Benefits and Compensation

On-Site Medical Offices, Wellness Initiatives Promote a Culture of Health

W.R. Grace & Co. not only promotes the benefits of wellness to its 5,900 employees globally, the company makes it easy for them to maintain a healthful lifestyle.

Accessible Treatment

Grace (, a global supplier of catalysts and other products, was recently recognized for a third consecutive year as a Platinum-Level Start! Fit-Friendly Company by the American Heart Association. The company’s Columbia, Maryland, headquarters facility received the award in 2008 and 2009, and its Cambridge, Massachusetts, facility was recognized this year.

In Cambridge, Grace’s approximately 285 employees have access to the free services of an on-site physician and registered nurse.

“We opened the onsite medical office in Cambridge in 2007 based on the success of similar offices at other Grace locations,” says Pamela Wagoner, Grace’s vice president and chief human resources officer. “Besides physicals and flu shots, employees can visit the medical office for a variety of needs including hearing and eye exams, blood pressure screenings, blood sugar readings, vaccinations, preemployment screenings, general wellness, medical referrals and second opinions, and healthcare education.”

Results of the screenings “are given to employees, with recommendations to see a primary care physician or specialist when necessary,” Wagoner explains.

“In Cambridge, around 70 percent of the site’s employees use the medical office for occupational heath and wellness activities, such as blood pressure screenings and flu shots,” she says. “A smaller group—around 20 to 25 percent of the site employees—visits the office to discuss an acute medical problem, seek second opinions, or gather referrals for themselves or family members.”

No-Cost Services

“All of the [on-site] medical services are available at no cost to employees,” she says. “Employees can simply walk in to see the medical staff or make an appointment.”

Although Grace’s health insurance plan permits employees to visit off-site physicians, employees who do so might have to pay copayments and deductibles.

Wagoner says employees also save time by using an on-site medical office. “It’s much more convenient to use, since employees don’t have to take time off and drive to another location… And, the medical assistance is very timely during potential medical emergencies (e.g., an employee suffering a heart attack could be resuscitated immediately by trained medical staff, rather than have to wait for an ambulance to arrive).”

Free On-Site Fitness

In addition to an on-site cafeteria with healthy options, wellness-related education programs, and various fitness activities, the Cambridge facility has a gym that is open 24/7. “Employees, consultants, interns/co-ops, and long-term temporary staff can join the Grace Works Fitness Center at no cost,” Wagoner says.

Managed and staffed by an organization that specializes in corporate wellness and fitness programming, the center offers “a variety of cardiovascular and strength-training equipment to suit all levels of fitness. In addition, it offers fitness and nutrition classes and other fitness services to help employees develop an exercise program that is safe and effective,” she says.

Positive Results

The benefits of offering on-site medical services and promoting wellness “absolutely outweigh” the associated costs, according to Wagoner. “As a self-insured employer, we have seen the direct bottom-line impact of our health and wellness initiatives—our costs have risen much slower than national averages.”

In addition, “Grace has experienced a number of positive HR-related outcomes from having an onsite medical office, including lower absenteeism (associated with taking time off work to go see an offsite doctor and related to acute medical conditions), lower health risks during international travel, and lower incidence of the seasonal flu,” she says.

“Promoting employee wellness has resulted in increased personal and team productivity, lower turnover, lower heath insurance costs, better morale and a collegial atmosphere,” Wagoner explains. “Meeting your colleagues outside the office—at a yoga class or walkathon, for example—can help you discover a different dimension to their personality,” she adds.

Advice to Consider

Although the cost of offering on-site medical offices may seem daunting, employers should keep in mind that an effectively managed initiative will help them realize HR-related cost savings.

However, before embarking on a similar project, it is important to assess whether your employees are interested in having access to on-site medical treatment, what types of services would be most helpful to them, whether the company should hire medical professionals to staff the center or contract with a third party, and at what level the organization would subsidize the cost of care.

To increase engagement in wellness initiatives, Wagoner recommends that employers “make wellness fun”; for example, by encouraging employees “to pursue their own passions when choosing wellness activities.”