Disrupting the status quo with well-rounded wellness programs

Making meaningful changes to employee health — and employer healthcare costs — isn’t always so easy, especially if employers aren’t paying attention to the health of the whole person.

LAS VEGAS — Making meaningful changes to employee health — and employer healthcare costs — isn’t always so easy, especially if employers aren’t paying attention to the health of the whole person.

But providing a well-rounded health and wellness program could help to move the needle, experts said, speaking on a panel Wednesday at Employee Benefit News and Employee Benefit Adviser’s Benefits Forum and Expo in Las Vegas.

The first step may be addressing mental health issues that could be impacting overall worker health. Employers should look beyond claims and survey data to identify mental issues that may be plaguing workers, said Jaclyn Wainwright, CEO of Aircare Health, a mental health and substance abuse prevention benefit provider.

“Don’t ignore the things you can’t see,” she said. “Don’t underestimate the number of people that are suffering in silence because there are many.”

Even though employers may be offering wellness programs that help workers to lose weight or better manage chronic conditions, if companies ignore mental health they could be overlooking the underlying causes of disease, she added. For example, high stress over a long period of time can lead to physical health conditions including high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, among other illnesses, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“A lot of times what’s going on the inside dictates what’s going on on the outside,” Wainwright said.

Helping employees become better healthcare consumers is another way employers can improve health and reduce costs, said Drew Komenda, chief transformation officer at Rx Savings Solutions. The company’s prescription drug savings tool integrates with employer’s pharmacy benefits and identifies places where workers can save money on drugs, he added.

“There are many stories of people who couldn’t afford their meds and now they are [able to],” Komenda said.

But some employers have stepped up to the challenge and are looking to develop more comprehensive wellness programs. For example, Nebeyou Abebe, global vice president of health and well-being at Sodexo Group said his company is focused on developing a well-rounded wellness program for their own employees as well as their employer clients.

The food service and facilities management giant has a partnership with the Central Florida YMCA, which gives workers and local community members access to tools to improve overall health and prevent disease. Since launching the program in 2015, the company has seen improvement in quality of life and reduction in healthcare costs, Abebe said.

“The more we can focus on the employee and take a human centered approach, the better off we are at addressing the root causes that are driving up healthcare costs for us,” he added. Sodexo also has been working to identify food insecure employees, which can be a significant cause of poor physical and mental health.

“We’re also looking at the social determinants of health, implementing assessments to identify employees who may be food insecure,” Abebe said.

Once employers have these tools, integration is key to make access easier for workers. If employers aren’t getting the return on investment they’re expecting, it’s likely because employees don’t know they are offering these benefits, Abebe said.

“Too often than not you see companies that take this fragmented approach but they’re not fully integrated and that’s why they’re not getting that high ROI,” he said.

Ultimately, if companies want to improve workers health they need to look beyond the status quo and think more critically about wellness, the panelists added. Not focusing on the whole person could be putting companies at a detriment long term, Wainwright said.

“The status quo isn’t okay with me and we’re trying to do something about changing that,” she said.

Caroline Hroncich Senior editor, SourceMedia