South Georgia Employer Healthcare Workshop – Quick Notes

South Georgia Employer Healthcare WorkshopThanks to the Douglas Employer’s Committee at the regional Georgia Department of Labor office in Douglas, Ga.  The employers who lead the committee and the DOL staff that supports them are simply outstanding.  They led a team, including the local Douglas-Coffee County Chamber of Commerce, that made the Workshop a pleasure to deliver.  And I must add a special thanks to South Georgia State College who provided the beautiful venue at Engram Hall and an expert conference team that made the day perfect, including a delicious and health conscious lunch.

There’s that old saying… “You should’ve been there!”  I can’t possibly recreate the rich discussions, the very personal stories that were shared or just the passion that was palpable but here are a few thoughts:

Welcome –  In his welcome remarks Mark Wilson of Langdale Industries identified the three things we must all address:  cost, quality and access.  Mark was right on target and these themes were repeated in every session.

Kickoff –  Patti Taylor with NewellRubbermaid reflected on her 20+ years of experience and talked about going “back to the basics”.  She shared several examples of successful and some not so successful programs and the thought process she used with her team to keep improving.  She gave us a great way to approach issues:  What?  So what?  Now what?

Developing Your Strategy – Broker Eric Frazier with Hutchinson Traylor and ERISA attorney Joelle Sharman with Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard & Smith shared their advice to help companies make the best decisions.  We heard advice to gather the right team of advisors and really dig into the numbers.  They stated more smaller to mid-size companies are considering moving from fully-insured to self-funded.  They had examples of companies as small as 10 employees going self-funded!

Wellness! – Elizabeth Dixon of Chick-fil-A led a lively discussion featuring two company representatives from here in South Georgia.   Joy Paulk with around 100 employees at the family owned Williams Institutional Foods and then Scott Smith with the 500+ employee PCC Airfoil facility.  One business partnered with the local hospital and developed their wellness program and the other works with a local gym.  They helped us understand that every company and group of employees is different and encouraged us not to be afraid to try new and different approaches.  In conjunction with the gym they not only provide personal trainers but also nutrition experts to go grocery shopping with employees.  And yes it’s affordable- they have saved over $1M in claims after starting their programs.  And their productivity has increased.

This panel also included Keith Mitchell with the Georgia Department of Public Health and Hugh Bailey representing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Work@Health program.  Keith reminded us about the state’s commitment and resources around wellness and disease prevention and contributed examples of successful programs from the employers they’ve helped across the state.

The Work@Health program deserves a more detailed mention.  Hugh came from his Washington, DC office and brought his colleague Kevin from Atlanta.  They are helping the CDC roll out a new wellness program to assist smaller and midsize companies.  They’ve created a turn-key wellness initiative where a company can sign up and receive seed funding up to $5,000 and free training and technical advice.  It’s geared to help companies get started with wellness and prevention.  EmployersLikeMe is partnering with Georgia Public Health and the CDC to help spread the word about Work@Health so you’ll be hearing more details from us but in the meantime check out:

Access to Care – Mark Wilson started his panel with Rick Bradner from Coats & Clark which was the first company to have an on-site health clinic in this part of Georgia.  Rick’s clinic was driven from their corporate headquarters and has had the same vendor since they started.  Their vendor contracts with a well-known local Physician who oversees a NP.  The nurse has become a well-loved and much appreciated part of the plant.

Sandy Sharpe from Southwire’s local Douglas facility visited with Rick at Coats & Clark and started Southwire on a journey that led to partnering with the local hospital Coffee Regional Medical Center to provide an on-site provider in a very easy manner that is very cost effective.  Both Southwire and Coats & Clark shared stories of their on-site providers discovering serious and urgent health conditions saving employees from catastrophic future events.

Dr. Debra Lister oversees the Southwire clinic and Urgent Care for Coffee Regional as well as sitting on several local, regional and national Telehealth boards.  She described how they are using Telehealth equipment and procedures to provide specialist providers to local families saving them time off from work and travel expenses.  And because of the convenience the patients (parents often times) will adhere to the treatments whereas they couldn’t with out of town appointments.

This led to an introduction of Sherrie Williams, Executive Director of Georgia Partnership for Telehealth.  Sherrie discussed their local activities with Coffee Regional and the county school system.  She relayed how they provide quick access to the correct providers and save time and money.  Sherrie has hundreds of Telehealth nodes already established in Georgia and are anxious for more.  She next demonstrated for the group that the technology has definitely caught up with the concept.  Through a normal cell phone hot spot she was able to link with a colleague in another town and he walked us through the simple but very effective equipment and their capabilities.  We heard heart beats, looked inside ears and throats and probably saw it better and larger than any doctor could in person!  The Georgia Partnership is a world leader in this technology and they are looking for more Georgia employers to take advantage of the capability.

This panel showed us that on-site care can be done many different ways and even by very small companies.  We also learned that when employers work together with local resources everyone can improve access.

Navigating the System – Lisa Evans of Southwire led our last panel discussion around what she calls “advocacy”.  How do we help people understand and take charge of their journey through our complicated world of fragmented healthcare.  Tom Carroll of Sunset Farm Foods in Valdosta shared two major activities they use to help employees. One a national vendor who will quality and price shop and recommend specialists and help employees better understand choices they have.   Their other program is in conjunction with a local health non-profit called Lowndes Partnership for Health.  Alan Powell from the Partnership was also on the panel and spoke of his very personal “toe to toe” counseling he does with Tom’s employees.  They’ve had great success in getting better adherence to treatments with Alan’s personal touch.  This is a local program put together by creative local employers in partnership with public health resources.

We also heard from Patti Taylor at NewellRubbermaid on several ways their large company deals with this issue and she noted that in situations like this the smaller companies definitely have an advantage.  With her company’s scale it’s hard to have that personal approach that we all agree is most effective.   Finally Lisa introduced Cindi Gatton of Gatton & Associates who is working with Lisa and Southwire on a pilot to help Southwire’s employees who have particularly difficult health challenges.  And Cindi taught us a new phrase and concept called “patient activation”.  They can measure this level and through counseling and education increase the employees capability to better manage their own health journey.

This brought out some great information from Angie Patterson at GeorgiaCORE  (Center for Oncology Research and Education).  Angie told us about Georgia’s system of health Navigators for cancer patients and their other services such as keeping track and giving visibility to the over 600 clinical trials going on in Georgia (yes it’s over 600).  Check them out at

Next Steps and Collaboration – After a full day Lisa Evans who also serves as chair of the education committee for EmployersLikeMe led us in a quick discussion on how we can continue the sharing and networking started today.  Particularly in Coffee County there’s an opportunity to continue this type of activity through the DOL’s Employer Committee and she challenged us to keep going.

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