Taking care of her health often slipped to the bottom of Jen Kendig’s to-do list.
As a longtime bus driver for Shultz Transportation, Kendig’s schedule varies and often involves working long days. Past back and knee injuries further hindered her efforts to stay active, and she began to notice that she was thirsty all the time.
“I knew it was a red flag for diabetes,” she said. “I love my job, but with my work schedule, it can be very challenging for me to get in to see the doctor.”
Fortunately for Kendig, her employer partners with Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health’s (LG Health) HealthWorks in an effort to increase access and affordability of health care for employees — and help businesses stand out in a tight job market.
Keith Fox, manager of business and strategic planning, for LG Health, said HealthWorks and local businesses work together on strategies that enable employees to proactively manage their health, while also reducing costs for them and their employers.
Some larger employers open onsite HealthWorks clinics that offer convenient primary-care services for employees, with a focus on wellness and prevention. Employers of all sizes now have the opportunity to provide their employees with access to affordable health-care services through “memberships” to the network of HealthWorks practices.
Smaller businesses, especially those with primarily part-time workforces, are not required to provide health insurance to their employees, and it would not be financially feasible to do so, Fox explained. Instead, a growing number of businesses like Shultz Transportation are partnering with HealthWorks to offer employees unlimited access to its clinics, for a monthly membership fee. The number of participating HealthWorks practices will expand from four to seven by spring 2023, with an additional four to five clinics planned annually thereafter.
The membership fee may be paid entirely by the employer or shared between the employer and employee. Membership includes routine wellness exams, physicals and screenings, as well as acute care, rapid testing for illnesses such as strep and COVID-19, immunizations, and about 30 common prescription medications, which are dispensed onsite. These services are provided at no additional cost to the patient. Between visits, employees can stay engaged with their care team through a text messaging app.
“This benefit uniquely positions local businesses against their competitors when it comes to recruiting and retaining employees,” Fox said. “It also helps get employees engaged in and proactive about their health, which benefits everyone.”
A Winning Partnership
Shultz Transportation is a family-owned business that began in 1955 with three green school buses. Today, Shultz’s 240 employees drive a fleet of 290 vehicles that provide transportation for four local school districts, as well as limousine and charter bus service for private groups.
Like many businesses, the pandemic hit Shultz’s workforce hard. President Mike Kramer estimates that 40 drivers left their jobs due to concerns related to the pandemic, and not all of them have since returned to work. At the same time, Shultz continues to grow, which requires hiring additional drivers, nearly all of whom work part time.
Shultz has tried all the usual ways of attracting new employees, including radio and newspaper ads, yard signs, referral programs, open houses, social media posts and email blasts. The approaches were costly, and ultimately, not all that successful, Kramer said.
“We were looking for an edge — something to attract drivers to our workforce that was different than anything other employers were doing,” he said. “As a small mom-and-pop business, we don’t have the resources to offer health insurance to our employees, as much as we would like to.”
In 2021, Shultz began offering new drivers the choice of a sign-on bonus or a membership with the HealthWorks clinics. The company and the driver share the $70 monthly fee, with the benefit open to existing drivers as well.
About 15 Shultz employees have a membership that offers access to the HealthWorks clinics in Lancaster, Lititz and Mount Joy. Kramer has seen a dramatic difference in the lives of several drivers, including some with chronic health conditions, such as uncontrolled diabetes or high blood pressure, who previously could not afford or otherwise were unable to access regular health-care services.
‘It Has Been Life-changing’
Kimberly Bourke, PA-C, who sees employees of Shultz and other local businesses at the HealthWorks clinic in downtown Lancaster, said wellness visits make up about 60 percent of her appointments, while the remainder address acute issues.
“Many of our patients have put off taking care of themselves and their health conditions for years,” she said. “We start with a comprehensive review of their health, which allows us to get to know them and how we can help them stay more on top of things.”
A quick clinic visit also can help patients avoid unnecessary trips to urgent care or the emergency room for minor concerns, such as upper respiratory illnesses or urinary tract infections. If patients need to see a specialist, the team connects them to the necessary resources in the most cost-effective way possible, Bourke said.
When Kendig began seeing Bourke, she was officially diagnosed with diabetes. She visits the Lancaster practice once a month for blood tests and stays connected with Bourke through regular text messages and video chats.
“Since I’ve been working with Kim to get my diabetes under control, I’ve felt so much better,” Kendig said. “She’s always there to help me anytime I need her.”
With Bourke’s encouragement, Kendig follows a medication regimen and is paying closer attention to her diet and staying more active. As a result, her A1C, or blood sugar level, has dropped significantly, and she has lost more than 100 pounds.
Bourke sees her role as a trusted partner in empowering patients like Kendig to take charge of their own health. Ultimately she hopes to help patients better understand their health conditions and what can happen if they don’t prioritize taking care of themselves.
“We take the time to build relationships and really engage our patients in making the changes they need to improve their health,” she said. “For patients like Jen, it can be life-changing.”