Ben Franklin may have had the right idea when he said that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Many of us think of healthcare costs like we think of our taxes—automatic expenses that we have no control over—expenses that cost us at least $3,000 a year. Of course, this number is bigger if you have high blood pressure, are under stress or are a smoker—upwards of $9,000. We know that healthcare can be expensive, so those numbers probably don’t surprise you. But here’s one that might: 70 percent of these costs are from preventable illnesses.

OSF Saint Francis Medical Center recognizes that your health is not entirely out of your control, and it is embracing an entirely new culture, one that is financially proactive, yet focused on a bigger asset—its employees.

The organization is one of a few employers leading the way by developing a comprehensive Health Management and Wellness initiative offering unique benefits to employees. Individuals are selected based on their level of health risk (how many emergency room visits they have had, etc.) and invited to be a part of the program. Once accepted, the Health Management staff develops a personalized program for the individual, which may include sessions with a personal trainer or dietitian. But the staff does not just provide physical guidance; they are also trained to provide for an employee’s entire picture of health, including spiritual, psychological and sleep-related guidance. The service is offered to qualifying employees and their family members free of charge.

According to Dr. Tim Vega, medical director of OSF Health Management, “We do medical makeovers.” And that’s not all they do. The Employee Health program assists all employees who wish to better themselves by caring for their health. “It’s not just about treating the ‘sickest of the sick,’” he added. “It’s about creating an entire culture of health from which every employee will benefit.”

The Employee Health and Wellness program will address issues not commonly thought of when dealing with employees. For example, presenteeism (coming to work when you are not at your optimum level of health or productivity) is just as big of an issue as absenteeism in most company cultures. These losses of productivity result in over $1,000 per employee, per year.

Employee wellness is one area that many companies cut altogether when times are tough, according to Eric Franz, director of fiscal services. “Saint Francis is a company that sees value in this type of program,” he said. For example, having a workforce that’s relatively healthy will help to lower workers’ compensation costs.

It’s not just a numbers game. It is truly about the overall benefit to the employee, which in turn, benefits the organization. Healthier employees make fewer errors, have positive attitudes and ultimately cost the company less. This is not just a one-time initiative or trend; this is about changing attitudes and commonly held beliefs about your health.

“Committing to an overall healthy lifestyle is not done magically. It’s about making small changes that will have a bigger impact than many of us know,” said Dr. Vega. This new culture involves some best practices that employees can utilize not only at the medical center, but for the rest of their lives.

The program plans to promote a “take-the-stairs” mentality by painting stairwells and encouraging indoor walking programs, said Jo Garrison, RN, director of business and community health for the Employee Health program. Other ideas include providing healthier vending options, working with cafeteria food vendors to incorporate fresh foods, and providing a separate relaxing area for employees to take breaks and eat meals.

This program is also shaking up preconceived notions, especially when it comes to exercise. “You don’t need a Stairmaster when you have stairs. You don’t need a treadmill when you have a sidewalk,” added Dr. Vega. “It is like heaven for me to have the resources to provide the employees of Saint Francis the tools they need to succeed in their health goals,” he added.

Although the Employee Health Management program has been around for awhile, the new “culture of health” concept is one that staff will be focusing on this summer. The Health Management offices and staff will be moving to a more centralized location in the medical center to provide the best care for employees.

Ben Franklin may have had the right idea when he said that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Employee health in any organization is vital, but this becomes especially important when dealing with the health of caregivers. “The better care we can provide to our employees, the better care they provide to our patients,” says Dr. Vega. This makes for one of those rare win-win-win situations, so rewarding in the world of patient care. iBi