Workforce.com

'I Really Felt She Cared, and That Was Motivating.'

February 1, 1999
When John J. Nadzam (J.J.) started out working with the railroad in 1966, his company was Pennsylvania Railroad, and he was a trim 180-pound 28-year-old. By 1997, that railroad had become Philadelphia-based Conrail Inc. and a 59-year-old Nadzam weighed in at 255 pounds. Changes in the company, at which Nadzam works as a director of transportation training, indicated it wasn’t content with the status quo, and Nadzam wasn’t either. So when the company’s health services department put a health assessment and education program in place, he willingly joined—and had positive results.

Health promotion is central to a wellness program.
Conrail has an aging workforce, with the average age being 44, subject to multiple health risks. In 1992, in an attempt to curb health care costs and to increase employee well-being, Conrail’s health services pursued employee wellness, dubbing its efforts "Health Link." The program includes assessing employee health risks, conducting health screenings and providing health education.

Conrail enlisted Exton, Pennsylvania-based American Corporate Health Program Inc. (ACHP) to send teams of health professionals to Conrail sites and conduct health appraisals at Conrail-organized health fairs. Tests included cholesterol counts, blood pressure readings and body composition assessments.

The next step was to provide education to those who were identified as having high risks. The challenge for the company was accommodating a workforce made of 23,000 people spread throughout 200 physical sites, 60 percent of whom are constantly on the move. "Because accessibility was such an issue, we knew the traditional ‘Lunch and Learn’ programs wouldn’t work," says Carol Staubach, director of health services at Conrail. "What good is investing in a program if it has little chance of reaching most of the targeted population?"

Their solution was the Health Call Program, a telephone-based, personalized intervention program developed by ACHP. Counselors with expertise in the particular health issue an employee demonstrated would call the employee, explain the Health Call Program and gauge their interest in participating. Participation includes periodically setting up a convenient time for the ACHP counselor to call, working with the counselor to develop goals and taking advice on how to meet those goals. Says Melissa Foley, a registered nurse who was Nadzam’s counselor: "The goal isn’t to provide the participants with a quick fix, but to give them the tools and education they need to understand their problems and continue with a healthier lifestyle." At Conrail, 96 percent of program participants completed the three- to six-month program.

Personal attention helps yield results.
Nadzam joined the program to help him lower his blood pressure and minimize other health risks stemming from his weight. Through the program, Foley helped Nadzam set up a walking schedule and convinced him to join the YMCA. "It got me energized," says Nadzam, who worked up to walking 2 hours a day and lost 15 pounds.

"I appreciated the phone calls," says Nadzam. "When [Foley] talked, it was genuine. I really felt she cared about my health, and that was a motivating factor."

He isn’t alone. Follow up satisfaction surveys Conrail conducted revealed that 100 percent of Health Call Program participants would recommend it to a friend. Feedback has included such comments as: "This program saved my life," and "It saved my marriage."

According to Dr. Marcia L. Comstock, assistant vice president of Conrail’s health services, the reaction of management has been just as impressive. "Besides yielding benefits to employees, the program was good for the business,"she says, attributing the program’s contribution to lower absenteeism and higher productivity.

Workforce, February 1999, Vol. 78, No. 2, p. 104.