Northwestern helps employer develop health-care system

Rob Karwath | January 02, 2017

As our nation struggles to find an affordable, effective future for health care, answers are coming from Northwestern's work with a midsize employer, university President Chris Cassirer writes in the Star Tribune.

By Chris Cassirer

Published in the Jan. 2 Star Tribune Business section

As our nation struggles to find an affordable, effective future for health care, some answers may come from an experiment at a midsize employer in Montevideo, Minn.

Friendship Homes, with 180 employees, is one of the largest employers in the town of 5,400 about 130 miles west of the Twin Cities. The company builds prefabricated homes. And like many in construction and related industries, it has struggled to help its employees with back and muscle pain and other injuries caused by strain and overuse.

Each year, those injuries cost U.S. employers and employees real dollars in lost worker time on the job as well as higher health care, health-insurance and workers’ compensation expenses. But for the past year, Friendship Homes, teamed with Northwestern Health Sciences University, has operated an on-site health clinic and education program with a goal of preventing these and similar injuries, which are among the most frequently occurring patient conditions in the United States.

Friendship Homes’ new program has been heavy on injury-prevention and wellness. Workers learn how to avoid activities that may result in them straining their backs and muscles and otherwise hurting themselves at work. The program also allows employees to receive regular checkups and treatments for any injuries right away at work from a local chiropractor whose skills are an ideal fit for the needs of the people working at this company.

A year into the project, workers report that they’re feeling better and like having health care services at their job. Statistics show that they’re incurring injuries at much lower rates. They’re also recovering quicker when they do get hurt.

And when it comes to the bottom line, the results have been better than Friendship Homes and Northwestern expected. For every $1 that the company has invested in the program, it is saving $8 by avoiding more costly and less effective treatments, spending less on insurance payments and keeping more workers on the job in the first place, which generates savings through less lost worker time and less overtime to compensate for absences.

Read Northwestern President Chris Cassirer's full column on this project in the Star Tribune's Business section.

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