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Consultant urges area employers to consider wellness programs

By Glenn Evans
Feb. 13, 2013 at 10 p.m.

A business consultant told area employers Wednesday to embrace health care and don't call wellness corny.

"My mission is to talk to, mainly, employers and health systems about what's the value of a healthy and high-performing person in your work place," Edington Associates founder Dee Edington said shortly before laying out the case for workplace wellness elements such as regular health screenings, weight and exercise rooms in the office and wellness incentives many insurers now offer employers.

Workplace safety and quality of work already receive attention from employers, he said.

"I'm trying to bring health to the same level in the organization as safety and quality," he said. "All three are a threat to the organization. And if you think about them, when it comes to the company, you'd better do something about it or it's going to come up and bite you."

Edington spoke later to about 50 area employers and human resources officers. He was brought in by Good Shepherd Health Systems, where Vice President Ron Short said the wellness message is well received.

"There have been some really good models, nationally, and progressive employers have found that health care costs go down," Short said. "There are some local employers who've been early adopters of this process. They like that employees are not staying away from work because they are sick. And they like, not only that they are healthy, but the cost of covering these employees is going down."

Company health strategies too often are cursory nods to wellness, Edington said.

"They have a check-box that they are doing something for wellness," he said. "I think the employer that is really serious about it is going to do something at their own workplace as well."

That includes policing the break room, a place known more for junk food than healthy snacks, he said.

"That sends a different message," said Edington, who retired from 30 years of work in medical claims. "Some places are putting in weight rooms. Some people are bringing in weight rooms. ... Health care in this country is misnamed - it's really disease care. Wellness has to get out of that system and get to people before they have a high risk (condition), before they have a disease."

Employers who see a connection between employee health and the cost of doing business are even bringing the health care professionals to the employees, he said.

"Sometimes, they'll bring in a clinic or a nurse," he said. "And those are very cost effective, because if an employee has something that needs looking at, that can take him minutes (as opposed to leaving for a doctor's appointment). The clinics have turned out to be pretty cost-economical. Time away from work, to me, is as valuable as medical claims."

Employers that Edington has encountered worry about appearing paternalistic, like a private sector version of the nanny state.

"But, at the same time, they are paying claims," he said. "And they need people to be there (on the job)."

The cliché still holds, he added: A happy employee is a productive employee.

"If it's a good place to work, people have a tendency to stay," he said. "They are not looking for other work, and they pay more attention to quality work in your work place. ... It gives them a sense of well-being as a culture - 'I look forward to coming to work.' So, it is a lot of intangibles, but you set that up by the culture."



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