Human Resources: Healthy Staff, Healthy Bottom Line

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In 2010, using that blueprint, Carolinas HealthCare System will launch an enhanced WorkWELL version of its LiveWELL Carolinas! wellness program; its 25,000 benefits-eligible employees will be able to save up to $600 a year in health insurance premiums as an incentive to improve their health.

"It's been proven that financial incentives have to be in place for employees to engage themselves in wellness programs," says Russ Guerin, executive vice president of business development and planning at CHS, a nonprofit public health system based in Charlotte, NC, with more than 4,900 licensed beds across multiple facilities. "It also has been proven that those financial incentives have to be of a significant nature. A token dollar amount will not change behavior."

WorkWELL participation uses 10 criteria that include health goals such as completing health questionnaires, maintaining a body mass index below the obesity threshold of 30, or involvement in a weight-loss program. The more goals that are met, the greater the financial reward for the employee. Donna Lockhart, vice president, corporate community relations at CHS, concedes that the first-year threshold for WorkWELL isn't very high. That's by design. "We wanted in this first year to make those goals attainable," she says.

Guerin says CHS' wellness program reflects the health system's belief that Americans have to take charge of their own health. "The only way for this country to reduce healthcare costs is to have a healthier population," he says. "We believe that and so we are trying to encourage our employees to set the example if they expect other to follow the lead."

Mears says the wellness movement is not going away, so employers should embrace it.

"It's intuitive," he says. "It makes sense to try to get upstream and prevent potential problems, rather than clean up an expensive mess."

John Commins

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