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Lands' End employs onsite health facility in its battle against diabetes


DODGEVILLE, Wis.—Elizabeth Wiebe often jokes that she--along with the indoor running track, basketball court and Olympic-size swimming pool--came with the onsite health facility at Lands' End.

Ms. Wiebe, senior manager for work-life benefits, started working for the direct merchandiser in 1987 when the health facility was completed at its Dodgeville, Wis., corporate headquarters.

Fresh from graduate school at the nearby University of Wisconsin-Madison, Ms. Wiebe's charge was an expansive one: help develop programs to keep Lands' End's 6,000 employees engaged in wellness activities.

Since then, the company has gained national attention in the workforce health care arena for implementing a diabetes prevention and control program--one of a number of programs at Lands' End that not only help employees but also take a bite out of rising health care costs.

"There is so much published evidence on how to lower people's risk that we made diabetes a corporate target," Ms. Wiebe said of the company's "Living Well with Diabetes" program that relies on healthy diets, exercise and constant onsite support to prevent and control diabetes. "We know that if we can get people's weight down and get them to eat right, we know we can make a difference."

The program began in early 2003 with a companywide employee screening--a voluntary effort with a $50 incentive--that found 20% of those tested were at risk for diabetes.

"That was no different than the rest of the country or the rest of Wisconsin, for that matter," she said.

Those at risk of diabetes were offered meetings with a nutritionist and trainer to set goals and regular sessions with peer support groups to help them along.

"Many HMOs and clinics offer this, but you have to go there," Ms. Wiebe said. "Here, everything's onsite. What we do is put wellness and health at people's fingertips."

Since 2003, Lands' End has seen its health care costs increase as little as 2% to 3% annually, Ms. Wiebe said. At the same time, average health costs nationwide rose at three to four times that rate.

Ms. Wiebe said it is difficult to quantify how much of the savings is directly related to the diabetes program since Lands' End has always had lower-than-average increases in health care costs thanks to its 80,000-square-foot health facility--ground zero for the company's diabetes program.

On any given day, the building is staffed with part-time and contracted nutritionists, fitness trainers and other health professionals who regularly meet with employees. Lands' End charges a nominal fee--$10 for most programs--so employees feel invested in their program.

"The cost has to do with people sticking with a program they have to pay for," she said. "The intention is not to make money, but to keep people involved."

Dr. Pamela Allweiss, a Lexington, Ky.-based consulting physician with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's business health strategy work group, said Lands' End has been a model for companies nationwide.

The program, which Dr. Allweiss helped develop, has been profiled as a success story at, a Web site managed by the Bethesda, Md.-based National Diabetes Education Program sponsored by the CDC and the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Allweiss credits Ms. Wiebe for her dedication to Lands' End's program.

"I think that she was very proactive and really listened to the employees, and tried to cater the company's program to the employees," Dr. Allweiss said. "It's not just the equipment and the gym; it's the program and it's the support they provide."

When not overseeing the program, Ms. Wiebe spends most of her time working with the company's benefits department, looking for ways to cut costs and improve services for employees.

"I spend a lot of time brainstorming," she said.

Up next, the company plans to create a contract with Kmart Corp.--which also is owned by Lands' End parent Sears, Roebuck & Co.--to have prescription drugs and equipment for diabetes patients delivered to the health center.

"Our hope is always to tighten up the health care piece for our people," Ms. Wiebe said. "It's funny that the goal of the diabetes program is to get people out of the program."