by Travis Eckels | May 17, 2017
Employers nationwide are looking for innovative ways to address the growing impact of mental health issues in the workplace. Depression, for example, impacts 16.1 million U.S. adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also ranks depression in the top two conditions driving healthcare costs for employers, largely due in part to the disorder's association with poor diet or exercise habits, sleeping disorders, and addiction. 

To reverse this cycle, Sheetz, a privately held convenience store chain with more than 545 locations, includes onsite mental health services as part of their comprehensive health management program they rolled out in 2012. A known innovator in health and wellness services, Sheetz has three employee health centers with their Pennsylvania headquarters, including a 12,000-square-foot LEED-certified health center that provides preventative primary care, wellness and lifestyle coaching, a full-service fitness center, a quarter-mile lighted walking trail and community garden. Beginning in 2015, Sheetz added a licensed counselor to join the nurse practitioners, registered dieticians, physician assistant, exercise physiologist, and medical office assistants to its Pennsylvania health center staff. 

What was driving Sheetz to expand its health center to include onsite counseling? At first, it was the recognition of the high cost of mental health conditions. Sheetz identified behavioral health as the second leading condition for intervention behind musculoskeletal issues. 

"We were seeing prevalence rates at 21.6 percent -- nearly 5 percent higher than average," says Bill Young, director of total rewards, talent acquisition and risk management at Sheetz. "Three of our top 25 prescriptions at Sheetz were behavioral health-related. It was obvious that this needed our attention and our traditional telephonic EAP [Employee Assistance Program] solution was not being utilized."

The first step for Sheetz was to establish a pilot program to address rising behavioral health concerns and improve overall participation in EAP programs. To begin, confidential, free onsite counseling was offered on a part-time basis for employees and dependents. The pilot project quickly proved to be successful and onsite mental health counseling was soon increased to full-time and later expanded to their facility in North Carolina. 

"We are definitely addressing a need in our workforce and the participants are seeking help for a variety of mental health issues," says Young. "Those issues include personal or work-related stress, grief counseling, as well as treatment for drug or alcohol abuse."

Young adds that, "While the treatment of these conditions is important to our employees and to Sheetz, one of our overarching goals is to reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues and increase the access to providers who can help our employees get through tough times." 

While the onsite mental health model is designed to address short-term concerns, Sheetz assists those in need of long-term support, by utilizing a Pennsylvania local EAP provider. The model also integrates seamlessly into the existing program with primary care providers often first identifying a mental health concern, then referring employees to the mental health program for cross-referral opportunities. Employees are also made well aware of the mental health program by way of newsletter stories, departmental meetings, lunch-and-learns, and executive support.

"Our results from the added behavioral health services have been greater than we expected," Young saiysd. "We are pleased that 77 percent of participants have required no further referrals after completing prescribed sessions. The program has contributed to patient satisfaction rates averaging 98.4 percent overall." 

If you ask Bill Young to tell you why these services are offered at Sheetz his response is straightforward and to the point -- "it was the right thing to do," a guiding principle for Young and Sheetz all around.

Travis Eckels is a strategic account executive at Marathon Health. He works directly with clients on managing their onsite healthcare facilities and wellness programs. Specifically for Sheetz, Travis assists in the development, implementation, and management of their onsite and wellness programs, including the health centers, fitness centers, and onsite mental well-being programs. He is responsible for identifying and executing on opportunities to engage employees, track and present risk metrics related to their overall health and welfare plans, and ensuring efficient clinical operations in conjunction with helping to set client strategy.