June 11, 2012 | last updated June 12, 2012 2:41 pm
2012 Business Champions, Cateogry Winner: Start-Up, Karelia Health

Karelia Health: Taking workplace wellness to a whole new level

Photo / Kameron Mele
Photo / Kameron Mele
Peter Townsley, Karelia's director of chronic disease programs, at a recent on-site class.
Photo / Kameron Mele
Bill Carew, president and CEO, Karelia Health

AT A GLANCE

Karelia Health

Address: 5 Batterson Park Rd., Suite #1, Farmington

Leadership: Bill Carew, president and CEO

Website: www.kareliahealth.com

Workplace wellness programs are not uncommon these days, but how many of them offer personalized nutritional counseling, accountability benchmarks, and financial incentives for those willing to take the plunge? The founder of Karelia Health is betting not too many.

Bill Carew, the Farmington-based company's president and CEO, says their program doesn't advocate moderation over the long term, but focuses instead on immediate risk reduction for those most susceptible to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and lifestyle-related cancers.

"The information and methodology we present is already out there in the medical community. We are moving it into the business setting, bringing it directly to the workforce," he says. "We take what is now a ten- to fifteen-second conversation with your doctor — 'you need to eat better and exercise' — and turn it into ten to fifteen hours of individualized, direct planning, education and technique implementation."

Carew says the business was initially based on the concepts of a company called Health Navigators, LLC operating out of Atlanta. The company and its idea for an on-site workplace health program were being promoted as a side project by two physicians. Following an acquisition of that company by Ovation Benefits of Farmington in 2010, and a year of redevelopment and incubation, the newly-named Karelia Health was officially launched within the business community this year.

For the companies who choose to make what Carew calls a substantial investment in Karelia's Risk Reduction program, the benefit is not only a healthier employee base, but also a healthier bottom line. Karelia operates with the understanding that in healthcare underwriting, 20% of members drive 80% of costs. By targeting the most at-risk workers, the program aims to reduce that financial hit to the company.

Individual workers are also given financial incentives to sign up for the on-site program.

"Employees always have a choice whether to take part, but sometimes have less of one," explains Carew. "Meaning their company may offer them a reduction in healthcare contributions — twenty percent, for example — if they participate."

Once a company buys into the Karelia model, a plan lasting an average of six months begins with a ramp up period. Training is implemented to prepare for management supervision, a communications blitz kicks in to promote the program, and Karelia representatives hold company-wide meetings to introduce the plan as a new benefit.

Once employees have registered and are ready to start, Karelia brings nurses and phlebotomists on site to run lab work and conduct screenings. Customized reports are then prepared for each participating employee, including lab results, interpretation, and educational points. Once group and individual counseling sessions are arranged with dieticians, the plan is off and running.

"The bulk of the program is the 8-week session devoted to the most at-risk group," says Carew, describing that group as the top 15% who have, or are heading toward, cardiovascular disease or diabetes. "The focus is on nutrition — how to eat better, making big time changes, aggressively moving toward fruits and vegetables and away from fatty foods."

Risk Reduction elements include worksite delivery of program components, weekly on-site classes led by licensed, clinically trained experts, regular progress tracking, group support meetings, and post-program evaluation. So far, Carew says, they are seeing positive results from the companies who have gotten on board with the concept, and plans are in the works to expand on the company's initial launch.

"We've had 2,000 participants through ten or eleven companies this year," he says. "In the next year we are projecting 14,000 participants through fifteen or so bigger companies."

Karelia Health currently has thirteen full-time employees, including a medical director and a consultant team which manages the program. Phlebotomists and dieticians are contracted for on-site work. Target clients are currently companies in the northeast, or companies headquartered in the northeast. Within the coming year, that will grow as the company expands into Florida and other possible southeastern states.

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