How employers and health care providers can initiate reforms of their own to manage costs and outcomes

Barry Arbuckle, Ph.D., President and Chief Executive Officer, MemorialCare Health System

While politicians and pundits continue to debate the future of health care reform, there is progress. Extending health coverage to age 26 for many young people and eliminating barriers for pre-existing conditions are beginning to show positive effects. Many employers adding or enhancing their wellness activities are lessening the increase in benefit costs.

Smart Business learned more from Barry Arbuckle, Ph.D., the president and CEO of MemorialCare Health System, about how businesses can implement changes to have a real effect on health care costs.

Are prevention and wellness good investments?

The work force is as critical to your bottom line as the quality of products and services. Costs of workers at high risk for chronic conditions are three times that of healthy employees. Healthier lifestyle programs in the state could save $1.7 billion annually, according to California Endowment. Research shows that two-thirds of the nation’s work force is overweight, and each overweight employee costs businesses an additional $500 to $2,500 in medical expenses and work loss. Wellness activities can save $1.49 to $4.91 for every dollar spent, reduce absences 30 percent and help recruit, retain and increase productivity. It can be as simple and relatively inexpensive as offering pedometers, walking programs and sessions on achieving better health.

How has MemorialCare’s Good Life initiative made a difference?

As a leader in employee health and wellness, we implemented The Good Life program to build a culture of excellence that encourages healthier daily choices for staff. Focusing on such areas as hypertension, high cholesterol and weight control, our hospitals provide walking trails, fitness centers and nutritious, less expensive cafeteria food. We also offer wellness fairs, newsletters, tracking tools and incentives to improve health. Our data suggests a 2 percent movement from chronic to improved health can save us more than $600,000 annually.

Is there evidence executive physicals work?

The stress of heavy commitments, constant challenges and long hours can result in lack of exercise, skipped doctor visits and unhealthy diets for busy leaders. Physicals offer preventive care including comprehensive evaluation, screenings and physical exams, which are personalized, convenient and meet schedules of busy executives. Studies show executives undergoing physicals have 20 percent fewer health claims and missed 45 percent fewer workdays than those who did not.

Can implementing Lean initiatives help?

With declining revenues, escalating costs and demand for increased value and quality, implementing management systems and workshops such as Lean make a difference. They create a sense of purpose, team problem solving and long-term thinking by proactively engaging staff.  In four years with a new ‘lean’ attitude, our hospitals eliminated hundreds of unnecessary process steps and reduced distances staff travel to carry out their jobs by thousands of miles. We expect $195 million in net revenue returned over a decade. Most importantly, we’re improving patient care.

As one of only 29 employers worldwide to receive the Gallup Great Workplace Award, how important are engaged employees?

According to Gallup, the thing that makes a successful workplace is engaged employees — those wanting to know the company’s expectations so they can meet and exceed them. They use their talents and strengths to perform at consistently high levels, charging enthusiastically toward tough tasks, working with passion, driving innovation and moving companies forward. Engagement of passionate workers is a powerful factor in creating new ideas and catalyzing ‘outside-the-box’ thinking to improve business processes and customer service. We are honored to be the only employer in Los Angeles or Orange County to receive this prestigious award.

How are electronic medical records (EMRs) improving care?

Our digital EMRs allow clinicians to have immediate access to a patient’s health and medical history, minimize waste and inefficiency of paper-based processes, maximize clinical quality and patient outcomes at points of decision-making, reduce medical errors and improve patient care. Physician offices can link to our hospital EMRs, and patients can access records through an online portal.

How can employers promote wellness?

Employers can partner with MemorialCare hospitals and physicians by offering classes on reducing calorie intake, teaching desk exercises that become part of workplace routine, moving from unhealthy to nutritious foods in the cafeteria and vending machines, scheduling healthy meal preparation lessons, and providing programs that reward those losing weight, lowering blood pressure and other health risks, and more. MemorialCare offers worksite education, health prevention, screenings, health fairs and immunizations. Our experts help employers identify cost reduction strategies through benefit audits and partnerships to achieve competitive prices.

The online guides and physician referrals help your work force achieve a healthier life. The MemorialCare Presidents’ Partnership informs and engages employers large and small on issues they all face and seeks solutions that address the challenges and costs of health care.

Working together, we can all identify improvements and advocate for better care for the communities we serve.

Barry Arbuckle, Ph.D., is the president and CEO of MemorialCare Health System. The not-for-profit MemorialCare Health System includes Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach, Community Hospital Long Beach, Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley and Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills and San Clemente. For additional information on excellence in health care, please visit