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Commentary

The Long-Term Care Workplace: Why Natural Care Should Be an Employee Benefit


October 08, 2020

By:  Chad Henriksen, DC, director, WorkSiteRight , Northwestern Health Sciences University

 

chad h headshotUntil recently, long-term care (LTC) workers have not been the headliner of the health care transformation movement. But now, at the forefront of a global pandemic and deemed essential to helping the most vulnerable, aides, nurses, and other specialist continue to work through dwindling physical health that cripples from the labor of the job. As LTC facilities look to maintain the occupational health and safety of the workplace, they frequently offer affordable and complete medical benefits packages, but oftentimes fall short of providing real-time proactive assistance.   

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics ranks health care and social assistance as the number one most dangerous occupation for workers based on the number of non-fatal injuries, and nursing homes are ranked in the top 10 industries for musculoskeletal problems. According to a recent survey, serious and non-fatal injuries cost the health care and social assistance industry over $99 million each week, with overexertion involving outside sources, such as supporting and/or lifting the body weight of a patient and moving heavy objects, making up 34.25% of these costs. 

For workers that engage in heavy lifting, unexpected weight shifts when transferring patients from beds to chairs, and consistent bending, these actions take a toll on the body and mind. All these movements can cause damage throughout the body which can lead to severe injuries over long periods of time. The result is high employee turnover, short- and long-term recovery days and time off for employees. Human resources and benefits managers at long-term care facilities across the country are turning to a more proactive approach for employee health.  

LTC facilities are now considering the addition of on-site natural care clinics to help employees recover from pre-existing conditions, minor injuries or persistent pain before they become a bigger problem. While popularity is on the rise, on-site clinics have become more than a health benefit that excites and draws in new hires; they've also been proven to lead to positive health outcomes and decrease medical expenses for the company and employee.  

On-site clinics come in several forms and include complementary and integrative health care such as chiropractic, massage, educational and motivational services. The provider offering has no out-of-pocket cost to the employees and is available during working hours. These services result in reduced stress, improved mental, and physical well-being and empower employees to take action in their own health.  

While the costs of investments for employee health and wellness are typically regarded as overheads, leaders should consider the long-term positive impacts, including reduced health care costs and injuries, absenteeism, and dependency on pain killers. 

Reduced Health Care Costs and Injuries

With on-site care, a chiropractor can help identify, educate and correct improper movements or other potential risks and underlying symptoms before the problem occurs or becomes more severe. For example, a mild low back sprain is easier to treat and less costly compared to a lumbar disc surgery. Treating injuries reactively may require surgery, lost time from work, lost productivity, high medical expenses, and more. Some on-site clinics have experienced up to a $4 cost savings for every $1 invested in on-site care; others have benefitted from a 63% reduction in workplace injuries after implementation.

Reduced Absenteeism, Presenteeism or Turnover

Unengaged employees cost the US between $438 billion to $605 billion a year in lost productivity, but experts say health benefits can move the needle by reducing burnout/turnover, stress and underlying health conditions. Unlike a desk job, when employees are unengaged or distracted when working with patients in the LTC setting, life-altering accidents can occur.

While the patient engagement component of a career in LTC can be fulfilling, it is also what makes the job so demanding. Nurse’s aides are often the lowest paid employees, but they take on the most physically demanding parts of the job. With limited health care benefits to reduce or treat long-term musculoskeletal ailments, nurse’s aides have one of the highest turnover rates in the industry, which forces employers to funnel substantial budget into the frequent recruitment and training of new employees.  

By proactively addressing health concerns and promoting wellness, employees will be less distracted by aches and pains that hinder them to fully perform their duties, and less likely to seek out other positions. Chiropractic and other complementary care models can reduce the impact of those annoyances and can positively impact employees' mental health.

Reduced Drug Dependency

By focusing on prevention and early intervention, clinicians can address health issues before addictive, and often expensive prescription drugs are needed. Additionally, chiropractic treatment is an ideal first option for drug-free and non-invasive back and general musculoskeletal pain management. Research has shown that prescribing opioids excessively and too early after a workplace injury can lead to additional risks for both the worker and employer, like drug dependence and extended recovery time from home. This is particularly important to consider now as some studies have shown that the millions of Americans with an opioid use disorder are at a higher risk due to COVID-19.

While an initial expense, on-site care clinics are a direct investment in employees and produce a positive return on investment. Programs are adaptable for business and employee headcounts of all sizes. With a smaller capital investment and scalable resources, small-to-medium-sized businesses can reap huge returns on this attractive benefit.

For these reasons and more we will continue to see this model of care become more prevalent in the industry and incorporated by LTC facilities.

Dr. Chad Henriksen has provided over 30,000 hours of on-site health and wellness services to various industries including seminars, ergonomic consultations, health and safety workshops, and injury prevention programs. His approach to health and wellness has a proven track record resulting in employee benefits and corporate cost savings. 

In his current position as Director of WorkSiteRight at Northwestern Health Sciences University, Dr. Henriksen is responsible for overseeing health, wellness and safety services to employers. This includes employee education, ergonomic work, on-site care facilities and wellness program coordination. He also serves as an instructor for the NWHSU’s postgraduate Occupational Health program.

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