Medina mayor Dennis Hanwell said there are 375,000 reasons — and counting — why he believes workplace wellness programs can deliver a return on investment for employers.

That’s the amount his city has saved in the last three years, in the form of lower insurance premiums it pays on behalf of employees. Medina’s share of health care premiums fell 8%, from $2.5 million in 2016 to $2.3 million in 2018.

“Then, in 2019, we got another 4% reduction, so that’s a total of 12% savings in three years,” Hanwell said. “Most places are seeing somewhere between an 8 to 12% increase — last time I looked at survey data — so to be in a position of not only not seeing increases but having a reduction in premiums is a pretty significant accomplishment.”

Hanwell attributed the savings to an innovative partnership with Cleveland Clinic Medina Hospital. The duo officially launched an incentive-based wellness push aimed at municipal staff in 2014. He said about 70% of the city’s 157 employees take part in the program, which requires them to undergo annual biometric testing and participate in at least three health-related seminars or activities, like getting a flu shot or attending yoga classes.

“If they run a 5K, for instance, we will give them credit for that,” the mayor said. “If they like to bike, it can be a cycling event. We try to make it as accommodating for them as best as we can.”

Employee participants, in return, get a 4% discount on their portion of health care premiums.

Hanwell said in the first years of the wellness program, premiums actually went up. Most of the city’s employees, he was surprised to learn, had not been seeing a physician regularly. Many did not have a primary care doctor.

So the initial health risk assessments — which measure such things as body mass , blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose — uncovered a number of underlying issues, such as diabetes, or characteristics that put employees at a higher risk for developing chronic diseases.

“We found that more than a quarter, 26%, of our staff were at high health risks from a variety of factors,” Hanwell said.

Once those patients were educated and the proper treatments or interventions were put in place, however, the city began to see improvement in its employee health profiles as well as its premium fees. Its “at-risk” population fell to 12% by 2018, according to the mayor. In addition:

  • Employees with high cholesterol dropped from 12% to 7%.
  • The percentage of overweight staff tumbled from 35% to 22%.
  • Obesity was cut from 35% to 25%.

Chandra Rudolph, wellness director at Medina Hospital, said early success with the city prompted the hospital to expand the wellness program to the schools, where it is being piloted with certain employee groups, and to county health department workers. It also added a community program designed to offer many of the same health screenings, educational topics and physical activity encouragement, often free of charge, to Medina residents.

“The blood draw is typically the only thing community members are paying for,” Rudolph said. “It has motivated an awful lot of people to at least get established with a primary care physician.”

Another big benefit, she said, has been getting the “Just move” message disseminated on a much larger platform. Those who don’t exercise regularly tend to become immobilized at the mere thought of a structured physical activity. Once they hear they don’t have to run a marathon, however, most people will find something they like to do and start doing it, Rudolph said.

She estimates 175 city, school and county employees and community members are now actively engaged in the wellness initiative.

While there are no empirical data just yet to suggest the community at large is responding as well to the health interventions as city employees did, Hanwell is more than happy to share anecdotal evidence.

The mayor noted that one low-knee amputee, who had essentially been homebound since losing his lower legs, started walking after joining the program and ended up getting himself fitted for prostheses that now allow him to run.

In another case, a young mother was encouraged to have her first mammogram during a community health screening. When she did so, a cancerous mass was found that would have developed into something much more dangerous down the road.

One elderly participant who uses a walker has trekked her way to doing 2 miles a day, leading to decreases in her weight, blood sugar and blood pressure.

Hanwell uses that last one as an example to motivate others.

“If she can do it with a walker, what about you?” he said.

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