9th Annual Alla tua Salute!

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Our 2014 corporate wellness honors feature three firms heavily invested in improving employee health

Story by Sean Fitzgerald, New North B2B publisher

In 2014, employer-based wellness programs are fortunately more common than they are uncommon.

That wasn’t the case nearly a decade ago when New North B2B launched our annual Alla tua Salute! Awards. Such initiatives to improve employee health were rare, and B2B set out with a mission of recognizing those employers whose best practices in wellness programming led to improved health, lower use of health insurance for chronic issues, and ultimately resulted in lower premium increases to the group health insurance plan.

Alla tua Salute! – Italian for “to your health” – has recognized more than two dozen northeast Wisconsin employers during the last nine years for their efforts to reduce skyrocketing health care costs. The 2014 Alla tua Salute! Awards, sponsored by Network Health, features two new honorees – as well as a previous two-time winner – sharing ideas your company can often implement to improve employees’ health as well as cut back on burdensome health care expenses. Here’s how they do it.

Large company: Appvion

The manufacturer of thermal and specialty papers, formerly known as Appleton Inc. and Appleton Papers, is already a gold level Well Workplace recognized by Wellness Council of America.

The 1,700-employee company also received B2B’s Alla tua Salute! Award in 2010 and in 2012. Appvion clearly has an articulately designed wellness program targeting health improvement in the areas of exercise, nutrition and stress management.

In early 2013, Appvion opened a clinic across the street from its Appleton headquarters and production facility, which was used by 45 percent of eligible employees during its first year, according to Kerry Arent, vice president of human resources for Appvion.

The clinic provides lifestyle medicine and wellness consults for chronic disease management, acute care for illness and non-work related injuries and immunizations at no charge. Health professionals are able to spend more time with patients, ultimately providing a more holistic approach to the care they’re delivering.

While Arent said financial data isn’t yet available from the clinic’s inaugural year to illustrate its early return on investment, she indicated the real value comes in the form of healthier employees using it more readily because it’s close and convenient.

“They probably wouldn’t go to the doctor otherwise,” she said.

Appvion’s large on-site fitness center is open 365 days to all employees, spouses and retirees, and includes a cardio room, a classroom for fitness classes, and a full circuit weight room.

It offers no-cost personal training and has two health coaches available onsite to create individual plans to help employees, spouses and retirees meet their weight and nutrition goals. Staffing is provided through a partnership with YMCA of the Fox Cities.

Appvion’s onsite cafeteria provides at least two healthy meals per week in addition to its daily salad bar which includes a cost subsidy provided by the company.

“Salads are one of the best sellers in our cafeteria thanks to that subsidy,” said Heather Bogard, health and wellness coordinator for Appvion.

Perhaps most impressively, Appvion’ stress management efforts include heavy promotion of its employee assistance program, which last year recorded double the use compared with the national average for employer-sponsored EAP programs.

What is the evidence all these efforts are working?

Biometric scores from health risk assessments taken by employees have remained stable over the last several years after increasing regularly during the early years of the company’s wellness program. Ultimately, the company reported its health care costs have been trending downward over the last few years.

“They are the poster child of wellness programming,” said Chris Hanson, president of Appleton-based Hanson Benefits and a longtime panelist judging the nominees of B2B’s Alla tua Salute! Awards. “They should be teaching us.”

Mid-sized Company: Society Insurance

Imagine structuring your own individual health insurance policy so that you pay next to nothing in premiums. Sound too good to be true?

It’s possible at Society Insurance in Fond du Lac, a 278-employee carrier for various lines of business insurance.

Employees selecting the company’s highest deductible plan available while scoring high on their annual wellness scorecard can enjoy such a perk, said Amy Collett, vice president of human resources for Society Insurance.

Proactive about wellness and lifestyle improvement, Society’s wellness committee begins each wellness fiscal year creating and building an operational plan for the 12 months ahead. The plan is developed based upon the performance of the company’s cumulative health risk assessment results, and changes from year to year as HRA results improve or reveal areas of wellness in greater need of attention.

“One of the things I really like is that they lay out a wellness plan every year,” said David Brand, an employee benefits consultant with the Oshkosh office of Valley Insurance Associates. “I think that’s important.”

Each year’s plan addresses weight management and diet programs. In that regard, the company offers a salad bar in its lunch room on Tuesdays and Thursdays, allowing employees to purchase salad through payroll deduction. Society Insurance also has adopted community-supported agriculture into its employee culture, Collett said, and the workplace has become a dropoff site for one of the local CSA farms near Fond du Lac. Roughly 30 employees are members in the local CSA organization, and Society helps reimburse a portion of the cost for its employees CSA share.

The insurance company offers its employees free memberships to nearby Club Olympia Fitness in Fond du Lac, or employees can choose a gym membership reimbursement for facilities other than Club Olympia. Between the two options, more than 100 employees take advantage of this benefit, Collett said. In 2014 Society Insurance began providing reimbursement of registration fees for runs, walks and other organized community events involving exercise.

Although the employer’s annual health risk assessments are not mandatory, about 80 percent of employees take the HRA now after seven years of it being offered. Without it, employees aren’t eligible for the fitness club benefit or the reimbursement for event registrations.

Tied to an employee’s performance on their HRA and overall wellness scorecard is a “wellness credit” which amounts to actual cash back on their regular payroll check toward the premium they’d otherwise contribute toward health insurance. Similarly, the HRA program is also offered to spouses and they too can receive wellness credits, Collett said.

Other wellness initiatives include quarterly blood pressure checks, monthly onsite massages, and the “Don’t Gain – Maintain” program it promotes during the busy holiday season the past four years. The latter captured the attention of panelist Chris Hanson.

“It makes sense, rather than focusing on what (weight) they’re going to lose,” said Hanson, recognizing even the best of us make poorer food choices and may exercise less consistently during the holidays. “It’s connecting the dots.”

The impact for Society Insurance would make many employers envious.

“The last 2 years I have been able to hold premiums flat in some areas, even decrease them (in other areas),” Collett said.

Society is a member company of Fond du Lac Area Businesses on Health and uses its resources regularly. It recently submitted a Well Workplace application with WELCOA.

Small Company: SparkNet

It’s hard to expect a lot of wellness program muscle from a company with just 37 employees. But then again, SparkNet in De Pere is anything but a typical employer in northeast Wisconsin.

The Internet and mobile app development firm makes wellness part of its culture and literally built wellness into its newer four-story, 69,000-sq. ft. office building.

An onsite fitness center features floor to ceiling mirrors looking out over the Green Bay skyline. Available to employees and significant others at no charge, the facility is used regularly Monday through Friday.

There’s a separate Yoga room, and both the men’s and women’s locker rooms include infrared sauna, hot tubs and steam rooms. This past year the company purchased diagnostic test equipment such as calipers to measure body fat, scales and a handheld body fat monitor for the locker rooms. Surprisingly, this equipment is well used.

“We love data. We make data-driven decisions all the time,” said SparkNet founder and CEO Chris Knight, noting employees use results from these body fat tests to chart their diet and fitness progress.

A healthy lunch is served daily at no cost to all employees by the company’s in-house chef. For each meal the chef serves employees appropriate portion sizes and explains the dietary value.

“He writes down the calories and all the nutritional information for all of the food employees are eating,” said Loretta Bauer, human resources manager for SparkNet. There’s no dessert after lunch, though. The chef avoids sugar in the meals he prepares.

SparkNet had been using health risk assessments since 2011, but discontinued HRAs this past year as a result of changing health care insurance carriers and the renewal period falling at a time different from when it was traditionally held.

Bauer noted most employees didn’t use the data from the HRAs anyway, so the company retreated to analyze how it might best find value in such data for its staff.

Such a decision hardly deterred our panelists.

“What really impressed me is that they were able to take a step back from HRAs and try to determine what would give them the best return on investment,” said Brand of Valley Insurance Associates, who has been beating the drum of health risk assessments for more than a decade. “One of the problems smaller employers have is how to address specific problems (identified from group HRA results) because of HIPPA.”

In addition to weekly visits from a massage therapist and a personal trainer who comes to the fitness studio four times each week – both of which are expenses carried by the employee at a reduced price – SparkNet allows employees stress-free play time during the work day with billiards, foosball, Ping-Pong and video games scattered throughout its facility.

Although relatively new to wellness compared to a number of other northeast Wisconsin employers, SparkNet has come a long way developing positive healthy behaviors in its culture on a day-to-day basis.

“The culture (of wellness) really comes from the top. It all starts with the CEO,” said Hanson, indicating it was evident Knight fully buys into the wellness initiatives his firm supports.

As a result, employees are losing weight and living happier, healthier and more productive lives.

Alla tua Emeritus 2014

With more than three decades of combined wellness initiatives in the workplace between them, both Silver Star Brands of Oshkosh and Neenah-based J. J. Keller & Associates have become mentors for other employers in northeast Wisconsin beginning their own wellness programs from the ground up.

Both organizations are past multiple-time winners of B2B’s Alla tua Salute! Awards, and in 2011 we recognized their history of exceptional wellness programming with Emeritus Wellness Program status. Appleton-based Appvion Inc. will join their ranks following this year’s honor.

Catalog and Internet retailer Silver Star – formerly known as Miles Kimball – is in its 14th year of providing wellness programming. The company received B2B’s inaugural Alla tua Salute! Award in 2005, as well as winning the recognition again in 2008 and 2009.

Starting in 2014, the company rolled out its Healthy Rewards program to part-time employees and spouses, allowing them to earn premium discounts on their health insurance as well as fulltime employees. Additionally, Healthy Rewards had been revamped to make health coaching an integral part of the program.

The company’s cigarette smoking cessation efforts continue to produce results, with seven people quitting tobacco use between the 2012 and 2013 HRA screenings. Already in 2014, Silver Star had six participants complete the Call It Quits program through Affinity Health and another seven enrolled for the next session.

Silver Star Brands earned the Wellness Council’s Gold Level Well Workplace Award for the second time in 2013.

  1. J. Keller is in the 19th year of its wellness program, and received B2B’s Alla tua Salute! Award in 2010 and again in 2011. The provider of safety and regulatory compliance products and services was awarded the coveted Platinum Well Workplace Award from the Wellness Council in 2013, and it’s the only company in Wisconsin to ever achieve a perfect score.

In the fall 2013, the company expanded its wellness program to include spouses, who can participate in its K-Life Wellness Points health insurance incentive program.

Coaching has proven effective in improving the health of J. J. Keller employees, and the company increased its health coaching staff to 40 hours per week in 2014, as well as added a new medical assistant in its onsite clinic. With 286 employees participating in health coaching from 2012 to 2013, the average health assessment BioScore improved by 46 points in one year among that cohort.

Speaking of health assessment metrics, 78 percent of the company’s 1,267 HRA participants in both 2012 and 2013 remained at the same risk level, while another 14 percent improved their risk level. As a result, overall health claims remained relatively flat between 2012 and 2013.

by Sean Fitzgerald