In an era of relatively unconstrained growth in health care costs, Mainstream Living hasn't seen an insurance premium increase for three consecutive years.


Reno Berg, president and CEO of the Ames, Iowa, service agency for people with disabilities, credits a five-year partnership with Des Moines-based Mercy Medical Center with improved employee health and wellness. "Prior to the Mercy affiliation, our health insurance increases were in the double digits. It became difficult to provide health insurance without increasing deductibles and out-of-pocket costs," he explains.

Mainstream is one of a growing number of employers that are partnering with hospitals in an effort to promote wellness and drive down overall health care costs.

Baptist Health System, Birmingham, Ala., which instituted a successful wellness program for its 4,000-plus employees, has partnered with 60 local employers to establish similar programs. These partnerships, in turn, have led to patients' selecting Baptist providers as their primary care physicians, says Laura Catherine Mason, employer relationship specialist at the health system.

"Instead of having employees schedule physician visits, we take physicians to them for on-site appointments," she says. "We've retained these employees as clinic patients, making it easier for them to receive treatment, and worked with this same employer for noncritical occupational issues, such as drug treatment, head lacerations or knee strain."

Yale Miller, executive vice president of operations at Aegis Health Group Inc., a business development firm in Brentwood, Tenn., teamed with Baptist Health to develop Workforce Wellness. He says hospitals generally end up investing $150,000 to $250,000 annually in partnership programs and can expect a return on investment of 2-to-1 the first year and 3- or 5-to-1 the second.

Investment includes a dedicated sales person, screeners to perform on-site health risk assessments, and resources for educational materials and activities.