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Garver Wellness Program Cuts Health Costs

5 min read

Executives at Garver say its wellness program, recently praised by the Centers for Disease Control, helps the North Little Rock engineering firm save on health care costs and is a boon to the retention, recruitment and productivity of its employees.

“I think one of the key things is it just communicates to our folks that we care about them. And so I think our employees are more engaged because they’re just convinced that we care,” CEO Dan Williams told Arkansas Business. “When people come to work here, they want to stay. I think the wellness program is the best tool we have to indicate to people that we care about them.”

Dan Williams

Garver offers a self-funded health care plan to its more than 500 employees, and its extensive wellness program makes that plan “more economical,” he said.

The company’s insurance broker, Joe Carter, has confirmed that the firm has spent less on health insurance for its employees since it has had the wellness program than a company of its size would have spent on a traditional plan with a third-party health insurance provider, Williams said.

As a result of the wellness program, Garver employees on the firm’s health insurance plan have been found to be less at risk than the national average for hypertension (33 percent less), chronic back pain (50 percent less) and diabetes (40 percent less), according to Garver’s Wellness Team Manager Sarah Palmiero.

Claims related to unhealthy behaviors account for less than 10 percent of all the claims the firm pays for, while claims for chronic disease account for less than 16 percent, she said.

“We’re very involved with our employees’ health. The wellness program, part of it is a direct result of our health plan and wanting to help control those costs in a way,” Palmiero said. “But, also with the culture, [it’s about] making sure our employees are having fun and know that we care.”

In addition, the Garver Wellness Program has helped with internal referrals, Williams said. Current employees talk up the program to persuade friends, relatives and acquaintances to apply for job openings at the firm, he said.

Last year, 99 percent of Garver’s employees participated in its wellness program.

Williams and Palmiero aren’t alone in their praise for the program. Last month, the CDC published a case study on its Workplace Health Promotion website about Garver’s program, a study called “How To Design, Run, and Manage a Workplace Health Program In-House: Garver’s DIY Story” (PDF).

Sarah Palmiero

The CDC contacted the firm after it was named a Gold Well Workplace by Wellness Council of America (WELCOA) and one of the Top 100 Healthiest Employers at FitBit Captivate, both in 2017, according to Palmiero.

FitBit Captivate is an annual national digital health and corporate wellness conference; WELCOA is a national nonprofit membership organization based in Omaha, Nebraska.

The CDC was intrigued because all aspects of Garver’s “high-impact” program are done in-house instead of by a contracted third party, Palmiero said. Doing it in-house allows Garver to “build the program that we want to build,” Williams said.

The company builds its program using feedback from employees, who are surveyed once a year. “We started small, and we’ve gotten feedback, so, really, our employees have helped build this program. They’ve said the kind of help they want, the kind of things they would like to have,” Williams said. “That doesn’t mean they get everything they want, but we certainly use their input to build our program.”

The program has been run by Palmiero, a registered dietician, for three years.

Wellness Coordinator Whitney Gorsegner, a certified personal trainer and CrossFit coach, joined her in 2017.

“Between the two of us, we are certified and qualified to talk about really anything within the realm of health,” Palmiero said.

The two women offer on-site biometric screenings, nutrition and physical activity assessments and health consultations to their co-workers.

The firm’s information technology department has built an online portal that employees can access 24/7 to see their results, as well as recipes, webinars, exercise videos, finance workshops, professional development materials and more.

There are also sports teams and bike groups; on-site gyms or gym equipment at most of the firm’s 26 offices in 11 states; on-site bike storage and rentals; stand-up desks; periodic wellness challenges; events; and cash incentives and health insurance premium discounts that employees can earn by participating in the wellness program.

For example, last year, employees could earn a total of 620 points for having the screenings, consultations and assessments done, engaging in preventive care like getting a mammogram, volunteering and more. Every point after the first 150 was worth $1, so Garver employees had the opportunity to earn up to a $470 cash bonus, Palmiero said. She added that 45 percent of the employees who participated in the program last year earned financial rewards for hitting established wellness benchmarks.

The wellness program also includes financial literacy workshops and webinars, personal and professional development, a smoking cessation program and two counseling options: the Employee Assistance Program by Chicago-based ComPsych and the Caring in the Workplace program by Corporate Chaplains of America.

“In the beginning, I think, we were more geared toward the physical aspect of wellness,” Palmiero said. “This is our fourth year of our current program, which has an overall well-being approach. We don’t just look at physical, we look at the mental aspects of health, the emotional, psychological, the social aspects of health, which is why we have so many different events and employee engagement things, so they can be involved with each other outside of the typical workspace.”

The program was started in 2006 by Williams’ predecessor, then-President and CEO Brock Johnson, but it was more “low-impact” and more about building up a culture that encouraged work-life balance, Palmiero said.

Since then, it has slowly evolved into a “high-impact” program. But the program has always been supported by the company’s leadership.

Palmiero’s advice to any company that wants to have a program like Garver’s is to take the path it did, start small, build the culture and make sure it has support from the top. She added, “It translates to success for Garver, but I just think we really are a genuinely caring company and we want our employees and their families to be happy and healthy and to be their best selves.”

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