Blue Ridge Paper Focuses on Healthier Employees

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Ms. Heinze is a freelance writer/editor based in Vancouver, British Columbia.

In October 2000, BlueRidge Paper ProductsInc (BRPP) hiredJessica Ellis. By Christmasof that year, she was playinga major role in implementinga program that wouldnot only serve to controlhealth care costs for the companybut would change the lives of many of its employees.

Headquartered in Canton, NC, BRPP operates anothermill in Waynesville, NC, as well as DairyPak plants inGeorgia, Iowa, Ohio, and Virginia. With more than 2000employees, health and safety for this self-insured organizationis no small affair. Due to the dangers associated withmilling paper, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) areon-site 24 hours a day at the organization?s Canton facility.

Back in 2000, these same EMTs noted a remarkableincidence of diabetes among Canton employees, and benefitspersonnel decided that a disease management programwas the best way to respond. When Ellis arrived ather new post, her superior, Bonnie Blackley, instructed herto research ways in which BRPP could establish its ownversion of the Asheville Project.

The initiative was launched in the Canton facility inJanuary 2001. At first, BRPP did not work with pharmacists,opting instead to use the medical expertise of its in-houseEMTs. Soon after, the model established in Cantonwas rolled out across the entire organization to provide afull population health management program, with theparticipation of pharmacists and other medical professionals.?I don?t think there is any type of health condition thatwe don?t have a program for,? Ellis notes. She serves as thecompany?s corporate manager of disability programs.

Participants must fulfill several conditions: for example,diabetes patients must attend a diabetes education seminar,monitor hemoglobin A1C and cholesterol levels regularly,and attend scheduled appointments with their monitoringspecialists. Annual dental and eye exams also are part of theprogram, and all medications must be obtained throughspecified pharmacies. ?We have always required that theyget their medications at specific places,? Ellis explains. ?Atfirst, a lot of pharmacies didn?t understand when someonecame in to get his or her medication. The pharmacy wouldtry to charge the patient, who would say, ?No, I?m in thediabetes program, so I don?t have to pay.??

In Canton, employees enjoy the added benefit of usingthe company?s own dedicated facility, the Blue RidgePaper Products Inc. Family Medical Center & Pharmacy,which only serves those covered under the manufacturer?sinsurance.

Pamela Garrett, BRPP?s benefits service center supervisor,notes that the diabetes education seminars offeremployees a networking vehicle through which they cancompare notes with other people suffering from the samedisease. The dedicated pharmacy in Canton also provides asense of community. ?One of the big boosts to our programlocally is that we have our own clinic and pharmacy,? shesays. ?Our diabetic patients are being seen here by the nursein our clinic in conjunction with the pharmacy over there.?

In modifying the Asheville model for BRPP, Blackley andEllis drew up a program that was in line with BRPP?s specificcapacities and restrictions. ?We decided that we wouldgive them a free meter, free supplies for the meter, and themedications,? Ellis relays. ?We couldn?t do dermal medicalequipment, such as insulin pumps.? Determining whichmedications to cover was also a challenge. ?People wouldsay, ?You need to pay for my heart medication, or my kidneymedication, because I wouldn?t be on that if I didn?thave diabetes.?? Eventually, it was decided that BRPP couldnot cover these auxiliary medications.

Ellis notes that by 2004, benefits personnel begannoticing the model?s effect on BRPP?s medical costs.?When most every company that offers group medical isseeing double-digit increases, we are staying relativelyflat,? she says. ?We fully believe that it has to be our healthpopulation program.?

Diabetes Education Program Is StrongMotivator

Mike Rhinehart, Blue Ridge PaperProducts Inc

Carolyn Heinze

Before being diagnosed as a type 2 diabetic withhigh blood pressure, Mike Rhinehart admits he paidlittle attention to his health. Thanks to his employer?simplementation of a health management program?based on the project pioneered by the City ofAsheville?Rhinehart is not only health conscious, hefeels great.

?My A1C was 7.1 when I started, and it?s 5.7now,? he recounts, adding that his blood pressure levelsare now back to normal. ?I have gone from 256pounds down to 216 pounds. I have stopped smoking.I am 60 years old, and I am more flexible than Ihave been in about 10 years because I exercise once or twice aweek. I feel better just generally.? A swing shift worker,Rhinehart adds that it is now easier for him to get through thenight shifts, and work in general is less taxing.

These changes took place gradually, and Rhinehartrecounts that because of this, they were not that difficult tomake. ?I worked with the program, my coach, and one of theparamedics down in the mill who monitors my glucose levels.He reads my meter and then puts out a report for me to giveto my doctor,? he says. ?I didn?t lose 40 pounds overnight.?

Rhinehart notes that the mandatory diabetes educationprogram served as a strong motivator for him to turn thingsaround. ?The program works,? he says. ?They teach you toread labels. I didn?t pay any attention to labels on food; whateverwas there and cheap, I bought.? Now, Rhinehart shopsfor quality over price. ?If I have to pay a little more for itbecause it suits my needs, I will do that, because it?s my health.I care about my health now probably more than I ever have.The program that I went to at the hospital really opened myeyes about what diabetes can do, and what it can lead to.?

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