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Employer Focus: Chrysler’s Health Leaders on their Integrative Health Pilot Projects PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Weeks   

Employer Connection: Chrysler’s Health & Disability Leaders on Their Exploration of Integrative Health Pilot Projects

Summary: The Integrator previously reported outcomes of a pilot integrative care mind-body project at Chrysler. Fifty-five percent (55%) of chronic pain patients reported being pain free following the combination of somatic muscle therapy, hypnotherapy, group process and lifestyle counseling. Chrysler is taking the pilot into two new directions this year. But what led them to this exploration? Where is it headed? How does it fit with wellness thinking? As part of the Integrator's IHPM-sponsored examination of the employer connection, I interviewed Kate Kohn-Parrott, Chrysler's director of integrated health care and disability, and Teresa Bartlett, MD, the medical director who directly oversaw the program.
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Note: This article is part of the Integrator’s exploration of the potentially potent alignment between employer interests in health and productivity management and the health-creating orientation of complementary, alternative and integrative practitioners. The reporting is sponsored by the Institute for Health and Productivity Management. Interested? Consider attending the March 31-April 2, 2008 IHPM conference in Orlando, Florida.
Among the highlights for those who will participate in the complementary alternative and integrative medicine track at the conference of the Institute for Health & Productivity Management will be a presentation on a series of unique, integrative care pilot projects at the giant automaker, Chrysler.

Chrysler: two new pilots initiated
In 2005, Chrysler entered a relationship with Robert Levine, PhD, a mind-body practitioner and director of integrative medicine research at Henry Ford Health System. The unusual pilot Levine developed resulted in 55% of participants reporting their chronic pain resolving to zero. (See "
Group-Focused Integrative Pain Program for Chrysler Employees Better than CAM or PT in Henry Ford Health System Pilots," July 23, 2007.)  Chrysler decided to explore integrative strategies further. The manufacturer since kicked off two more pilots, also using a mind-body approach, and delivery to a group. One group focuses on assisting employees with any type of pain. The other includes employees with many different chronic conditions, including diabetes, arthritis, obesity and cardiovascular disease. Both new directions use somatic muscle therapy, hypnotherapy, and take advantage of group dynamics.

Why would Chrysler choose to venture into this exploration of unusual integrative health care strategies. The Integrator interviewed the two Chrysler leads on the project.  Teresa Bartlett, MD, is Chysler's senior manager for disability and healthcare medical programs. She oversees the program and will be Levine's co-presenter at the IHPM meeting in Orlando. Kate
Kohn-Parrott is Chrysler's director of integrated healthcare and disability. She oversees the entire operation relative to costs and programs related to health care, sickness, accidents and disability. This article weaves together information gleaned from the interviews with Parrott-Cohn and Bartlett.

Kate Cohn-Parrott, Chrysler's director of integrated healthcare & disability
Integrator: So why did Chrysler decided to look at integrative medicine strategies?

Kohn-Parrott: I came to this position 4 years ago from Chrysler's finance organization. We were trying to control costs. We looked at everything and identified 4 main factors driving up costs. First is the lifestyle in the United States. People don't eat right. Second is the aging of the population. We knew we had less control here. Third, we looked at the fact that we practice curative medicine rather than prevention. Fourth, we identified the broken reimbursement model. We had lots of challenges, some that we could effect better than others. We began a campaign and found a slogan we thought was good for us: "Healthy People Drive Our Future."

Integrator: So it was basically a wellness strategy?

We recognize that there is a lot of value in investing in wellness rather than just spending on sickness. In the long run, there is cost value.

:  Does Chrysler
have a history of offering any benefits that could be considered complementary, alternative or integrative?

Of course, we have workplace ergonomics. We build our machines and processes to solve problems before they happen. We have StayWell and AIPM managing onsite prevention programs such as nutritional counseling and diet programs. They'll look at what is driving costs in an area and suggest programs. We've had chair massage for 18-20 years, in the work place. The individual pays for it. We've been in the forefront in the wellness area since 1985 or so. A year and a half ago we had Watson Wyatt assess our wellness programs and take a look at what StayWell was doing. They said we were pretty much benchmark across the board.

Integrator:  How did you link with Bob Levine and his group at Henry Ford Health System?

IHPM - sponsoring an Integrator focus on the employer- CAIM connection
Kohn-Parrott: I am a diabetic myself. I was invited to be on a panel at the health system to give a patient's perspective. I met Bob there and he said he'd be amenable to looking at some possibilities with us. We had started with a in-house program to help diabetics in the workplace. We think it's important to bring educational tools and materials to people in the workplace. We're interested in our employees leading better and healthier lifestyles. We think there is a lot of potential for savings there. We identified back pain as a major driver of health care costs - and a driver of absenteeism as well. Bob helped us develop the "We've Got Your Back Program." We had 100 participants.

Integrator:  How would you describe the program?

Kohn-Parrott: The focus was back pain. It's somatic muscle relaxation, and a program for them to re-focus their minds.

Integrator: But it's a pretty unusual mix of therapies, together with the group format. Were you familiar with alternative medicine and approaches?

: There were a number of us who have dabbled with complementary medicine, such as naturopathy. Some of us on the healthcare team have gone to people with PhDs in nutrition. But again, it was pretty few and far between.

Integrator: How did Chrysler decide to go for it then?

Teresa Bartlett, MD - Chrysler's medical director overseeing the program
: It was a challenge for me to understand, at first. Our team helped Bob arrange space onsite, recruit patients. We assisted him in understanding the corporate culture here. But there came a point after two months and I still didn't know what 'it' was that he was going to do. It was difficult to understand, to get over the hurdle.
I was a little skeptical at first about the response he'd get. During one meeting I asked Bob if he could describe the step by step process the groups would be put through.  Even so ... Okay, it was a blind leap of faith.

Integrator: How did people respond?

Bartlett: There was overwhelmingly positive response. Emails starting coming in every day on how it wasn't just their back pain that was getting better. They talked about how they were getting along better with their spouse, relationships in the family were more harmonious, they began to listen better to one another. It was very surprising.

Integrator:  I have to tell you that I was astonished with Bob's finding that 55% said their pain had resolved and disappeared.

Kohn-Parrott: It's blows everybody's mind. It was a fabulous outcome.

Bartlett: The outcomes are linked to Bob's teaching participants to see themselves as pain free, to speak that into existence. He was also giving them basic building blocks - more water, less Coke, teaching them to breathe. People really did it. It didn't change just their pain. It changed their lives. My theory, having sat through several sessions, was that while Bob was using guided relaxation for new awareness, the therapist, Ramon  Nunez, was very slowly re-educating the muscles and nerves to break the patterns they were in. We saw people who required braces and needed canes start walking freely.

Integrator: Do you have any economic outcomes for the project?

Bartlett:  We know this group had fewer acute ER visits than the control group. We haven't quantified the numbers due to the lag in healthcare data.  On presenteeism, we have the self-reported surveys which were dramatically improved.
There is ongoing study.

Robert Levine, PhD - researcher and practitioner
:  I've wondered how replicable the outcomes will be, with other leaders and other surroundings. Is this just Bob's abilities, or Ramon's? I could imagine that he might have a good deal of charisma working there. I told him as much.

Bartlett:  I think it's very replicable. It does require individuals with a certain skill set - it clearly takes people who exemplify what they teach, who live it to teach it.
Bob and Ramon are good. Ramon for example has been educated in Beijing, he is a acupuncturist, and is a Sensei.  Bob is an accomplished scientist who exhibits charisma with people.

We're starting some new programs.

Bartlett:  One is a pain program which we've opened to individuals with any type of pain - headache, etc..

Integrator:  What's the population?

Bartlett:  So far all have been for professional management and the executive group. It's harder to pull people off the assembly lines. We're doing it during the lunch hour. We're trying to motivate and gain some energy behind this. This is the group that needs to be convinced.

Integrator:  Do you think this may migrate to become a covered benefit?

Bartlett:  Depends on how the results come out. We are in an extremely competitive market.  If we can prove there is a return on investment, then we can build the case for coverage through insurance benefits. I think there is a lot of future in complementary alternative medicine, and that it certainly has a place in the world. It is up to us to prove the ROI.

For us as a large manufacturing company, these programs with the health system are a step. We look forward to exploring other ways that integrative medicine can make a difference.

Integrator:  Thanks for your time. I look forward to learning more at the meeting in Orlando.

ImageComment: I found the interviews with
Kohn-Parrott and Bartlett fascinating. Kohn-Parrott provides a valuable portrait of how the nuts and bolts of a wellness commitment can bridge over into integrative healthcare exploration. The route seems naturally more accessible to CAIM than that from tertiary medicine-based disease care into complementary, alternative and integrative care. The latter requires a paradigm shift. With an employer with a wellness commitment, there is continuity. Of course, the ROI is there. But actually, before the ROI, one needs to have the willingness of someone - Bartlett, apparently - to take a risk on a pilot. If Bartlett and Chrysler hadn't, we wouldn't be able to see these fascinating outcomes:
"They talked about how they were getting along better with their spouse, relationships in the family were more harmonious, they began to listen better to one another. It was very surprising."
Truly fascinating - particularly coupled with Levine's clinical findings and the initial indications that ER visits were down and presenteeism - a productivity measure - was moving in the right direction. The Bartlett-Levin duo promise to provide a fascinating program in Orlando. Consider joining us!

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