The National Association of Workplace Health Centers (NAWHC) kicked off its 9th annual Forum today in Chicago. More than 130 HR leaders, benefit consultants, workplace health leaders, and health vendors are onsite at the Mid-America Club to share best practices, learn about emerging topics in workplace health and celebrate a reprieve from virtual meetings – at least for a couple of days.

“This Forum represents 10 years of changing lives and improving outcomes for employers and their employees. It’s a rewarding opportunity, said David Hines, NAWHC Board Chair. “The people in this room are changing health care.”

Larry Borress, Executive Director of NAWHC, kicked off the Forum with a Panel of thought leaders, including:

  • Jeff Wells, MD, CEO & co-founder Marathon Health
  • David Hines, Senior Director of Benefits for Metro Nashville Public Schools and NAWHC Board Chair
  • Greg Bellomy, CEO of CareATC
  • Guarov Dayal, President & COO, Everside Health
  • David Keyt, Worksite Clinic Consulting Group Leader, Mercer

Borress: How are HR leaders evolving when it comes to workplace health?


Wells: There’s an interesting evolution when it comes to how today’s HR leaders strategically view human capital. They want to be competitive and hire, engage and retain the best talent. Health is an essential aspect of that, and HR leaders want to provide the best options for their people. The impact that a progressive workplace health strategy can have on culture, engagement, and productivity is real. More and more HR leaders are realizing the power of workplace health and it’s been an exciting transition to be part of. The level of accountability for employers when it comes to delivering healthcare has increased. In the 16 years since we started Marathon Health, we’ve definitely seen a maturation of the industry overall. The actions of today’s HR leaders will help drive this industry forward.

Keyt: Primary care has a huge impact on downstream expenses. HR leaders are getting hit with 6 – 10% year-over-year increases in prescription and health expenses and that’s just not sustainable. Employer-sponsored primary care is the tip of the spear to reverse that trajectory.

Hines: You have to invest in your people. We started by focusing on Occupational Health and have transitioned to advanced primary care. Different populations have different needs and your solution has to address those. Mental health needs from educators – especially during COVID where they’ve switched from in-person to virtual and back are growing and we have to be responsive. These health centers are medical homes – they’re more than primary care. The dividends we’ve seen downstream are huge. Employer expectations are increasing and this industry has to evolve with them.

Dayal: COVID has exposed just how broken the health care system is. We have to be a solution and actually curtail costs for employers. Telehealth is currently delivering about 20% of our appointments and I think that will level off at about 50% over the next decade.


Borress: What role does data and technology play in workplace health?


Keyt: Employers are really sophisticated when it comes to data. Advanced analytics and social determinants of health have to be part of the conversation. Today, 30% of health outcomes are associated with social determinants. But those insights have to be actionable.

Wells: There’s a lot of aligned philosophy among the industry leaders on this stage. But the execution is critical. How do we reduce patient friction and increase access to a population health-focused care delivery model? The pace of innovation is accelerating, and tech and data are critical to that lifecycle. But nothing will ever replace the value of in-person care – that piece is paramount to unlock the power of behavior change on behalf of patients. Virtual-only solutions do not have the ability to achieve that level of paradigm shift but they should definitely complement in-person care.

Dayal: We’ve got to grow awareness of this benefit and there’s a lot of room for growth. Expectations will continue to increase among buyers and our ability to articulate ROI is critical. We think about ROI in three areas – financial, health outcomes, and engagement. I believe our patient Net Promoter Score is as important as A1c levels. We should monitor and improve both with the same amount of focus.

Hines: I’m combining clinic, claims, Rx, payroll, and ethnicity data all into one view to make the best decisions for our people. I can see thematic issues at the school level and we can address them. That’s huge to help us understand and better serve our people.


Borress: Are workplace health centers impacting costs?


Hines: On a total cost of care perspective, we’re saving money and we’ve had that validated externally by Rand Corporation. When we looked at the total cost of care for our people who were engaging with the health center compared to those that were not, we found $62 per employee per month in savings. Workplace health centers work. They’re changing the health care system. That doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s happening.

Wells: Employers are smart. Thousands of HR leaders have made this purchase decision and had to justify it and defend it to their leadership teams. Over 16 years we’ve achieved a 97%+ retention rate among our clients and if this wasn’t working, that would not be the case. The average HR leader is allocating 8% of their budget to a workplace health center and I’d argue that the ROI on that 8% is better than any other dollar they’re spending.

Keyt: Measuring the impact on the total cost of care is difficult. Directionally, there’s a lot of good evidence from the data that we’re moving in the right direction. The sophistication of data needs to be improved across the board.

Bellomy: Average cost of care savings is $2,000. Employers think only healthy employees will use the health center but that’s not true. The high-risk folks are heavy users.

Dayal: Reporting isn’t perfect. It’s an evolving story that’s getting better. There are three areas of cost impact that employers and workplace health companies should be looking at:

  • Cost Avoidance
  • Productivity benefits among the workforce
  • Benefit to talent attraction and retention


Borress: Talk about the importance of the employee partnership


Dayal: This doesn’t work if the employer thinks of us as a vendor. Full alignment is key – it’s a long-term investment and you have to be locked in together. Driving strong engagement is especially dependent on a tight partnership. You have to remove all barriers to care – free visits, free medications, free labs, and screening assessments. Once you design the benefit correctly and get your early adopters in the flywheel will really take off. Word of mouth is huge.

Wells: Trust is key. Hire a team that buys into the big vision. Employers should also expect flexibility from their partner. What’s important? What problem are we solving? Let’s co-author a plan and execute it to achieve those objectives.

Keyt: Transparency. Healthcare is messy. These are complex operations that run on hundreds of standards. Have honest conversations about what’s working and what’s not.


Borress: If you could share one piece of advice for employers looking to add a workplace health center – what would it be?


Bellomy: Think big. What is the ideal state? When you interview potential partners, try to find out if they share your vision.

Wells: Go visit multiple health centers and talk to other employers about how it’s going.

Keyt: Set objectives and re-evaluate on an annual basis. We often see health centers put in, and the culture changes but the health center doesn’t keep up.

Dayal: Don’t forget why you’re doing this. It’s about your employees and their families. Keep them at the core. Do site visits – PowerPoint makes everything look amazing. You’ve got to experience the health center first hand. Get references and ask those employers about successes and challenges and how the health center has responded.

Hines: If you’re just trying to change where your health care expenses go – don’t do it. If you’re actually trying to change the health and wellbeing of your people – a workplace health center is the solution.


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