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Companies see benefits to employee wellness programs

Published: Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST • Updated: Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013 9:46 a.m. CST
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(Sandy Bressner – sbressner@shawmedia.com)
Amy Snyder, an employee of Cadence Health, runs on the treadmill Thursday afternoon at the Delnor Health and Wellness Center in Geneva. Snyder takes advantage of the membership discount provided by Cadence.

From a human resources perspective, Rick Davis says his No. 1 goal is to keep employees healthy – an objective that also can help keep a company healthy, if it’s done right.

Davis, vice president of human resources of Cadence Health, said it’s especially important for health care workers to practice what they preach, which is why employee health programs are growing within the company.

For the past two years, Davis said, Cadence Health has been stepping up its efforts to engage more employees in maintaining healthy habits, from lowering insurance premiums to offering gym membership discounts to Delnor Hospital’s Health and Wellness Center.

Some companies have seen these wellness incentives benefit not only employees, but also the company’s bottom line, through reduced sick days and lower health insurance costs.

“We’ve done a lot of studying on published reports,” Davis said. “It’s pretty clear there’s a value in having these programs. The challenge is you’re measuring how well people are.”

Mike Deagle, insurance broker and owner of Fox Training Studio in Batavia, said a good corporate wellness plan can be as simple as a discounted gym membership and as advanced as doing annual blood draws and offering smoking cessation incentives. He said companies often don’t see the benefits right away, as it takes time to establish a well-rounded program.

He said the key is that employers have to really buy into the program by educating employees and participating themselves. And the cost for the employer doesn’t have to break the bank.

“You can take a minimum amount of money and you can do a lot of good for your employees,” Deagle said. “It does no good to have unhealthy people on your insurance program.”

At Delnor, Davis said, employees can receive a discount on their out-of-pocket medical costs if they get an annual physical, obtain “know your numbers” health information and get an annual flu shot.

The Geneva Park District offers a corporate membership program at both of its fitness facilities. Joann Able, assistant facility manager at the Sunset Racquetball & Fitness Center, said the park district doesn’t have a lot of corporate members, but is trying to promote those memberships.

“It’s an area within our membership structure we’d like to see grow,” said Jay Kelly, the park district’s superintendent of recreation.

He said the membership offers discounts to nonresidents who work in Geneva – essentially giving them a residential rate. Kelly said most companies pay a portion of their employees’ memberships, while other companies pay the entire amount. He said about 30 to 40 people take advantage of corporate memberships now.

Kelly said that the economy may have stymied the park district from growing its corporate memberships in the past few years.

Deagle said some companies go as far as offering 15-minute neck massages to help reduce employee stress, or inviting in a guest speaker, such as a nutritionist, to educate employees about eating better.

Offering discounts on insurance premiums also can make a difference for employees’ wallets.

“Doing a premium differential is a biggie,” Deagle said. “That 10 percent [differential] can be $30 to $40 in one month, easy.”

Davis said a lot of the hospital’s focus is on preventative care by offering health risk assessments. He said he hopes the health trend catches on throughout the community.

“We’re a large employer. We find trends in our employee population and it’s likely there are trends in the surrounding community that are similar,” he said. “In the next year, we’ll look at the health of our population and look at health care reform. That’s really the way it’s headed.”

But for a company’s wellness plan to succeed, Deagle emphasized that employees have to want to participate. That’s accomplished when the company’s leadership gets involved, he said.

“I think you’ve got to have your employer engaged. If not, it won’t work,” he said. “They’ve got to be excited and believe in it. But it’s not instant gratification.”

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