Alison Baedke of Health Diagnostic Laboratory prepares to rappel down the SunTrust building to raise money for Special Olympics. Photo by Jessica Beck
The doors are always open to the colorful stairwell in Health Diagnostic Laboratory's downtown office.
"It's very inviting," says Tonya Mallory, the company's president, CEO and co-founder. The stairwell features employees' silhouettes and the company's bright green logo painted along the walls. In January, the laboratory will open a six-story addition next to the existing three-story building, and the stairs will lead to a new 3,200-square-foot, full-service gym.
"We know that our employees' impact to the community and to their families is much greater if they're healthier," Mallory says of the company's multifaceted health program, which includes 100 percent coverage of medical and dental premiums for its 580 employees and their dependents, gym membership reimbursement, on-site health coaches and more. Founded in 2008, the clinical laboratory focuses on the management of cardiovascular illness and related chronic diseases, and offers risk assessment for heart disease and diabetes through advanced blood testing.
Local and national employers are investing in similar health improvement programs in an effort to drive down health care costs, increase productivity and reduce absenteeism. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 75 percent of health care costs in the United States are attributed to preventable chronic conditions. By providing early intervention and wellness incentives, companies can avoid the expenses associated with treating lifestyle-related conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension.
"We know that the higher-risk people cost more," says Don R. Powell, president and CEO of the Michigan-based American Institute for Preventive Medicine. "If we can reduce their risk factors — get a smoker to quit, help somebody eat more nutritiously to lower their cholesterol — [then] there will be a reduction in health care costs as well as absenteeism." Companies with employee health programs see an average return of $3 for every $1 spent on wellness initiatives, according to the institute.
"We are needing to spend less every year as we continue to fund our health care program," says Eric Gutierrez, vice president of benefits at Capital One. The Virginia-based financial institution provides employees with on-site health care clinics and fitness facilities, discounted healthy lunches in the office cafeteria and monetary incentives for taking healthy actions (such as getting a checkup or meeting with a health coach) as part of the Be Well health plan the company instituted in 2009.
About 74 percent of Capital One employees and their dependents use the on-site clinics for preventive services, full biometric screenings (to check things like blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood glucose), chronic disease management and more.
"When you take away the two hours of travel and wait time at a doctor's office, there's a big productivity savings for the business as well," Gutierrez says, noting that the company is seeing up to a 5-to-1 return on its investment in health-related programs.
Employer-sponsored wellness programs are expected to continue to increase across the country because of government-led efforts to improve prevention and wellness. From 2011 to 2015, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act provides $200 million in grant funding to assist small employers — those with fewer than 100 employees working 25 or more hours per week — with the implementation of wellness programs.
In October, the nonprofitSports Backers organization announced the establishment of an Active RVA Fit Company certification program to recognize employers and schools in the region that are implementing innovative wellness programs. Health Diagnostic Laboratory contributed a $500,000 grant in support of the campaign.
"Chronic disease like diabetes and cardiovascular disease is such an expensive thing to manage once it's manifested," says Anna McKean, executive vice president with Health Diagnostic Laboratory. "But if you can catch it ahead of time, it's possible to slow it down. Employers are becoming more involved in helping their employees lead healthy lifestyles, and there's a lot of good reasons for that."
The deadline to apply for the certification program is Jan. 9. A luncheon recognizing the certified companies will be held on Feb. 12 at The Westin Richmond. For more information, call 285-9495 or visit sportsbackers.org/active-rva .