February 21, 2012
CHICAGO — Chicago Public Schools announced today its plan to launch a wellness initiative that will enroll all non-union employees in a program to manage and avoid chronic health problems. This new initiative is expected to also drive down rising health care costs that place a heavy strain on the District’s budget due to chronic illness and other health choices that lead to the need for extensive treatment and care.
Providing employees access to a program that will not only manage current conditions, but help prevent development of chronic conditions is also part of CPS’ larger effort to overhaul its decades-old sick and vacation day policies for non-union employees. As part of the effort to end the antiquated sick day accrual policy, CEO Brizard announced he will propose the district’s first ever paid maternity and short-term disability benefits in addition to eliminating the future carry-over of sick days that leads to large cash payouts upon leaving the district. The sick and vacation day policies cost the district almost $15 million per year for non-union employees alone.
“Our goal is to create policies that serve the needs of both our employees and the district,” said CEO Brizard. “This new wellness program will provide employees with the tools and incentives to lead healthier, longer lives, while also curbing the rising health care costs that place a large and growing fiscal burden on the District.”
Annual CPS health care costs total $400 million, accounting for almost 10 percent of the District’s total budget. Each year, health care costs rise by almost $25 million as more and more people develop chronic conditions that require costly treatment. The most common chronic conditions such as obesity, smoking, diabetes, hypertension and inactivity lead to a lower quality of living and earlier death.
Beginning next fiscal year, CPS non-union employees and their dependents will be enrolled in a wellness program that will involve enhanced screening and wellness advice and support to establish benchmarks and long-term goals, including weight loss, medication, exercise and smoking cessation. The program will be free to all staff with an opt-out fee for non-participation. This plan is based on participation, not based on achievement of health goals. All staff, regardless of current state of health will be enrolled in this program free of cost, which will be administered by third party health professionals. The three components of the program include:
- Health Risk Assessment- Enrollees will undergo a health risk assessment and basic blood test (ie. cholesterol, blood sugar). from health professionals once a year to identify personal risk factors.
- Health Programs- Enrollees will regularly participate in a health program focused on the most important at risk factors for preventable disorders.
- Health Check-ins- Enrollees will have a scheduled phone conversation with a health professional on a regular basis as needed.
Wellness programs implemented across the country have not only led to healthier employees, but have also found significant financial savings. The American Journal of Health Promotion reviewed published studies of dozens of workplace wellness programs and concluded that on average, every $1 investment in wellness resulted in $3.50 in savings from lower health care costs and lower absenteeism. A second study by the same group found average reductions of 27 percent in absenteeism from illness, 26 percent in health care costs and 32 percent in workers compensation and disability claims.
“This is about our employees, and our budget, but this is also about our students. As adults working in and around our schools, we have a responsibility to set a positive example for students, whether it’s in treating others respectfully or leading a healthy lifestyle,” said CEO Brizard.
The Chicago Public Schools serves approximately 405,000 students in more than 675 schools. It is the nation’s third-largest school system.