It would be an exaggeration to say that Well Ahead, a state initiative focused on Louisiana residents’ health, saved Dana Bourg’s life, but not by much.
The 46-year-old signed up for a health risk assessment to save money on her employer’s insurance plan in November, and as a result of the numbers she got back, made her first appointment with a cardiologist.
Within the next couple of months, Bourg’s doctors would discover dangerous artery blockages in her heart and perform two open-heart surgeries — one double bypass and a second procedure to place a stent.
“I was one of those people who never got sick. I never went to the doctor. I felt fine,” she said. Despite a family history of heart disease, she’d never noticed any symptoms that would have prompted a visit to the doctor.
After her initial blood-work assessment showed elevated triglycerides and other warning signs for heart disease, she began to pay attention to the occasional shortness of breath she’d shrugged off as a need for more exercise.
She went to her cardiologist’s appointment and was on a gurney on the way to surgery the same day.
“I can remember saying, ‘Somebody’s got to pick up my children.’ It was scary,” she said, but not nearly so scary as the thought of what could have happened if she had gone on without knowing.
Bourg also discovered that she is insulin resistant, a condition that, if left unaddressed, is a precursor to Type 2 diabetes.
Bourg works at Woman’s Hospital, a designated Well Spot under the Department of Health and Hospital’s Well Ahead program. To get the designation, Woman’s had to commit to educating its employees about preventable illnesses and make healthy choices more readily available in the workplace and the community, said Donna Bodin, Woman’s vice president for employee resources.
Woman’s Hospital main campus, its Center for Wellness, 9637 Jefferson Highway, its Business and Technology Center, 8850 Airline Highway, and Child Development Center, 8304 O’Hara Court, have all earned some level of Well Spot designations. Our Lady of the Lake Hospital, 5000 Hennessy Boulevard, is also a Well Spot.
The health risk assessments and lab work are optional, and free, Bodin said, but required if an employee wants to participate in the premium discounts.
It works by establishing a health baseline for each employee in the program, she said. Then, an educational element is crafted for those employees based on their individual health risks. Part of the education is an online course that provides information, and a self-reported action plan to put healthy living practices in place. Fitness center membership is discounted, and smoking cessation programs are encouraged.
Being tobacco-free is an automatic deduction in premiums, Bodin said. Employees verify their non-smoking status with a carbon monoxide breath test, and smoking cessation help is also offered.
“Woman’s is already a tobacco-free campus,” she said. “If you want to smoke, you have to get in your car and drive off campus.”
Location, location, location
Bodin made her way through the scrubs-clad lunch crowd at the Woman’s cafeteria to point out the placement of their food options.
The first food line upon entering the cafeteria is stocked with bins of fresh vegetables that are selected and grilled to order as a healthy lunch option.
They offer the typical “comfort foods,” fried and smothered in gravy options, but they’re in between two healthy options — the grill, and fresh salads with cooked meat additions.
“Everything is made right here,” Bodin said, and the healthy menu items are offered at a discount to employees.
The “grab and go” snacks at the register and in the vending machines are healthy options — veggie chips or baked chips, apples, bananas, oranges, hummus, water and lower calorie drinks.
Tea is unsweetened. The sodas, candy bars and other sugary snacks, where you can find them, are sold in smaller servings, or are tucked away in remote corners of the hospital.
Change comes slowly
The food changes at Woman’s may have been jarring, but Bodin said the grill options are popular.
Dana Michell, who works in the hospital’s public relations office, said she has been surprised at the variety of options for cooking fresh vegetables — steamed, grilled, sauteed with garlic and other flavors, “so you never get bored with it,” she said.
Change is coming, if slowly.
“The No. 1 request after labor (for mothers delivering at Woman’s) is still a hamburger. We give people what they want, yes, but we offer variety. We give people an option to make healthy choices,” Bodin said.
But it’s also a good option for the community around Woman’s.
“We do have people who come in from outside the hospital so they can eat at the grill,” Michell said.
While they’re at it, they can also use the 1.25-mile walking path around the pond outside the hospital.
“That makes it really easy for employees to get out on their breaks and get some exercise in,” Bodin said.
The health cost
Bourg is taking advantage of the healthy options at Woman’s now, she said, and feeling good.
“There’s a walking group that walks around the inside of the hospital, and I’ve started walking with them,” she said. She is conscious of what she eats, and if she loses her willpower at any point, she has her family to remind her where she was just a month ago.
The experience was traumatic for Bourg and her family.
“They were great during the whole thing. I have an unbelievable support system in my husband and my children,” she said. But it was scary.
And Bourg is not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
“As of 2012, about half of all adults — 117 million people — have one or more chronic health conditions. One of four adults has two or more chronic health conditions.
Seven of the top 10 causes of death in 2010 were chronic diseases. Two of these chronic diseases — heart disease and cancer — together accounted for nearly 48 percent of all deaths.”
Chronic conditions are also expensive, also according to the CDC: “Eighty-four percent of all health care spending in 2006 was for the 50 percent of the population who have one or more chronic medical conditions.”
Woman’s self-funded insurance plan paid out $15 million in claims last year, Bodin said, and while rising health costs are a huge concern, she said, so is employee satisfaction, productivity and well-being. Catching danger signs before they become a problem is good for everyone involved, especially the employees, she said.
Since Bourg discovered she is insulin resistant, she can change her lifestyle to slow or stop the progression. Healthy eating and exercise are no longer optional or something to do when she’s got more time.
As for checkups, preventative care and other illnesses, Bourg and other employees at Woman’s can also go to the in-hospital health clinic for preventative care, minor illnesses and injuries for a lower cost than their copay would be outside the hospital.
“We want it to be easy to get care,” Bodin said.
Being a health resource for the community is another component to being a Well Spot, Bodin said. The hospital participates in several community races and walks, including the Race for the Cure, March for Babies and Relay for Life, and it has organized the Woman’s Half Marathon in the past. In addition, the hospital offers breast-feeding education and resources to the community, and has made a commitment to encourage new mothers to breast-feed for the baby’s health.
“We do not send formula bags home with our patients,” she said. It was a tough decision, but the right one to encourage the healthiest options for babies, she said.
Woman’s received a DHH Safe Sleep Champions award for its sudden infant death syndrome prevention education, and HIV transmission education and prevention. “There have been no babies born with HIV at Woman’s since 2005,” she said.