NORTH BAY -- As wellness emerges as a key business strategy in containing health care costs, questions often arise on what, exactly, the term means -- what works for one company or one industry won't necessarily work for another, and how do you define wellness to employees? More importantly, how do you get a staff to fully buy-in to the concept?

These are among the topics that will be explored at the North Bay Business Journal's Health Care Conference, which will focus on corporate wellness and will recognize the North Bay's healthiest companies.The conference will be from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. Nov. 30 at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek in Santa Rosa. Cost is $49 per person or $510 for a table of 10. To register, call 707-521-5264 or register online.Health Care Conference ReportQuestions for conference speakers

David Sobel, M.D., M.P.H., medical director, Regional Health Education, Kaiser Permanente Northern California

Walt Mickens, chief executive officer, Queen of the Valley Medical Center

Gary Greensweig, chief medical officer, St. Jospeh Health System--Sonoma County

Jill Kinney, managing director, Clubsource Development Partners LLC, Co-founder, Club One Inc.

Mike Purvis, chief administrative officer, Sutter Medical Center, Santa Rosa

Scott Setterlund, employer relations specialist, Sutter Health

Marin-Sonoma IPA, Health Net offering Medicare Advantage planThe Marin-Sonoma IPA has joined with Health Net to provide Medicare Advantage plans for Sonoma County seniors in the wake of a coverage agreement between Sutter Health and UnitedHealthcare.Healthiest Companies to be recognized at Nov. 30 conferenceThe Business Journal’s inaugural Healthiest Companies Recognition Awards will be presented to 14 companies at its Health Care Conference.

Dr. David Sobel, medical director of regional health education for Kaiser Permanente Northern California, will be the keynote speaker.

Alena Wall, executive director of the Northern California Center for Well Being, will help the Business Journal present the inagural Healthiest Companies Recognition Awards.  She's no stranger to wellness, and has been at the forefront of Sonoma County's efforts to become the healthiest county in California -- a distinction already held by Marin County, according to annual rankings by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

The concept of wellness has been embraced increasingly by employers, she said.

"Within the past five years, large scale employers in Sonoma County have brought wellness programming in-house," Ms. Wall said. "Really solid return on investment data has been made available. This information has facilitated local companies providing comprehensive wellness services at the workplace."

Scott Setterlund, employer relations specialist for Sutter Health, who will be speaking at the conference, echoed this notion, noting that a basic wellness program can bring a 3-to-1 return on investment. A more sophisticated, outcome-based program can yield a return on investment as high as 12-to-1, he said.

One key element, Mr. Setterlund said, is for c-level executives to lead by example, which will in turn provide an actual reference point for wellness. 

"It's like a team," he said, with the CEO in charge.

The conference wellness panel will also feature as presenters Jill Kinney, managing director of Clubsource Development and co-founder of Club One Inc. and Dr. Gary Greensweig, chief medical officer at St. Joseph Health System--Sonoma County. A separate panel will include Mike Purvis, chief administrative officer of Sutter Medical Center of Santa Rosa, and Walt Mickens, CEO of Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa.

Mr. Mickens said that Queen of the Valley, which is operated by St. Joseph's, is well acquainted with wellness, having been the first health system to open its 59,000-square-foot wellness center back in 2006. St. Joseph's plans on opening a similar-sized center in Santa Rosa at some point.

"We are please to see others join our efforts to improve the health of our communities," Mr. Mickens said when asked of the wellness trend. "What is wonderful about the trend we see today is that it is sustainable and there are now more avenues for us to become a healthier society.

"It's also a win-win for employers and employees, as longer range results from health improvement activities through the work place can have postive impacts on quality of life, well-being, disease risks, productivity and absenteeism, employee satisfaction, and avoidable medical care utilization," he added.

Ms. Wall also said the recent health care reform law has spurred the wellness conversation even further, as employers look to preventive health prescriptions in lowering their costs.

"Health care reform has helped to shine a spotlight on the benefits of employee wellness and is proposing to provide incentive for small employers to join the movement," said Ms. Wall, who also works closely with Sonoma County's Health Action and iWorkWell, efforts that aim to make the county the healthiest in the state by 2020. "There is solid evidence that shows that our environment directly influences our behavior." 

The conference will include the presentation of the Business Journal's inaugural Healthiest Companies Recognition  Awards. The winning companies are: Agilent Technologies, Santa Rosa; Bank of Marin, Novato; Edgewood Partners Insurance Center (EPIC), Petaluma, GCX, Petaluma, JDSU, Santa Rosa, Kaiser Permanente Marin--Sonoma, LEMO USA, Rohnert Park, Queen of the Valley Medical Center, Napa, Redwood Regional Medical Group, Santa Rosa, Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park Oral Surgery, St. Joseph Health System--Sonoma County, TLCD Architecture, Santa Rosa, Trinchero Family Estates/Sutter Home Winery, Napa and W. Bradley Electric, Novato.