Vegas employers make a wager on wellness | Crain's

Vegas employers make a wager on wellness

For most Vegas tourists, health resolutions are something you think about at the end of your trip.

But for the tens of thousands of hotel and casino employees who call Vegas home, health issues don’t take a vacation.

Despite operating in a city where gamblers can light up in casinos and drink for free, the hospitality industry here understands that both its workers – and its own bottom line – are not immune from health risks.

That goes for other major companies and organizations in Vegas as well. Most large employers in the area offer companywide wellness programs along with their employer-subsidized health insurance plans.

Hospitality company Boyd Gaming, which owns and operates seven casino-resorts in the Las Vegas Valley and several more across the country, has had a wellness program for 10 years and began offering various financial incentives five years ago.

The company’s annual weight-loss contest offers prizes for participants, and employees can also earn discounts on their healthcare premiums of up to $350 per year if they get a free annual screening and visit on-site health coaches.

“We try to be innovative and keep things interesting for our team members, and we know that by offering these programs we're impacting between 90 and 98 percent of our members," said Bob Berglund, vice president of benefits for Boyd Gaming.

Meanwhile, Tronox Limited, an international mining and inorganic chemical company with an office in Henderson, offers free annual physicals and an on-site 24/7 fitness center with state-of-the-art equipment available for free to all employees.

And the city of Las Vegas, which employs more than 3,000 people, has had a contract with Wellness Coaches USA for over a decade, which allows the city to embed wellness coaches in its offices on a rotating basis to gather employees' biometric information like weight, blood pressure, and resting heart rate, and coach them on nutrition and weight loss.

Nationwide, companies began jumping on the wellness bandwagon more than a decade ago, partly with an eye toward reducing their employee health insurance costs. The programs, in general, include screenings for conditions like high blood pressure as well as weight-loss and smoking-cessation counseling.

Employee wellness has grown into an $8 billion industry, according to BenefitsPRO magazine for HR workers. And with that growth has come more scrutiny: A 2013 study by the RAND Corporation, for example, found that corporate programs were much more likely to show a strong return on investment when aimed at helping participants manage chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure. The benefits of lifestyle-focused offerings were less pronounced. 

Even so, wellness programs in general help engage employees and build a positive company culture, according to BenefitsPRO.

Boyd Gaming’s approach toward healthcare coverage for its employees changed a little over a decade ago when its top executives realized healthcare wasn't just a once-a-year event every January, with employees receiving their latest insurance information packets, Berglund says. The company employs 10,000 people in Las Vegas alone and another 10,000 throughout their other properties.

"We felt it was really important for team members and their families to get involved in and understand their personal health," Berglund said. "One way we do this is to ask them to take part in free, voluntary programs on personal health."

Because hotel and casino employees often work odd hours, making it difficult to get to the doctor during the day, Boyd offers free health screenings at its properties. The company brings in medical personnel for scheduled events, during which employees can come in with their families and receive free medical screenings.

Boyd also gives employees access to LiveHealth Online, so they can consult with medical professionals through their computer or phone 24/7 for simple diagnoses like allergies and colds, and have any related prescriptions phoned into their local pharmacies. Employee Assistance Programs are also available through LiveHealth. On-site health coaches are available for free consultations.

"We're making it very easy for them to get health screenings,” Berglund said.

A mobile app makes it even easier for employees to access information on their healthcare coverage, wellness programs and rewards.

Such benefits have proven to be a powerful draw in company recruitment and retention, he says. But the benefits to the company aren’t just in differentiating Boyd from other employers and making it more attractive to top talent; employees taking part in preventive healthcare measures also help to keep the costs of healthcare down for everyone on the company's plan.

The programs “can get 'silent killers' like high blood pressure and high cholesterol – two things that drive health care costs throughout the country – diagnosed earlier, which helps reduce costs,” Berglund said. “We have been able to keep the cost of healthcare almost flat for the last five years."

Boyd isn’t alone in its approach to employees' health and wellness.

"Our big push has always been work-life balance," said Vince Zamora, deputy director of human resources for the city of Las Vegas. "Government employees have extreme pressures. We want to make sure the services we provide them are for them and available at all times.”

All city employees receive a free annual physical, and the information gathered during physicals can be sent to wellness coaches (with the employee's consent). This allows the coaches to develop a personalized nutrition program for each employee and focus on areas of interest or concern.

The city's healthcare coverage provider also has a mobile medical clinic, called Medicine on the Move, which visits government offices around Las Vegas on a quarterly basis, bringing services like physicals and flu shots directly to employees.

Additional wellness incentives offered by the city include their annual "Biggest Loser" contest – last year over 250 participants lost over 2,500 pounds and earned prizes like Fitbits and healthy cooking classes. And prizes offered during the annual benefits fair included hour-long grocery shopping trips with a wellness coach to learn more about buying and cooking nutritious foods.

"Our city is unique, but we're not different than any other employer that's out there,” Zamora said. “If employers are not placing an emphasis on their employees' well-being, they need to."

January 16, 2018 - 6:42pm