Challenges remain with senior living employee wellness plans

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Challenges remain with senior living employee wellness plans
Challenges remain with senior living employee wellness plans

Wellness programs are one way that senior living organizations can help employees address their health issues (and in the process, their own benefits-related costs), but some companies or their employees don't see the value, according to a new survey that risk management, insurance brokerage and advisory company Willis Towers Watson conducted for Argentum.

In a Tuesday webinar, Steve Riedl, who is senior health and benefits consultant for Willis Towers Watson, reviewed the survey results, which are contained in a recently released  “State of the Industry 2016” report.

The survey had 35 respondents and revealed that the highest health risk among employees is obesity, averaging 30% among the employers' health plan participants. Hypertension, current tobacco use, blood glucose and diabetes are other common health risks “hovering at or above 20%, and certainly over 10% of the average population,” according to the report.

“I would say, in particular, blood sugar and hypertension — these are very controllable through diet, exercise and medication,” Riedl told webinar attendees. “It's certainly worth addressing in any employee population, and particularly in this one, where your caregivers are on the frontline of care.”

Fifty-seven percent of survey respondents said their organizations offer wellness plans, and 32% said their companies plan to do so in the future. The remaining organizations (11%), however, said they have no plans to offer such a benefit.

“There's growing interest, but there's not necessarily growing budget around wellness programs,” Riedl said. “There's a bit of a ‘show me' mentality in terms of the effectiveness of the programs.”

Although organizations view wellness programs as being important to the health of their employees, many survey respondents not offering such programs said they have insufficient staffing and time to start one, he said. Further, with high turnover among employees, many organizations don't believe they are likely to see a sufficient return on the investment. And at some companies, the geographic spread of employees would make it operationally difficult to implement a program, survey respondents said.

But even if you build it, employees may not come.

“Sadly, when wellness programs exist, only about a quarter of employees, on average, participate,” Riedl said. “But there are some organizations where over 50%, and a handful of organizations where over 75%, of employees participate.”

The most common types of wellness benefits offered by participating organizations are employee assistance programs, on-site flu shots and smoking cessation classes, he said.

Argentum and Willis Towers Watson are offering two more webinars to discuss the report, on Thursday and on Dec. 15.

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