Michelle Jarboe McFee for The Plain Dealer
SOLON, Ohio — Eileen Herman spent years researching diseases and working with patients struggling with diabetes or recuperating from heart and lung problems. Now she’s focused on prevention instead of treatment, as the nursing director for Be Well Solutions, a small Northeast Ohio company that stands to grow as employers try to tamp down rising health-care costs and comply with the Affordable Care Act.
A physician-owned company, Be Well Solutions offers health screenings, risk assessments and wellness programs to a broad range of corporate clients. The 50-person business emerged as the top-ranked small business in this year’s Top Workplaces in Northeast Ohio survey.
In May, Herman and much of Be Well’s staff traveled to health fairs in North Carolina, Arizona, Illinois and Massachusetts. They tested workers’ blood pressure, cholesterol and other vital statistics, handed out individual results and shared overview reports with employers who hope to save money on health care – often their largest expense after paychecks.
“I just sort of saw that this was going to be the wave of the future, preventative medicine instead of just the clinical side,” said Herman, a 49-year-old registered nurse and certified diabetes educator who joined Be Well three years ago. “It’s a very appreciated job. People like talking with us and getting information to better help themselves improve their health. I love everything. I click my heels three times a day.”
Four friends – Bill Frankel, Egon Singerman, Dr. Michael Schechter and Dr. Ron Golovan – started the company in 2005. Their twin goals: Helping companies better understand and control health-care costs while giving employees at those companies ways to maintain or improve their own health.
Many of Be Well’s clients, businesses with anywhere from 40 to 5,000-plus employees, are based in Northeast Ohio. Some of those businesses have offices and other facilities across the United States.
We’re not asking people to be ultramarathon-running vegans. But if people drink less soda, if they start moving … you can really move your numbers.
In addition to its health screenings, Be Well runs wellness-incentive programs for companies. For example, an employer might reward workers who try to quit smoking or who chip away at losing weight. Be Well acts as the middle man, collecting data and allocating rewards without passing an employee’s personal information off to the employer or insurance company. Individuals get tailored data. Companies get – excuse the obnoxious corporate-speak – the 30,000-foot view.
“We’re not asking people to be ultramarathon-running vegans,” says Frankel, Be Well’s director of client services. “But if people drink less soda, if they start moving a little more … you can really move your numbers.”
At its offices in Solon, Be Well has its own roster of marathon runners, plus cyclists, weightlifters and aerobics aficionados.
“We walk the walk, absolutely,” Frankel says. “We have a couple of hardcore vegans. We definitely have some people that are really extreme. Most of us are fit, healthy and make good choices most of the time. We want you happy at work, so you have to sort of drink the sugar-free Kool-Aid. The sugar-free and no-artificial-sweetener Kool-Aid.”
Herman runs and, though she’s not diabetic, strives to eat a diabetes-friendly diet that’s low on empty carbohydrates, light on meat and heavy on plants.
Anne Port, a 50-year-old account manager, isn’t a die-hard fitness buff. But she’s been adding more yoga to her workout routine.
Port recalls being the company’s first real employee when she signed on at Be Well back in 2007. Now she handles bookkeeping for the growing business, which is adding roughly 10 employees each year.
In Top Workplaces survey responses, workers compared Be Well to a family. They described an open atmosphere where new ideas are welcome, and they applauded their bosses and coworkers for being passionate about the job.
“Everybody here is so spectacular. It’s like a second home,” said Port, whose website profile carries her second, and unofficial, title – Be Well’s “VP of Nice.”
On the client side, Be Well has a retention rate topping 90 percent, Frankel said. Most employees at client companies shake off any big-brother unease once they’ve met with Be Well representatives and see what the company has to offer and how it shelters personal information.
After health screenings, Be Well follows up with high-risk workers at client companies – middle-aged women who haven’t had a mammogram, say, or people in their 50s who haven’t had a colonoscopy. Be Well isn’t trying to be a stand-in for doctors, so the company will encourage people to see a physician – or to pick a primary-care physician, if they don’t have one.
Frankel added that his staff tries to work with clients to reward progress. In an ideal situation, employees who move in the right direction will receive incentives – insurance-cost savings, for example – even if they’re not hitting a target number on the scale.
“There always will be the small group of people who want to smoke cigarettes; be totally sedentary; eat bacon for breakfast, a burger for lunch and a slab of ribs for dinner,” Frankel said. “And that’s OK. But that person has a higher risk. They’re much more likely to cost the organization more.
“Think about any other kind of insurance, such as car insurance,” he added. “Bad drivers with bad records pay more. Health insurance doesn’t work that way. This program levels that playing field. Ninety-five percent of people are very supportive of it and of what we do, especially once the screenings happen.”