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Cleveland Clinic Opens Free Wellness Programs for Employee Dependents

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, January 25, 2010

Cleveland Clinic should be commended for expanding its free employee wellness and health programs to more than 35,000 dependents.

This simple, common sense move is exactly the far-sighted, cost-effective, proactive action needed to address many of the preventable chronic illnesses that otherwise drive healthcare costs beyond control.

The fact that a high-profile healthcare institution like Cleveland Clinic is aggressively expanding wellness benefits is another sign that wellness programs work.

Since Jan. 1, Cleveland Clinic dependents who participate in its corporate employee health plan have had access to weight loss support services, memberships to fitness facilities, and smoking cessation treatment and medication, all at no cost to the employees.

Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove, MD, said the expansion is the latest step in the employee wellness campaign launched in the summer of 2008. Since then, more than 10,000 employees enrolled and participated in smoking cessation, weight management, and fitness programs. Collectively, Cleveland Clinic says 5,000 weight management program participants have lost more than 88,000 pounds–an average of 17 pounds per employee.

"Our nearly 40,000 employees and their families represent a crucial part of our community, both locally and around the world," Cosgrove said. "By giving them access to wellness and prevention programs at no cost, we can make a significant impact on the health and wellness of our community."

Cleveland Clinic banned tobacco use from its campus on July 4, 2005. In September, 2007, the hospital said it would no longer hire smokers. It has since banned trans fats from its cafeteria, and inpatient menus.

The clinic opened a Wellness Institute nearly three years ago to promote healthy lifestyle choices among employees. Chief Wellness Officer Michael F. Roizen, MD, said that extending the wellness benefits to employees' families will decrease chances that they will become one of the 30 million Americans affected by chronic illness. "Lifestyle choices that include smoking, poor nutrition and lack of physical activity are key contributors to the increased rate of chronic disease affecting our families and neighborhoods," he said.

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