Bringing health care inside

June 1, 2001

Lab Safety Supply has benefited from on-site wellness initiatives such as a clinic and a fitness center.

 

ProductivityPlus

Bringing health care inside

Lab Safety Supply has benefited from on-site wellness initiatives such as a clinic and a fitness center.

By Chad Abresch MEd, Craig Johnson and Bo Abresch

To deal with rising health care costs, Lab Safety Supply has found it helpful to grow wellness initiatives inside the workplace. The company, which produces lab ware and lab safety products such as protective clothing, goggles and gloves has in the past decade developed its own fitness center, health care clinic and several accompanying programs. The benefits have included fewer health claims, less money spent per medical visit and less time lost due to physician visits.

In the late '80s and '90s, rapidly rising health costs were becoming a threat to the company's financial well-being, and a response was needed. One action, during the '90s, was to build a 4,000-square-foot on-site fitness center to encourage employees to exercise and thereby better maintain their health. In the center, the company implemented aerobics and personal strength training programs. Also offered were bimonthly workday seminars on topics such as stress management, family nutrition, healthy parenting, and weight management.

In 1994, Lab Safety Supply hired a registered nurse to oversee wellness initiatives. In following years, the company began providing employee health risk appraisals, including blood pressure and cholesterol testing programs. On-site weight management, musculoskel-etal and smoking cessation classes were added. The fitness center was expanded to 8,000 square feet, a "mother's health room" was opened and a certified personal trainer plus two massage therapists were added to the staff.

Meanwhile, the company added benefits such as emergency child care and flexible spending accounts that enable employees to pay for medical expenses with pre-tax dollars.

Last year, the company opened an on-site medical clinic, where a physician and a physician assistant are available for eight hours per week. A medical assistant and registered nurse also work in the clinic, making it available more than 60 hours per week. The company's benefit representative also works at the clinic, to help with administrative issues and paperwork.

The clinic is equipped at the level of an urgent care facility and is located in the middle of the company. It is most commonly visited for colds, flu, viral symptoms and allergies. Most appointments last 15 minutes, and employees may either schedule them or visit on a walk-in basis. There are two examination and treatment rooms that can treat a variety of conditions including cuts that require sutures, dermatologic problems, ear, nose and throat disorders, and cardiac and respiratory conditions. Most prescription medications can be provided at the time of the visit at no cost to the employee.

Further diagnostic testing, including strep screens, throat cultures, urinalysis, mono spot, complete blood count, pregnancy testing, thyroid studies and basic chemistry profiles, can be done with results relayed back to the employee the same day of the visit—again, at no cost. The clinic's physician estimates that more than 70 percent of visits to the clinic would have needed outside treatment, but by seeking intervention early, in most cases employees have been able to stay at work and recover much more quickly, increasing productivity and helping morale.

After just one year, the clinic's impact has included lowering the average cost of a medical visit from $150 to $28. As a result, from 1,089 visits made to the clinic during the year, savings of about $133,000 have been achieved.

Employee participation in the wellness offerings has been strong. Sixty percent of employees have participated in the health risk assessment. About 51 percent of workers have taken advantage of free blood pressure, blood sugar, total cholesterol, HDL and triglyceride testing, which are available whenever the nurse or medical assistant is on duty. About 44 percent of employees use the fitness center.

Benefits garnered from the company's health-related efforts in-clude a reduction in time lost for medical appointments. More significantly, despite adding 75 employees from 1998 to 1999, the company had a 2 percent decrease in the number of medical claims during those years.

Chad Abresch is WELCOA's senior staff writer for consumer and organizational publications. Craig Johnson, a health promotion specialist and staff writer for WELCOA, also manages the national Well Workplace Awards Initiative. Bo Abresch is the communications specialist for WELCOA.

 

Chad Abresch. Bringing health care inside. Business and Health 2001;6:45.