Members of the Health Employer Exchange, a group of health systems interested in leading health reform, recently met in Charlottesville about the significance of improving the wellbeing of employees. The Health Employer Exchange includes individuals from nine well-established medical centers — such as Cleveland Clinic, UCLA Health, Duke Health and the University Health System — who have recently been looking into the benefits of fostering a healthier workforce. “We principally discussed issues around managing stress and mental health among employees … the idea of working in healthcare is stressful and that if you’re stressed as well as have chronic conditions that your absenteeism from work and your ability to perform your job are greatly limited,” Dr. Richard Shannon, University executive vice president for health affairs, said. Shannon said that stress plagues a large proportion of employees, as working in healthcare often brings situations closely tied with life and death. Workers also deal with the daily stress of their personal relationships outside of the work environment, which adds additional pressure on certain employees. Stress increases one’s risk of injury and can also increase blood pressure, which causes dizziness and can even lead to heart disease if untreated. Therefore, health systems are focused on managing both physical and mental health of their employees to ensure a safer, happier work environment. University employees are given the option to be a part of the “Be Well” initiative, which gives them access to online tools to help with stress and offer consultations with other behavioral health experts. “What we learn is that most people take a health risk assessment. They sit down with a coach and then see their doctor, but all of that is organized for you as an employee and then all of the facts are put into an electronic record,” Health Employer Exchange CEO Stephanie McCutcheon said. “So, if you talk to a coach and see a doctor there’s an economic reward for you as an employee because we all want to be healthier together.” The Health Employer Exchange tries to tackle the problems of both physical illness and mental illness. “Part of the issue has been that we have separated [physical and mental illness],” McCutcheon said. “And part of the reality is that as people they should be highly integrated for all of us.” Of the 1,600 members in the Be Well initiative, around 330 individuals identified the primary cause of their unhealthiness as their weight. Utilizing the resources of the new program, Shannon said these individuals were able to work closely with their physicians and patient advocates to build a personalized weight reduction program, leading to a total of 2,645 pounds lost from the 330 people after a six month time period. In addition to creating a stronger, happier and more efficient workforce, a healthy employee population also reduces the costs of healthcare for the University. By providing more convenient, affordable sources of healthcare to employees, the University allows employees to save money, attend work and perform to the best of their abilities, which, in turn, reduces costs. “When people are unhealthy and they engage in unhealthy behaviors, it definitely costs you, and everyone at the University more money because health benefits to U.Va. employees are paid through University sources, right? When healthcare costs go up somebody has to pay for them … the fact that healthier people cost less is basically a truism across all of America,” Shannon said. McCutcheon also mentioned models are being created to provide this type of accessible care to workers so that they do not need to spend unnecessary money going to the emergency room on days where their physicians are not available, such as Saturdays and Sundays. By providing appropriate care that is close to their workers, employers can help ensure individuals are able to come back into work on Monday after they fall sick on a Friday, further reducing costs. She believes that with these new reforms, health systems can prosper and health plan costs can be reduced by an estimated 15 percent. “This is a wonderful time for healthcare, and U.Va. has a particular set of leaders who understand that it’s our responsibility to design the health system of the future that meets the needs of the people we serve, as well as physicians, clinicians and folks who serve with us,” McCutcheon said.