By Keith Gushard
Christine Shields feels better not only physically but financially since she started exercising on a regular basis about a year ago. Shields has shed about 30 pounds through exercise and watching her diet — and has gained other benefits as well.
“I used to have to take blood pressure medication — three times a day,” Shields said of her life before regular exercise. “Now, my doctor said I don’t need it because I exercise.”
Exercise has not only lowered her weight and blood pressure, but it has lowered her medical expenses and her health insurance premium through her employer, Meadville Medical Center.
Shields is one of the hospital’s hundreds of employees taking advantage of a voluntary wellness initiative designed to make employees healthier while controlling health insurance costs. Employees who participate get a reduction in their health insurance rates.
On Tuesday, Meadville Medical Center received national recognition as one of the “Healthiest Companies in America” with an award by Interactive Health of Chicago.
“This outstanding achievement takes great commitment and initiative from our employees,” said Philip Pandolph, Meadville Medical Center’s chief executive officer. “Meadville Medical Center’s dedicated leadership and staff will continue to work toward improving the health of our staff members to ensure they continue to take an active and meaningful role in their health and well-being.”
Interactive Health is a leading provider of outcomes-based wellness solutions for companies. Meadville Medical Center was one of 72 honorees nationwide out of more than 2,000 firms to receive the award for health and wellness initiatives in 2012. This is the first year the hospital has won the award.
The “Healthiest Companies in America” award is given to organizations that attained a company-wide low health risk status while achieving high employee participation in their respective wellness programs, according to Joe O’Brien, president and chief executive officer of Interactive Health.
Interactive Health creates an individual health score for each employee who participates. The score is comprised of five risk factors: tobacco use and glucose, blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol levels. The employee then gets a unique achievable goal based on his or her individual results and health improvement is measured using clinical data. Employees don’t have to do anything to improve their health, but those who do and do so successfully get a break on health insurance.
“This is a program that’s long-term,” O’Brien said in presenting the award to hospital officials Tuesday. “The employees have the incentive of a reduced insurance premium by participation.”
It also helps the hospital’s bottom line since it spends about $15 million a year on health insurance for employees, according to Greg Maras, Meadville Medical Center’s vice president of human resources.
“We’re concerned about the health and well-being of our employees, their spouses and families,” Maras said, noting about 1,100 of Meadville Medical Center’s 1,450 employees are eligible for health care benefits. “This voluntary program helps us keep our health care costs down so we can offer good benefits at low cost.”
There are a number of exercise options both in and out of the hospital to help employees reach their goal of improved health, Maras said.
Interactive Health also offers a website and online health coaches that employees can utilize to achieve their goals, Maras said.
Reaching the goals set for her by the wellness program is something in which Shields takes pride.
“I qualified for the reduction (in health care program),” Shields said. “But, I have a family history of heart attacks — my dad and his brothers have had them, and I don’t want that.”
“For me, I’m feeling a lot better and I have more energy. Exercise is a huge stress reliever. My husband and I don’t have any children, but if we do, this will help me keep up with them.”
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.