Workers paid for healthy choices


Taking the right steps to be healthy can be profitable to many city employees.

An annual checkup pays $150 and a dental cleaning reaps $100. Simply visiting the employee health fair, held June 18 at Thayer Arena, added another $100. The “wellness incentive” package is all part of the contract that froze municipal employee wages for three years.

Although incentives are budgeted to cost $110,000, having healthy employees is projected to save more than what it costs over the long run. At least that’s the theory.

“We hope it’s reflective of lower rates [health care insurance premiums] in the future,” said City Personnel Director Oscar Shelton. “We hope it is really a true win.”

Shelton says there’s no way of measuring how much early detection of health issues will reduce claims resulting in lower health premiums. Nonetheless, he is optimistic that will be the experience and “five or six years down the road we’ll have a more healthy work force.”

Under the program that has been worked out with Blue Cross Blue Shield, the total incentive amount for someone on an individual plan can’t exceed $300. The family plan limit is $500. The program offers nine opportunities to earn incentives. In addition to the three mentioned, employees can earn $100 for completing a health assessment; $100 for participating in a wellness coaching; $50 for participating in an online self-directed programming; $50 for blood pressure, body mass index, glucose screening or therapeutic lifestyle counseling with city nurse Patricia Seltzer; and $50 for participating in “MiniBlue” seminars.

Seltzer deemed the Health Fair, from noon to 4 p.m. on June 18, a success with a far greater turnout compared to last year at the Buttonwoods Community Center. More than a dozen vendors had booths at the fair and participants left with bags of information. Seltzer credited Rhode Island College and its nursing program with making it all manageable. A total of 24 nursing students, easily identifiable in their maroon uniforms, assisted with screenings and completing the paperwork of city workers as they went from one station to the next.

Seltzer, an advocate of preventive medicine, has found that some employees don’t have a primary care physician and screenings have revealed cases wherein people have high blood pressure and those patients have been placed on programs to address those conditions and avoid potentially life-threatening conditions.

Patrick Connors of Blue Cross Blue Shield, who is working on the incentive program, joined with Seltzer at the fair. They are working on an online portal enabling employees to view programs specifically for them and to post records of their performance.

Seltzer would like to see the incentive program extended to other municipal employees, including School Department employees. Her belief is that employees would be healthier overall if they took better care of themselves and followed a few basic procedures. She said she has not been successful in working with the School Department. Even as it now stands, police and fire are not part of the program.

Shelton said police and fire negotiated for a change in their holiday pay and the incentive plan is not a part of the contracts that freeze their pay over the next three years (Holiday pay that had been calculated on the basis of a 5-day workweek – one fifth of their weekly pay – is now calculated at one-fourth of their pay for 14 paid holidays during the year).

Surprisingly, Shelton said, even though the city is giving employees money to do things to help themselves, “They can’t be bothered.”

But in the long run, he said, “Hopefully we’ll see a reduction in rates [health care premiums].”

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