Typically, nurses see patients when they make their hospital rounds. Jeanne Sherwood, however, had a revelation one day while reflecting on her job as an Intensive Care Unit nurse at Baltimore’s Saint Agnes Hospital.
“Most of the patients there were the American workforce,” she said, “and most of them were there because of unhealthy lifestyles.”
The evidence suggested that average patients were sitting all day at work and dealing with home life and children after work, with precious little time to devote to themselves.
Sherwood’s experience as a personal trainer and exercise instructor at a gym where she rarely encountered the working population reinforced that insight.
“When someone ends up in survival mode it opens them up to disease processes because their resistance is down,” she observed.
In response, Sherwood founded WellAdvantage, a corporate wellness company dedicated to bringing education, fitness and health programs to the workplace.
Since 2001, the company has evolved from a kitchen table business serving one client to an American Heart Association Fit Friendly Accredited Company with roughly 50 part-time employees managing the needs of up to 150 corporate clients annually.
“Some of our clients require very minimal interaction limited to flu shots, health fairs or annual programs,” Sherwood said, while others take full advantage of ongoing fitness programs that use a web-based platform to track employee progress.
Making a Difference
The primary mission of Well Advantage is to reduce clients’ health care risks and costs. Biometric screenings, heath risk assessments and company-wide education are all part of the overall strategy, Sherwood acknowledged, but little things such as revamping vending machine snacks or starting a “Take the Stairs” campaign also can help make a big difference in the company’s bottom line.
How much of a difference?
“One of our clients with 600 employees was experiencing an annual increase of anywhere from 10% to 20% in its premiums, which equates to millions,” Sherwood explained. “Because of their wellness program, claims have gone down, and that company will not see another increase for at least 18 months. It’s hugely valuable to that corporation.”
Another client’s 250 employees lost a total of 705 pounds in six months through lifestyle modifications, she added. “Some of them are now off medications that they no longer need. It’s making a difference.”
So much so that some of the companies she serves have instituted pay or play programs, waiving 5% increases in employee premium contributions for employees who undergo health risk assessments and attend company health workshops.
“Traditionally, corporate wellness had been strictly a morale program,” Sherwood said. “It has now evolved into what we call employee-driven preventive health, with employees running their own health programs.”
Sherwood is a relative newcomer to the Baltimore Washington Corridor Chamber (BWCC), which she joined just five months ago, but she’s become one of its strongest advocates.
Angling to get the most out of her membership, she met with President and CEO Walt Townshend after the first event she attended and asked how to get involved.
“I was shocked at how completely schooled he is at running a business,” she said. “He gave me tremendous advice.”
The Chamber introduced her to the BRAC Business Initiative, the Chesapeake Innovation Center, the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. and other organizations that help businesses connect and reach out.
“Of all the organizations I’ve become associated with, BWCC is one that always keeps you in mind,” Sherwood said. “I had one meeting with [Membership Director] Nancy LaJoice and she has continued to send me connections, leads and ideas to help me make the right connections. I’ve definitely gotten my value out of membership.”
As Sherwood continues to meet new contacts, she is taking note of new trends throughout the corporate landscape as companies try to gain control over the health-related soft costs of absenteeism and productivity.
“Employee premium contributions were something new that employers were beginning to do,” she said. “Now they’re also starting to move toward having employees meet certain standards, such as not smoking, and changing their hiring practices accordingly.”
She also has noticed an interesting trend among some of the employees of clients her company has served.
“I’ve seen a lot of working moms with part-time jobs attend our sessions, grow, and later go on to full-time employment,” Sherwood said. “In some respect, we feel like we’re helping them grow in their careers. WellAdvantage helps corporate clients impact their bottom lines. As a side benefit, it helps [employees] become empowered.”