Health care on the job

(First published in March 1, 2018 issue of City Pages)

Onsite clinics like the two at Crystal Finishing help people get easy access to healthcare


Crystal Finishing Systems owner Mark Matthiae partnered with Ascension to create two onsite clinics at his company’s locations in Schofield and Mosinee. The newest clinic in Mosinee includes outpatient therapy, a lab room, X-ray, and pain treatment.

Mark Matthiae has long had the goal of knowing his employees on a personal level. And he realized something through his nearly 25 years of owning Crystal Finishing Systems: The workers didn’t always take good care of themselves, and didn’t always see a doctor when they should.

So eight years ago Matthiae called Ascension Health (then known as Ministry) to set up a full-service clinic at his company’s location in Schofield, complete with two nurses, a nurse practitioner and a physical therapist. That onsite service was so successful, Crystal Finishing and Ascension partnered with Integrated Pain Solutions to open another clinic this January at the manufacturer’s other location in Mosinee. The second clinic is a bit different in that it’s open to the public, filling a need for the company’s nearly 900 employees and for the local population.

“We wanted to be a good community steward. Mosinee didn’t have a lot of offerings for healthcare,” Matthiae says. “It fit the need for giving businesses the same benefit we have without them needing to host the clinic. Other businesses can take advantage of it.”

Seven other Wausau area businesses operate some form of medical clinic through Ascension at their locations—some have perhaps only a nurse practitioner and open to employees a few days a week. Crystal Finishing’s clinics are open five days a week. Plus, out of the nearly 60 business sites where Ascension operates onsite clinics at in Wisconsin, the Mosinee clinic is the only one open to the public.

One of the main reasons the Mosinee clinic is open to the public is so that it could have an X-ray machine. “I wanted what we had in Schofield but on steroids,” Matthiae says. In order to do that, the clinic needed more usage than the Schofield location so Ascension could recover its costs. Turns out Ascension was already looking to expand with a new facility in the Mosinee area.

The reasoning behind onsite company clinics is to “bring healthcare to where people spend most of their time” says Patti Groholski, Executive Director of Ascension’s Employer Solutions. Crystal Finishing’s Schofield clinic served workers only at first, but expanded to include employee family members as well.

Most of these onsite clinics operate like primary care offices, with many also offering outpatient therapy and on-site rehab facilities. The concept is catching on across the U.S. Twenty-nine percent of companies with 5,000 or more workers offered an on-site or nearby health clinic in 2014, up from 24% in 2012, according to a national workplace study by consulting firm Mercer. The survey also found that another 15% of large employers were considering a clinic in the next two years.

The work at manufacturing companies like Crystal Finishing includes a lot of physical labor and heavy lifting. Many workers might otherwise shrug off an injury if there weren’t an onsite clinic so readily available, Groholski says. “They have the age group where people think nothing is going to happen to them, but it’s a hard labor job,” Groholski says. “This is a retention thing for (Crystal Finishing). When you think you’re invincible, you don’t go in for check ups that much.”

Healthcare, right away

Dr. Curt Draeger is a big advocate for onsite healthcare because he knows how quickly an injury can set in. Draeger, the founder of Antigo-based Integrated Pain Solutions, has worked with Olympic athletes and Green Bay Packers players and utilizes laser therapy to treat acute and chronic pain conditions.

He was hesitant to jump into an onsite clinic arrangement when Matthiae approached him about it three years ago. Draeger had just started his clinic in Green Bay, but as things started to calm down there and Matthiae re-approached him, Draeger went all in.

“When you’re at the workplace, you can see the patient right after an injury happens and evaluate what might have caused it,” Draeger says. “Less than 24 hours after an injury, scar tissue starts to form. If you can get into treatment during that timeframe, you can stop a lot of the formation of the scar tissue which would otherwise lead to degenerative changes down the road.”

Matthiae is sure the clinic at Crystal Finishing’s Schofield location has saved lives. Groholski says the most common diagnoses at the Schofield clinic are musculoskeletal strains and pain, upper respiratory infections, sinusitis, contusions, and dermatology concerns—typical conditions and injuries for an aluminum extruder, fabricator and coating business. But Matthiae says the clinic also has diagnosed employees with high blood pressure and pre-diabetes. “About once a year that happens, and they wouldn’t have gone to a clinic otherwise unless it was here,” Matthiae says.

And instead of having a huge medical bill down the road for a debilitating condition, the onsite clinic catches those things before they become a problem, saving the employee and Crystal Finishing money in healthcare costs and time off work.

For those employees dealing with chronic pain, that’s when Draeger steps in. He says he has a 90% success rate in reducing the pain for his patients with laser therapy. Most of the time he’s dealing with folks who have gone through multiple surgeries and have exhausted all of their options when it comes to pain management. “We take care of the population that has nowhere else to go,” Draeger says. “My typical patient has spent $200,000-$750,000 on the procedures they’ve had already.”

Caring for employees


Ascension physical therapist Deb Baumann works with both Crystal Finishing employees and the general public at the Mosinee clinic. Both of Crystal Finishing’s onsite clinics have rehab gyms to help employees recover from injuries.

Manufacturing is the largest industry in the Wausau area. Employees are being put into high-stress situations with a high potential for injury. Matthiae fits the bill as someone who cares about their well being. On a recent visit to Crystal Finishing’s warehouse, Matthiae could be overheard discussing with an employee about how one of the worker’s kids was diagnosed with childhood diabetes. It was only a short conversation, but it was clear Matthiae genuinely cared about that person’s family.

When the first onsite clinic opened in Schofield, Matthiae didn’t expect the financials to work out as good as they have. He couldn’t exactly quantify the savings, but figures the Schofield clinic has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars because of higher productivity and less sick leave.

Many workers use the clinic, as do their families, and the hours keep expanding to accommodate the different shifts Crystal Finishing has. “We wanted to give our employees care they didn’t have to pay for and advice to make themselves healthier,” Matthiae says.

Greenback Fan estimates it saves $1 million a year with its onsite clinic, which has operated since 2013 through QuadMed, according to what an executive recently told Marathon County officials.

This healthcare model is so popular that even governmental bodies are getting involved.

Marathon County Administrator Brad Karger says the county is partnering with Aspirus and North Central Health Care to open its own clinic for county workers at the NCHC campus. An employee clinic originally was planned to open in the county courthouse, but new security restrictions and limited hours forced planners to look elsewhere for a location.

Karger expects the clinic to be open in mid-April.

“We want the medical provider to have the time available to communicate well with our employees, not just about their current situation but by preventing future situations and taking ownership or their health,” Karger says. “We want to encourage people to treat their health in a proactive way, rather than in a reactive way.”

The county’s goal is to provide more in-depth, preventative care than you’d typically get at a primary care doctor’s office. With a receptionist, nurse, and a nurse practitioner, Karger hopes this clinic also can treat lighter injuries that employees deal with, but it wouldn’t treat those who are seriously injured.

Plus, employees won’t be charged for going there. The county’s insurance provider pays for the healthcare and NCHC and the county split the cost on remodeling the clinic and paying the staff. “There’s a hell of a deal for ya,” Karger says.

What about corporate wellness programs?

Local companies hope to encourage healthier lifestyle choices for their workers

It’s common nowadays for companies to try to improve their employees’ health, and one of the many tactics involve some sort of wellness program. These can include a number of things such as free cooking classes, discounted gym memberships, or various group challenges among employees.

Corporate wellness spending climbed to $8 billion in 2016, up from $1 billion in 2011, according to Damon Jones, a professor at The Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.

Wellness programs in the Wausau area offer a variety of options.

Andrew Meinel, the Woodson YMCA’s assistant operations director, estimates there are 58 different businesses in the Wausau area that take part in the YMCA’s corporate wellness program—from big businesses like Eastbay and Green Bay Packaging to plenty of smaller companies like Cloverbelt Credit Union.

Encouraging employees to improve their health is in a company’s best interest. A 2011 study in the Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine showed that workers incorporating 2.5 hours of exercise per week—close to the recommended level for the average adult—led to a noticeable reduction in absences.

“In the U.S. we’re struggling with obesity. Some people don’t know the proper way to exercise so coming to the Y and being around that atmosphere is great,” Meinel says. “People are part of a community here.”

Community building is one of the main reasons Cloverbelt Credit Union started its wellness program six years ago, says Human Resources Specialist Kelly Franklin. Since then, Cloverbelt has cultivated a core group of employees who take advantage of all the opportunities Cloverbelt provides, which includes:

• $10 off a monthly gym membership

• One free 5k run

• Cooking classes focused on healthy food preparation

• Lunch and learns featuring topics ranging from yoga to headache prevention

• A yearly challenge asking employees to focus on basic healthy behaviors

Cloverbelt’s wellness program is a little more involved than most company’s. Some businesses just offer a discount for gym memberships. But there’s a method to the madness, Franklin says. Getting people to change up some of their behaviors—maybe to drink more water throughout the day or substitute fruits and veggies for potato chips—is the goal of Cloverbelt’s wellness program.

“You do have your group of people who are already having healthy habits. This gives them a little extra incentive to do what they’re doing already,” Franklin says. “You’re hoping you can get some people to change and do things differently. Those groups have been encouraging because they have been willing to try new things.”

Still, it can be a struggle to get workers to change bad habits and dedicate more time to exercise and making healthier decisions. A 2015 study by the University of Michigan of 223,500 people across seven industries found $1 out of every $4 employers pay for healthcare is tied to unhealthy lifestyle choices or conditions like smoking, stress and obesity, despite the fact most large employers have workplace wellness programs.

Franklin says it has taken some time for the wellness program to catch on with Cloverbelt’s 50 employees. Despite it being six years old, Franklin estimates only 20%-30% of employees at a time participate in lunch and learns or cooking classes, and just more than 50% take advantage of the $10 gym membership discount.

The positive reaction from the Cloverbelt employees who do partake in the wellness program has been a reason to be optimistic. “It’s a way to increase morale and give employees something to bond over,” Franklin says. “It’s also a way to attempt to hold down healthcare costs. We just want to encourage our employees to be healthier.”