Highway to health

Celadon Trucking Services used a high-level Wellness Council to steer major improvements in employee health management.

In the area of health management, the deck is stacked against truck drivers. Long periods sitting behind a steering wheel, limited options for good nutrition and rare visits home during typical physician office hours discourage wellness. An aging work force compounds these problems. For Celadon Trucking Services, these challenges may be even greater than for the average carrier.

“Our drivers are probably different than most at over-the-road trucking companies,” says Steve Russell, chairman of the Indianapolis-based truckload carrier. “Our average driver is 47. Also, about 13 percent are women, which is substantially higher than average.” And Celadon’s average length of haul is more than 900 miles. “It’s tough to see a doctor,” Russell says.

These were some of the challenges on Sara Glore’s mind in late 2005 when she stumbled upon the idea for how Celadon could ensure that employee health received greater attention.

Glore, Celadon’s vice president for human resources, and Pam Ruterbories, benefits manager, had been attending various seminars and workshops related to employee benefits and health, so the topic was top of mind.

“It hit me one day driving into work,” Glore says. “We have to start doing something. Benefits costs are getting higher.” So in January 2006, Glore organized what she called the Wellness Council, which included senior Celadon executives, a representative of the company’s benefits vendor, and the chief executive officer of the local Community Hospitals.

The Wellness Council began by formulating an official mission statement: “To research, identify and recommend inventive and progressive strategies to improve the mental and physical well-being of Celadon employees and their families and control rising health costs.”

In keeping with the spirit of that mission statement, the Wellness Council set out to explore any options and embrace any that worked. “We decided we wouldn’t put any parameters around anything,” Glore says. “We would do what we could to bring medical costs down and bring down premium costs for employees.”

Celadon began by looking at the situation internally and best practices externally. The company’s benefits administrator provided an analysis of Celadon’s employee health situation, and managers from other trucking companies were willing to visit and speak about their efforts, Ruterbories says.

“We weren’t afraid to have competitors come in, and they weren’t afraid to come in and talk to us,” Glore adds.

A surprising discovery
Under the guidance of the Wellness Council, Celadon hired additional staff to carry out the various elements of its program, which it has dubbed “Highway to Health.” The company already had a nurse practitioner and a medical assistant, and the carrier hired a full-time nurse and a wellness coordinator. The team started by conducting health-risk assessments of its employees. These assessments revealed something that surprised and startled Glore and others.

“When we gathered all the information from our health-risk assessment, we found that our administrative staff was just as unhealthy as the driving force,” Glore says. About 43 percent of office staff was obese, roughly the same proportion as the driving force. And even though the office staff didn’t have the lifestyle excuses that over-the-road drivers have, 74 percent of them didn’t exercise three or more times a week, she says.

The Highway to Health program offered a number of wellness initiatives, including health fairs, personal wellness coaching, diabetes counseling, employee education “brown bag lunch” sessions and even ensuring that the headquarters cafeteria carried healthy alternatives.

Community Hospital conducts health screenings for Celadon to the tune of about 60 per week, Ruterbories says. “We were finding about six people per week who were newly diagnosed diabetics. That’s a group we have tried to focus on helping.” The company provides free glucometers to those who need it and has worked out a deal for reduced-cost testing strips. “That’s a group we have tried to focus on helping,” Ruterbories says.

In January 2007, Celadon offered Weight Watchers to its administrative group. Fifty-three of the 350 employees signed up – from technicians to vice presidents. And the mix of men and women was about even, which surprised Glore. The deal was if the employee lost 5 percent of his body weight, he would get his $140 fee refunded. But even those who made an effort had some incentive. If a worker attended at least 10 of the 12 sessions, he would receive half the registration fee back even if he didn’t lose enough weight.

In 12 weeks, Celadon staff lost 961 pounds. The Weight Watchers program continued, and as of Nov. 1 last year, the total weight lost was about 1,800 pounds.

Walking to Laredo
Glore has found that incentives built around challenges and specific activities have been effective in encouraging healthy behaviors. For example, the “50 points for 50 bucks” initiative lets employees earn points – and ultimately, cash – for things like getting physicals, mammograms, eye exams and so on.

And over the most recent holiday season, the company sponsored a program called “Maintain No Gain” in which employees weighed in before Thanksgiving and then periodically through Jan. 4. During that period, the goal was to gain no more than 2 pounds, with prizes awarded to those who succeeded. Of the 59 employees who participated, 38 maintained their weight, and most of the others missed it by only a pound or two. “We were very pleased with the results,” Glore says.

One of the more creative and engaging wellness initiatives was the “Walk to Laredo” that Celadon staged during the spring of 2007. Laredo, Texas, is Celadon’s southernmost terminal. The idea was that each participant would, in about three months, walk the equivalent of the distance between Indianapolis and Laredo. Employees signed up individually or in teams of four and earned points for covering a certain number of miles. In addition, prizes were awarded at certain benchmarks – the distances from Indianapolis to terminals in Paducah, Ky., and Little Rock, Ark., for example. The “walk” aspect was flexible. Some biked and others ran. The “track” was the Celadon headquarters building; four times around it is a mile. More than 120 employees participated.

Glore concedes that pegging a specific return on investment for Highway to Health is tricky because you can’t always quantify what health problems – and consequently costs – you might avoid through better overall wellness and early intervention. But based on the change in culture and testimonials from drivers and others, Glore is convinced that the Wellness Council is accomplishing its mission. She cites one example of a truck driver who went from 320 pounds to 215 pounds – something that clearly was a life-changing event.

Russell believes the money his company has spent on Highway to Health to have been a solid investment in driver quality and retention. And Celadon remains committed to continuing efforts to ensure that drivers have an opportunity to obtain medical care, he says. For example, Celadon in July expanded its medical team again to add a part-time nurse practitioner and two more medical assistants with the goal of expanding into more of a clinic-type atmosphere.

Says Russell, “Our objective is to make sure that our drivers are the healthiest and wealthiest of any in the country.”

Innovators profiles carriers and fleets that have found innovative ways to overcome trucking’s challenges.

If you know a carrier that has displayed innovation, contact Avery Vise at avise@ccjmagazine.com or (800) 633-5953.