City brings free wellness to employees

By: Victoria Mitchell, | Royal Oak Review | Published January 14, 2015

ROYAL OAK — City employee Stewart Meek will make his health a top priority this year with considerable help from his employer.

Royal Oak, with the cities of Ferndale and Madison Heights, has entered an interlocal agreement to hire the CareHere firm to offer employees participation in the MiLife Health and Wellness Center program.

Participation in the MiLife Center program allows city employees and their eligible dependents to have access to primary and acute medical care, management of chronic illness and conditions, health risk assessments, lab testing, limited generic prescriptions, wellness programs, and coaching. The program will be housed at Madison Heights City Hall.

 The MiLife Health & Wellness Center is housed in the Madison Heights City Hall. It will service Royal Oak, Madison Heights and Ferndale city employees.

The MiLife Health & Wellness Center is housed in the Madison Heights City Hall. It will service Royal Oak, Madison Heights and Ferndale city employees.

Photo by Deb Jacques

“I personally am most excited about the access and the wellness side of it,” Meek said. “They are really engaged and that is what their model is around.

“CareHere is not going to be able to sell this to any other businesses or cities if their employees are not getting healthier throughout the process.”

Meek, the assistant to the Royal Oak city manager, said the program is twofold: It will help employees become healthier by engaging them in a wellness-focused program, and it will save the city money.

“That is accomplished in large part by if the employees are healthier, the city’s claims go down, saving the city money,” Meek said. “But also, the service model is very different. It’s not a typical insurance model that people are familiar with.”

Meek said nurses and doctors are employees of CareHere and earn an hourly wage. The center also carries generic prescriptions on-site with a 100 percent pass-through cost for the employees. Meek said the cost to the city is less because there are no mark-ups and CareHere offers discounted rates to the municipalities.

“It is a less expensive way to give health care services to employees,” Meek said. “You’re basically getting insurance out of the way. We also think it will be a much more engaged and better way to get those services.”

Cornerstone Municipal, the city’s health care consulting firm, projects Royal Oak will spend about $950,000 over the first three years while avoiding about $1.4 million in costs for a savings of about $500,000 over that time period.

“The cost to operate the center and savings both rely heavily on how many employees use the center,” Meek said.

A cost analysis provided to the City by CareHere suggests Royal Oak could save more than $800,000 over the first three years when including soft costs.

Soft costs are defined as the expenses the city will avoid as employees take advantage of the wellness benefits of the center, become healthier and avoid catastrophic situations in the long-term.

There is no cost to employees, and the city will still offer its traditional health insurance program.

“It’s really different; it’s really out-of-the-box. There is only one other center like it in Michigan,  and that one is in Battle Creek,” said Royal Oak Community Engagement Specialist Judy Davids. “It is a new way to look at medical services. It’s very forward-thinking.”

Employee participation was expected to kick off this week and will include individual baseline screenings to determine wellness programs per employee. The center will celebrate its grand opening on Jan. 21.

Employees may receive a health-risk assessment to begin participation, with doctors coming to Royal Oak City Hall to perform the testing.

Members of the Royal Oak City Commission unanimously approved the creation of an employee health and wellness center June 2 with the goal of improving employee health and reducing city health care costs.

Davids said this initiative adds to the city’s Health and Wellness Committee’s existing initiatives. Other health and wellness initiatives include switching to a healthy holiday lunch and Weight Watchers. The committee also is looking into purchasing some treadmill work stations and running a Fitbit testing program.