a while and used our own employees as guinea pigs. We wanted the foundation really solid before bringing it out to the public.”

Employee wellness at hospitals

Hospitals are serving as laboratories to discover the most effective ways to encourage their employees’ health care needs and goals, while lowering health care costs. From web portals to farmers’ markets to coaching, Northwest Indiana hospitals are helping to improve their employees’ health in myriad ways.

Dominguez said New Healthy Me is easy to use in part because she can just plug her pedometer into a computer via a USB port. Portable fitness devices like those made by Fitbit make it even easier by syncing wirelessly.

Since Community Healthcare System launched its New Healthy Me initiative in 2010, program metrics have shown a consistent decrease in health care costs among its participants.

New Healthy Me awarded around $400,000 in incentives to participants last year, but New Healthy Me administrator Ann Mitchell said the program has saved millions in health care costs. Community Healthcare System estimates that the program generates a return of $4 for every $1 invested.

“We’ve probably saved millions and taken people from diabetic to not,” Mitchell said. “And sometimes labs have sometimes uncovered secondary causes like elevated levels in the kidneys.”

Among participants, New Healthy Me has seen a 2 percent decrease in reported physician office visits due to illness, a 6 percent decrease in reported days of work missed in a year due to illness, an 8 percent increase in employees who started an exercise program, and a 7 percent increase in employees involved in a weight loss program. About 97 percent of participants regularly screen their blood pressure.

Amy Pleasant, a wellness coordinator with Franciscan Alliance, said employees can choose whether or not to participate in its wellness program, which has an online portal. Some programs require a certain level of participation to receive a prize, while others are based on participation and employees enter a raffle.

Pleasant said its recent eight-week New Year, New You program challenged employees and their spouses to exercise and lose eight. The challenge saw 280 people set weight loss goals as well as commit to exercising for 30 minutes daily, five times a week. Pleasant said 38 percent of participants met their goals and company employees lost a combined 2,343 pounds.

“Many teams have stayed together and are keeping this momentum going within their departments,” Pleasant said in an email. “They are setting new goals and also trying to maintain the weight they have lost.”

Jean Lubeckis, a therapist in the Franciscan Alliance Wellness program, said she’s always been physically active — biking to work when she can or using a treadmill or elliptical machine to work out — but she found that she had a hard time shedding excess weight.

“Recently they had a New Year, New You weight loss program and their emphasis was exercise and to eat more consciously,” Lubeckis said. “I’m a pescatarian and I eat healthy but I’m still overweight. They offer health coaching, which helped me along the way in terms of nutritionally getting more balance in my diet.”

Lubeckis has lost 9 pounds since the start of the year and she’s excited about the path that she’s on.

Carlos Celis, a Franciscan wellness health coach, said coaching consists of fitness, nutrition, stress reduction and a lot of positive reinforcement.

“The clients that I feel are most successful are those that over time learn that this process is more about breaking through barriers and past experiences and accepting that they don’t have to be perfect for them to achieve a higher level of wellness,” Celis said in an e-mail. “It’s not just about weight loss, to me it’s more about working with your client and figuring out what they are ready to do today and slowly guide them through more positive lifestyle changes as they get comfortable.”

Over the past few years, Methodist Hospital has held Biggest Loser weight loss challenges, held buddy walks, offered health screenings and held a summer farmer’s market. But Penny Holsclaw, supervisor of employee health and wellness at Methodist Hospital, said the system is on the verge of making the program more comprehensive.

“We’ve been in the wellness business for others for so long and now we’re branching out for ourselves,” she said. “We don’t have cost savings quantified yet since we’re novices. We’ll be bringing in a wellness partner with an online portal to see how are we going to become healthier.”

Over the past few months, employees have been providing feedback in terms of what they would like to see from a wellness program, whether they are meeting their health goals and what may be keeping them from meeting those goals.

Holsclaw said employees undergo a risk assessment through a biometric screening, which looks at body measurements, cholesterol and blood pressure. She said the test results are uploaded into their electronic medical record, and program coordinators follow-up to track the individual’s wellness journey.

“We’re thinking of offering a health insurance premium discount or something similar to drive the program,” Holsclaw said. “A lot of companies have the carrot or the stick mentality. For example, if you don’t do something, you can get fined. But we’re kind of leaning more toward the carrot to get them more positive about participating.”

Methodist Hospitals’ two campuses have an association with the American Heart Association and it is planning employee exercise rooms for both campuses.

Methodist has profiled some of its employees’ success stories in its monthly newsletter.

“We have a nurse who I’m going to profile and she’s lost 60 pounds since last year,” Holsclaw said. “She said her mobility was affected, and she was an ICU nurse. Everybody’s got that moment where they say that it’s time to change.

“Our director of environmental services said his moment came when someone took a picture of him with another employee. Since then, he’s lost 55 pounds.”

Success stories can also influence co-workers. Dominguez’s experience has even influenced co-workers to make positive changes in their lives.

“There’s one person in my office who lost 24 pounds,” Dominguez said. “She’s the one who always calls me her inspiration.”

While the early part of her weight loss journey was slow, Dominguez said it’s important to stay on track regardless of the incentives.

“My message would be that you’re not always able to see the results of your effort at first, but keep at it,” Dominguez said. “If you’re going to do it, you have to do it for yourself and not anyone else.”