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November 16, 2020 Company PROFILE: WellSpark Health

Farmington’s WellSpark sees growing demand for corporate wellness programs amid COVID-19 stress

Photo | HBJ File Roberta Wachtelhausen is the president of WellSpark Health.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on much of the healthcare industry, a Farmington-based company specializing in corporate wellness programs is seeing demand for its services grow — so much that it’s poised to expand beyond the tri-state area, into the Midwest and West Coast, early next year.

“We’re hiring like crazy because we’re growing like crazy,” said Roberta (Bert) Wachtelhausen, president of WellSpark Health. The company began in 2013 and today has more than 100 clients, she said.

WellSpark, which is an affiliate of Farmington health insurer ConnectiCare and part of the Emblem Health family of companies, offers customized corporate wellness programs intended to make workers healthier and help them manage — and reduce their risk of — chronic illnesses.

Clients have been drawn to WellSpark’s holistic approach to wellness, which takes into account biological, psychological and social-emotional factors that impact individuals’ health, Wachtelhausen said.

“We have programs that aren’t out-of-the-box. Usually the companies that have come to us have already tried the other guys,” she said. “When they hear about us and what we’re trying to do for the workforce, they say that’s what they’ve been missing.”

The company’s offerings focus on several areas, including health coaching and disease prevention, particularly related to chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension.

Clients’ employees who are enrolled in health coaching receive one-on-one guidance and support from someone who assesses their biological, psychological and social-emotional needs and can connect them with additional resources when necessary.

“The need for it has really gone up” during COVID, Wachtelhausen said of the coaching service, which is largely done by phone.

Disease prevention programs, which can be conducted on-site at workplaces or virtually, hold participants accountable — in some cases by holding weekly classes, with homework — and outcomes such as weight loss or body mass index (BMI) reductions are measured.

WellSpark also has a “Help 364” program geared toward people who have been diagnosed with a chronic disease and need support managing it year-round. The program’s name refers to how patients need support beyond the one-day-a-year they see their physicians for annual checkups, Wachtelhausen said.

“We really kind of crawl into the culture of the company,” she said, adding WellSpark staff take a close look at employees’ lifestyles. “We’re really tailoring programming to their workforce.”

The result, she said, is employees feel like their workers genuinely care about them, while employers help ensure their workforce remains healthy. WellSpark’s clients include public-sector employers, unions, colleges and universities, among others.

“These are employers who know they have a long-tenured workforce, and investing in them now pays dividends down the road when those employees are still on their payroll,” Wachtelhausen said. And, in the long run, these types of programs can reduce medical and insurance costs, she added.

Photo | Contributed
WellSpark Health’s headquarters in Farmington.

Workforce stress

The company’s offerings can benefit not only corporate entities, but nonprofits as well, said Rollin Schuster, founder and managing principal of The Schuster Group, a Farmington-based employee benefits brokerage firm with offices in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. TANGO, The Schuster Group’s nonprofit arm that helps other nonprofits save money and gain efficiency, this year began bringing WellSpark services to 1,400 nonprofits in 28 states.

“We’re very happy to be bringing a TANGO version of WellSpark to the nonprofit sector,” he said. TANGO’s partnership with WellSpark brings preferred pricing for TANGO-member nonprofits and places an emphasis on emotional wellness, particularly amid the pandemic.

“We see that there’s a lot of stress in the [nonprofit] workforce, and we’re addressing that through our work with WellSpark,” Schuster said.

Members, which include schools, elder-care organizations and others, can choose among various levels of WellSpark engagement. So far, the program has focused largely on mindfulness, emotional wellbeing and stress relief, he added.

“So far the interest level has been very, very high,” said Schuster, who also plans to bring WellSpark services to his firm.

Though WellSpark is affiliated with ConnectiCare, its services are available to companies regardless of their insurance carrier.

While the pandemic has put a stop to much of the company’s on-site offerings, most of its services continue even in these uncertain times.

WellSpark has 60 employees, with plans to grow to 88 by the end of 2021, Wachtelhausen said. Currently, all employees are based in Connecticut and are full-time workers.

Employees, some of whom work as health coaches and advisors, build long-term relationships with their clients, so the company is committed to hiring full-time workers rather than independent contractors, she noted.

“The market has turned toward us [during COVID] and there’s a need for our services like never before,” Wachtelhausen said. “There’s a need for mental health, there’s a need for mindfulness. Someone can take a diabetes prevention class on their phone; the demand for that is higher than it’s ever been. It’s pretty exciting for us.”

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