Experts urge creating a culture of wellness

SANTA ROSA -- In order for wellness to be more than just hype, employers need to take careful steps to adequately define what it means while promoting the concept as a partnership with employees that will engender an overall healthy environment.

Employers should also expect to make an investment of both time and resources if they are to be successful.

That was the prevailing message from a panel assembled for the North Bay Business Journal's Health Care Conference and inaugural Healthiest Companies Awards. The panelists agreed corporate wellness is a proven strategy to increase employee productivity, reduce absenteeism and curb ever-increasing health care costs, among other benefits.

The conference also honored the 14 companies with stand-out employee wellness programs.  They were profiled in the Business Journal Nov. 28.

[caption id="attachment_43842" align="alignleft" width="132" caption="Dr. David Sobel"][/caption]

"In the long run, with a long-term investment, the changes in improving health and lifestyle really can yield a big difference in medical utilization and disease prevention," said keynote speaker Dr. David Sobel, medical director of regional health for Kaiser Permanente Northern California.  "The real lever is changing the culture."The panel also featured Scott Setterlund, employer relations specialist for Sutter Health; Jill Kinney, managing director, Clubsource Development Partners LLC,  and co-founder, Club One Inc; and Dr. Gary Greensweig, chief medical officer, St. Joseph Health System--Sonoma County. A separate panel featured Mike Purvis, chief administrative officer for Sutter Medical Center of Santa Rosa, and Walt Mickens, CEO of Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa, both of whom discussed the two largest hospital projects in Sonoma and Napa counties. 

Dr. Sobel, who is widely published and quoted on the issue of wellness, focused on three key strategic questions -- where is the excess capacity and underutilized resource within the health care system? Where are the mismatches between patient needs and health care resources? And how can a "win-win-win" solution be created for patients, employers and health care providers?

Patients, not doctors, are the actual primary care providers of most health issues, Dr. Sobel said, noting that a patient typically spends about one hour per year with their physician versus 2,000 hours at their work place. An employer should leverage this factor by viewing employees as partners, not patients, and by shifting away from treating one's body with medical treatments to a behavioral health shift that promotes integrated wellness. 

Health promotion and wellness are unlikely to impact short-term health care costs, Dr. Sobel said. Instead, productivity, health, morale and long-term health care costs will be impacted, and employers should not be looking for a quick fix.

"This is not flavor of the month stuff," Dr. Sobel said. "Workers will be skeptical of that. When people start feeling healthier and better about themselves, they start to treat themselves better and focus on being healthier."

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