Between the increasing prevalence of chronic diseases, the rising rate of obesity and the impact of mental health on the workplace, wellness has never been more important — albeit still a challenge — for employers big or small.

“Relationships with vendors don’t have to be the status quo,” said Kim Stroud, employee benefit manager with Manatee County Government in Florida. Her strategy for engaging employees in wellness? Eliminating the step of choosing a plan based on cost.

Employees have the choice of four different healthcare plans, all with the same premium, Stroud explained recently at EBA's Workplace Benefits Summit in Nashville, Tenn. However, reimbursements vary on the different plans — from full coverage to some out-of-pocket costs — and eligibility is based on participation wellness programs such as health risks assessments and tobacco screenings.

[Image credit: Bloomberg]
[Image credit: Bloomberg]

“Our employees do as much as possible to get in the full coverage program: lab work, health risk assessments .. this plan design has driven us to do the right thing and take care of them,” Stroud said. “We’ve taken the premium out of the equation.”

Manatee County also uses other strategies to better engage employees in wellness. The crux, Stroud said, is the onsite staff, who run a variety of onsite programs such as:

· Medical and behavioral health utilization and case management
· Medication consults and specialty case management
· Nutrition counseling and health coaching
· Onsite mental health therapy and psychiatry
· Personal training and onsite group exercise

“We’re doing a lot of great things, but the [big] question is what we do next,” added Christine Fritz, Manatee’s wellness manager. “How do we engage the people who aren’t engaged? That’s always our biggest question.”

At the top of the list, Fritz notes, is implementing an onsite clinic. “I see great value in having a physician working with the ancillary clinical providers,” she said. “That’s a goal for us. We’re also moving into the big data space, we want to try to incorporate more big data for a more robust picture of our employees.”

Healthy sleep is also a top priority in managing health and wellness, Fritz said. “While nutrition and exercise are all important factors to wellness, how good are employees going to be at committing to those things without enough sleep?” Fritz said.

Manatee County has partnered with San Diego-based Optisom, a web based sleep tool, which has been a big success, Fritz said.

“We had no idea how many people [would join the program],” she said. “We started last October with a few hundred people trying it. Each day and week we get more and more people who aren’t participating in our traditional programs.”

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