Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Good thing I don't work at Clarian Health, a health care group in Indianapolis. Apparently they're using "decentives" to get folks to shape up. They may fine their employees by deducting money from their paychecks if they're too fat, smoke or have high cholesterol scores. Somebody who's a mess could make $30 less a year. Now I have the smoking thing licked, but my belt size and high cholesterol could cost me.

Here's the story from Clarion's news release:

Clarian Announces Health Care Changes For 2008 and 2009


Indianapolis--January 2007 saw the introduction of Clarian Health's mission strategy: A Call to Change. Through billboards, television and radio commercials, as well as community events and health fairs, Clarian has issued a call to all citizens of Indiana to take control and improve their health. Not only did Clarian issue a call, but the organization and its employees are acting on it.

There is no shortage of news stories or political speeches about the rising costs of health care, how much money and productivity companies lose due to employees who are sick and cannot work, or how unhealthy lifestyle habits such as smoking are affecting Hoosiers and resulting in higher hospital utilization.

Year after year, headlines remind us that Indiana has had the dubious distinction of being one of the most unhealthy states in America. However, there has been no significant improvement in this status and a comprehensive solution is nowhere in sight.

As Indiana's health care leader, Clarian has been a leader in exploring ways to better manage and reduce the cost of health care. Like other organizations, Clarian is looking for ways to help improve the health status of its employees. Focusing on health prevention and wellness, Clarian is actively working to improve its employees' health by incenting and empowering them to lead healthier lifestyles.

Beginning in 2009, all Clarian Health employees who elect to participate in the organization's medical insurance plans must complete a health screening (body mass index, LDL cholesterol, glucose, blood pressure) and Health Risk Appraisal (HRA).

In 2008, the HRA is necessary for enrollment in company-sponsored plans with employees self-reporting their health risk results. One self-reported health risk will be a statement of tobacco use or non-use status.

Also new in 2008 will be a health risk charge of $5 per paycheck for medical plan participants who have used tobacco within six months of their HRA completion date. This is an effort within our health plan changes to provide an incentive for employees to adopt healthier lifestyle habits.

"Any employee currently enrolled in medical coverage or electing coverage during open enrollment will need to complete the HRA to obtain coverage under the medical plan as of January 1, 2008," said Steve Wantz, senior vice president of Administration and Human Resources. "Clarian has carefully weighed the pros and cons as well as conducted research surrounding this approach, including a timed series of focus groups with Clarian employees," added Wantz.

"Clarian Human Resources and associates from Clarian's Wellness staff have structured this program based on measurements and guidelines from the National Institutes of Health and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute," stated Brian O'Connor, director of Benefits for Clarian.

Clarian is notifying employees of the medical plan well in advance to ensure they "know their numbers" and allow employees time to address any personal areas of risk with their doctors before the screening and before the 2009 benefit changes go into effect.

Clarian will offer free screenings for blood pressure and BMI during the summer and fall of 2007 for employees interested in obtaining these health measurements. The organization will offer a variety of resources and support, as well as education about health risks, to employees who "know their numbers," and who want to make positive change toward improving their health and lessening their health insurance premium costs.

"The information provided in the HRA will not be used to exclude anyone from our medical insurance plans," said O'Connor. "We hope that employees learn about one or more health risks they may not have been aware of, they will take steps to protect their health and, by addressing those risks, no longer fall into a high-risk category for some or even all of the risks identified by the time the 2009 plan changes take effect."

Wantz added, "This is really part of our Call to Change mission communications strategy. This time, we are asking employees to make a personal call to change."

Employees who have a health risk they would like to address or want help quitting tobacco can find help through a variety of resources at Clarian.

A reasonable alternative will be in place for those employees for whom it is unreasonably difficult or medically inadvisable to satisfy the standard for any particular health risk due to a medical condition.

"We are as committed to the health and well-being of our employees as we are to that of our patients," stated Wantz. "As both a premier health care provider and employer, Clarian is in a unique position to provide the necessary resources and support to our employees seeking to improve their own health and make that personal change."

Next thing you know, some education organization might fire me for having a low IQ or something. It's a good thing I got that master's degree awhile back.

And one more thing: If anyone who works for me ever writes a news release this full of B.S., I may be tempted to fire them on the spot.

Monday, July 30, 2007

If I ran the paper

Sometimes people ask you what you do. "I'm in media relations," I say, PRspeak for "I write the stories the university would like to see in the paper, word for word." I could also add, "I get paid to grovel and beg."

Today, one of our secretaries (er, ahem, "administrative assistants") would like the St. Paul Pioneer Press to carry news about an exhibit on Page 1, with color photos of the paintings, just because they think it'd be cool and this is Very Important to Their Marketing Efforts. She just doesn't understand why our art exhibits aren't more newsworthy. At least the neighborhood paper should take more interest, even though not a one of the artists actually lives in the neighborhood.

The exhibit will be in our "Lobby Gallery," a couple of ugly display cases in a hallway outside an auditorium. We don't have a real gallery, which some reporters view as a weak commitment to the arts. But, dang it, people should be lining up anyway.

Tomorrow, maybe they'd like the artists to be interviewed on the CBS evening news. They paint landscapes. Everybody should like landscapes. Heck, I love 'em.

So, without further adieu, if I ran the media, here are today's headlines, livebreakingnews!!! from the university:

  • Fabulous free art exhibit opening Sept. 17, but wait to see it until Oct. 5 when organizers really want you there

  • Theater season opens with "Eleemosynary," a play you can't even pronounce

  • Don't miss "First Friday," which has nothing to do with the Catholic Church ever

  • Four more rich people join the board

  • University raising a bajillion million trillon dollars and why you should care so much about this

  • Still no word on med school feasibility; we're too busy with lawyers at the moment

Monday, July 16, 2007

Sum-sum summertime

So, what is this fantasy called "summer vacation"? May brings graduations and cabin-cleaning; and June, graduation open houses and weddings. A traditional week at the lake around the Fourth of July begins that month, then we work-work-work to pay for it. In August, I start to get the back-to-school tummy ache. And then it's over. Whaaa? The summer's nearly over? What the heck happened?

I missed hosting a deck party, didn't get the blue hydrangeas replaced, forgot to make Bloody Marys and barbecued ribs and sit on the dock all day, didn't get one deer fly to bite me. I missed an overnight with my best friend in a tent made of blankets over the clotheslines. I didn't read one trashy novel or get a sunburn. I didn't make ugly necklaces out of snail shells I found on the beach. I didn't play hearts with boys at a picnic table. I didn't catch a fish and I didn't get a leech on my leg. I didn't do anything spontaneous, and dang it, that's what summers are for.

I was thinking about this while watching fireworks the Saturday after the fourth (which in and of itself is a travesty ... one should never have to stray from shooting off fireworks on the night of the fourth and that night alone). When I was a kid, it seemed the fireworks always ended way too soon. In Virginia, the Fire Department paid for about 15 minutes of rockets' red glare, and that was it. We stepped over the goose poop on the shores of Silver Lake, picked up our Army blankets and went home. Now my cabin neighbor uses my Cedar Lake yard as the staging area for better fireworks than we ever had in my hometown, and he satisfies my yearning for an hourlong display. This is an improvement of a memory. But the Cedar Lake fireworks, no matter how splendid, can ever replace the Silver Lake fireworks in my file of summertime lore.

But I digress.

The trouble with our summertime memories is that we usually do one fun summertime thing every summer we're alive. In my case, that's only 52 fun summers, and at least five or six of them I can't remember at all. But in our minds, these memories all collapse into one, so every summer we look forward to reliving the whole lode. I want to have every summer back to visit each year. If that actually happened, I'd be totally exhausted, bug bitten and sunburnt. But I'd have had a blast.

What did you do during your summer vacation?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I retreat!

As many of you know, I have a rather sensitive B.S.-o-meter. That is, in the words of Lily Tomlin, "No matter how cynical I get, I can never keep up." I'm not a particularly touchy-feely type, don't like to "network" and am not particularly into smalltalk. I'd rather not say anything if I had a choice to give an undeserved compliment. I'd give away used cars and wear flipflops to the White House. You get the idea. So here are the pluses and minuses of an annual exercise in B.S. to which I'm subjected each year: the annual employee "staff retreat."

My colleagues and I "engage" in this day-and-a-half affair at the university's pastoral Gainey Conference Center on the outskirts of Owatonna, Minn. Usually we talk about our department's plans and goals, university issues and challenges and other meaty stuff. Sometimes it can be pretty useful. Most of the time, not. But I'll admit I love to go (totally out of character for me, see above) because the Gainey chef prepares awesome food, the booze is free and I get my once-a-year opportunity to go bowling in a real bowling alley. Oh, and I almost forgot: I get a whole bed to myself on retreat night, complete with TV remote. So I hog both sides of the bed, snore without interruption and watch all the "Sex and the City" I can stay awake for. Then I sleep in, have a huge Gainey dining room breakfast and get to work about noon.

This year, I was a little more impatient than usual with the whole thing. We had all the plans-and-goals talks, but we had a guest speaker, a marketing futurist who ironically seemed ill prepared. About all I remember is her telling us how excited she was to be there and commenting on our "wonderful energy." Gush. Ick. She wore an up-to-there black sleeveless dress with a peek-a-boo neckline and stilettos (hello, inappropriate!) to show off her great legs. OK, so I sound jealous. Maybe so, but I still wouldn't have worn that getup to a professional meeting. During part of her presentation she showed us the "Mentos and Diet Coke" video. Big whoop. Saw that at least two years ago. I can't imagine how much we paid her. Nothin', I hope, because that's what she delivered. A big fat zero. If I made money that way, I'd feel guilty.

Next, we invited a university staffer for a little presentation on "Learning to Love Mondays." Its message: Motivation comes from within. You can't motivate someone. You can learn what motivates them, but you can't "make them" motivated. No shit. But it was pretty good compared to the morning sexpot's exercise.

After we got all the other presentations and work stuff done, we had -- you guessed it -- a happy hour-and-a-half and another great meal. And instead of going bowling, our Owatonna-native co-workers arranged for a crazy scavenger hunt through their lovely town. Picture this: four carloads of very competitive and professional adults plied by a little alcohol, chasing through the streets of a small town with cameras, photographing themselves next to landmarks in a race to return first to the starting point. The town's residents, not to mention the police, must not have been amused. But we were. It was a blast -- really! Most fun I've had at a meeting like this in years. Next time, I'm wearing tennis shoes and bringing a water pistol to fend off other competitors who a.) laid on our car hood to prevent us from leaving for our next photo op before they could; b.) zig-zagged so we couldn't pass them on a city street; c.) sped -- in a car -- on a city sidewalk; and c.) nearly wrestled me to the ground to prevent me from getting a photo. So I didn't get to go bowling. Things were looking up.

This morning we took a tour of an Owatonna treasure, the old Farmer's National Bank building, now a Wells Fargo bank. Designed by Prairie School architect Louis Sullivan in 1908, it's spectacular -- a must-see spot in the city. Arrange a tour if you go. The bank has a marvelous guide who knows the place inside and out. Here are some photos I found online. I couldn't do it justice myself. Maybe this is where we should have started the retreat in the first place.