Jason Biddy, CEO of Urology Centers of Alabama, and Alisa Pugh, director of human resources, had a problem. Insurance costs for the practice were climbing and the health of the 185 employees was not as good as they wanted to see.
So they put their heads together and developed a wellness program that is designed to improve the health of employees, while ultimately saving the practice money.
"The main reason we started a wellness program was because we have a concern for our employees' wellness," Pugh said. "We have people who have had heart attacks and strokes. The top two diagnoses in our group were diabetes and heart disease. Loaded with that information, we knew where we needed to start."
They named the program Urolive & Well and kicked off in January.
The first activity was to ask everyone to make New Year's resolutions they thought they could keep. "Wellness is not just about weight," Pugh said. "There are other things that play into wellness. One is stress relief. Another is making sure you get enough sleep. Another is financial wellness. It involves every aspect of your life."
The program has a different focus each month, with three or four big activities over the year. In March, a health fair that included nine vendors provided information for the employees on a variety of topics. Four gyms offered a drawing for free passes, and Birmingham Internal Medicine spoke to the group. A mortgage broker, dental group, 401K advisors and Homewood Pharmacy rounded out the vendors who talked to the employees.
In addition to providing information through the monthly focus about health issues ranging from heart health to skin wellness or osteoporosis, the practice has a nurse practitioner in-house to offer urgent care for employees. As an incentive to promote regular care, the practice offered baseline blood draws: free checks of glucose and cholesterol that weren't billed to insurance. People with abnormal results were given referrals. The in-house nurse practitioner also sees employees who may have strep throat, ear infection, UTI, sinus infections or other common illnesses.
"We do these sick visits to help keep employees at work," Pugh said. "You want your employees to go to the doctor when they are sick and not spread germs around. This way they don't have to go to the doctor for every little thing that pops up.
"We discovered that 80 percent of emergency room visits are things that can be taken care of in urgent care facilities. A lot of health insurance claims are people going to the ER for something that is not an emergency. We are hoping to address that by offering this service."
"With the sick visits, we can have a healthier population," Biddy said. "People can show up to work when they are supposed to, and they can use their vacation time to really get away. That's a big deal for some people. If they are constantly out sick, their whole time off is eaten up with that, and it doesn't make for a good work/life balance."
Before the wellness program began, Urology Centers provided canned sodas for staff at no cost. "That was a significant expense on one hand," Biddy said. "But also it wasn't conducive to a wellness program. So we took that out, gave everyone a water bottle and got nice water coolers in every area of every office. That pushed the idea of hydrating."
While the impetus for the wellness program was the health of the employees, the cost of insurance also played a role. "This is pretty much a break-even initiative," Biddy said. "We aren't sinking a ton of money into this, and when you look at the things we've cut out like soft drinks, it's budget neutral. That's not the primary goal, but often there's a stigma that a practice can't afford to do this. This has not been costly, and we hope in the long run it will be something that proves to be a return on our investment with healthier employees."
Urolive & Well is still relatively new, but most employees seem to be embracing the changes and participating in different aspects of the program. "We're changing the culture," Biddy said. "So it won't happen overnight. Lifestyle changes take time. The employees know now that we are serious about this. My hope is that as we go forward, we'll be able to offer lower premiums for health insurance or different incentives, and they'll begin to see the value."
"It will take five to eight years before we have the data to see that," Pugh said. "But if we save one person from a heart attack or diabetes, it's been worth it."