Hospital Offers Employees Incentives to Stay Healthy
A growing number of companies across the country have started encouraging employees to stay healthy by offering financial incentives.
Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, which is one of the largest employers in the area, is pushing for a healthier workforce through its Charge Rewards Program.
First piloted in fall 2010, Carle employees can rack up points if they do things like trying a new healthy recipe, limiting their alcohol intake, or exercising more. Enough points earned within a year can be redeemable for discounts on health insurance premiums, cash back, or paid time off.
Dr. Napoleon Knight is the medical director of hospital medicine and the associate director of quality at Carle. He helps oversee the incentive program.
"We take care of people sometimes in their most vulnerable states," Knight said. "My personal view is that we need to model some activities that other people would want to model in their lives as well."
Knight said he tries to set an example for Carle employees by living a healthier life himself. He said of the roughly 5,500 employees at Carle, about 2,000 take part in the wellness program. He said for a business or a hospital that pays for part of its workers' health insurance premiums, the financial gains for the company through reduced benefits costs can be great.
"If you're taking three or four different medicines a day times x number of employees times x number of years, what you see is that really starts to add up," he said.
One of the Carle employees taking part in the hospital's wellness initiative is Sean Williams. He works in the marketing department. In early January at the age of 32, he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
"They often call that adult onset diabetes," Williams explained.
Williams said he has always taken good care of himself, but since learning about his diagnosis, he has re-doubled his efforts. He said it can be a challenge finding the time to exercise with the demands at work.
Back in the middle of February during an interview with Illinois Public Media, Dr. Knight mentioned that the hospital was considering a plan to boost physical activity during the work day by adding treadmills in different departments of the hospital. He said he was trying to identify a single department to test the idea out.
Since Sean Williams handles media requests for Carle, he was listening to the interview with Knight. That is how he first learned about the hospital's plans to add exercise equipment for employees.
"I contacted Dr. Knight, and I was quick to volunteer," Williams said. "He graciously sent on my request to those who were making the decisions on this."
Not long after Williams made his request, the hospital unveiled a treadmill in Williams' department. In the couple of months since the treadmill was installed, Williams has walked more than 60 miles on it. Other people in his department also take turns using it.
"So, on one of those days where I'm having a really tough time trying to get my blood sugar back down to certain levels, I go outside for a walk or I'll go for a run or I'll jump on the treadmill here at work," Williams said. "It's amazing how quickly my blood sugar comes down."
With Carle's health incentive program, Williams has earned about 120 points. By the time he gets about a hundred more points, he will be eligible for $260 off his health insurance premium, or $260 cash back if Carle does not cover his premium.
Another Carle employee taking part in the wellness initiative is Nursing Director Joan Plunk. She has accumulated 640 points. That puts her in the highest category of the rewards program. If employees have 600 points and get biometric screenings, which are covered by Carle, they can get $260 off their health insurance premium plus $100 in cash or 8 hours paid leave. If their health insurance premium is not covered by Carle, then they can get $360 in cash.
Joan said with her work schedule, getting fast food was always a convenient option. Though it still is, she has dialed back.
"If I have to eat fast food, I'll choose like the grilled chicken and take the bun off and not have the mayonnaise," she said. "Now, there are things that I really like, like French fries, but I eat them every now and then."
Joan said while Carle's incentive program is still a new experience for her, she has been conscious about her health for some time - walking or swimming just about every day.
"Well, to be honest it has been the last 10 years that I've become more into it selfishly, my own health versus taking care of other people and my family more," she said.
Joan is spending more time cooking healthy meals at home. On a recent weekend at her home, she spent time preparing a salad with ingredients, such as baked chicken, mushrooms, and craisins
"It's pretty simple, really," she explained as she worked on the salad. "Then I'll just add a handful of almonds."
Her husband, Tom, is a farmer, and is the on the road quite a bit for business. He admits he has not always maintained the healthiest of diets. Any food stop for him when he is out of town was usually fast food, but Joan now prepares most of his meals during the week. What she is learning about nutritious cooking from Carle is impacting her husband's health.
"Well, Tom liked to get fried chicken from the store, so now we bake chicken instead of you eating fried chicken," she said, looking at him.
"I used to eat a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken on the route," Tom added.
"So, you still have the foods you enjoy," Joan said. "It's just they're prepared more healthy."
For the week, Joan said she will prepare Tom turkey slices, pot roast, or sandwiches. They have also substituted sugary soda beverages with coffee or water.
"But what she's not telling you is that I am a fan of cake," Tom mentioned.
Joan said she still makes sure her husband satisfies his sweet tooth.
"Now you can make (healthier cakes) using apple sauce instead of the oil," Joan said.
A growing number of companies are offering financial incentives to boost employee health. The non-profit, National Business Group on Health surveyed more than 500 companies. It found as of this year, 68 percent of those employers offer cash, premium credits, and account contributions to their employees to encourage healthier habits - that's up by 10 percent from a year ago.
LuAnn Heinen is the vice president of the National Business Group on Health. She said companies are spending less on premiums by encouraging their employees to be healthy through various wellness programs.
"So, we're still spending a very small amount on wellness and prevention, and the companies that are increasingly interested in wellness are seeing a fairly significant return on the order of $2-to-$3 for every dollar invested," Heinen said.
Some companies have even penalized workers with premium surcharges or higher deductibles for failing to complete a required health management activity. Penalties were used by 20 percent of respondents in the survey this year - roughly double the number of companies that used penalties in 2009.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court is mulling over the legality of the Affordable Health Care Act. Whatever happens, Heinen suspects there will continue to be a strong commitment to wellness.
Read the report released by the National Business Group on Health Unit 4 Tries to Stay Ahead of Nutrition Standards (Related) Champaign County Schools Adopt Anti-Obesity Initiative (Related) Champaign Middle School Adds Exercise Machines (Related)