Early detection of health problems Featured

9:58am EDT July 22, 2002

Early detection and treatment can go a long way toward keeping health care costs in line.

Just look at Barberton-based Malco Products Inc., which manufactures, packages and markets chemical specialty products. Malco, which has nearly 300 employees, has organized five annual health and safety fairs with CorpCare, an occupational health service of Akron General Hospital. Since beginning the health fairs, Malco has helped 10 employees identify dangerously high blood pressure levels, six learned their cholesterol was at a critical level and five discovered previously undetected diabetes.

By helping employees discover their health problems and seek treatment, Malco has protected its health claims history. If the conditions weren’t identified, operations and hospital care might have cost more than $500,000, according to projections from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Healthy People 2000.

In addition to the concern about claims, Malco wants to look after employees and ensure they’re healthy enough to stay on the job, says Joan Freeman, Malco’s director of human resources. If someone is ill, she says, the company must absorb related training costs for a replacement worker.

Malco holds the health fairs during the work day; it’s worth the disruption, Freeman says, because fewer employees would attend if they had to drop by on their own time.

“We lose time, but we feel it’s a good trade-off. If we have healthy employees, we save in health care costs,” Freeman says, adding that the fairs supplement ongoing health and safety training programs. “We’re trying to catch problems early. We’re trying to catch someone’s blood pressure before they have a heart attack.”

Malco spends about $2,000 on the fair for screenings, decorations, food and speakers’ fees. Freeman, who organizes the event with help from a part-time nurse, offers these tips for holding your own health fair:

1. Appoint a committee to coordinate food, decorations, signs and set-up/tear down.

2. Work with a third party to line up companies that can support information booths on insurance, smoking and other topics.

3. Schedule different departments at different times, rather than tying up everyone for the day.

4. Give employees enough time to visit each station or display (Malco gives each group 45 minutes).

5. Build the program around screenings, such as cholesterol, blood pressure, vision and glucose.

6. Offer variety each year. One year, a Health Rider was raffled off. Other years have featured demonstrations on topics including stress relief and women’s defense skills.

7. If an expert is hired to speak, make sure he or she is outgoing and approachable.

8. Involve top management from the start and make sure they participate in the event.

9. Follow up with workers, especially if screenings reveal problems.

Although Malco prefers the day-long fair, companies can plan smaller events, says Harry Kuhn, CorpCare director. Illness and injury on the job aren’t new, but Kuhn says area companies increasingly are showing an interest in health and safety education as a tool for retaining workers.

In addition to fairs and other educational programs, some companies ask doctors, nurses and other medical professionals to assess working conditions and recommend changes, he says.

How to reach: Malco Products Inc. (330) 753-0361; CorpCare: (330) 384-6578

Michael M. Murray is a freelance writer.