The Central Ohio Transit Authority was coming off a bitter labor strike in 2012 when it got another piece of bad news: Healthcare premiums were slated to go up-a lot.

The Central Ohio Transit Authority was coming off a bitter labor strike in 2012 when it got another piece of bad news: Healthcare premiums were slated to go up-a lot.

On top of that, it had an inherently health-challenged workforce that spent much of its time sedentary, either behind the wheel of a bus or at an administrative desk.

COTA leaders knew they had to make changes. They also knew they could not do it alone.

So they launched an insurance task force consisting of HR representatives, union members, the insurance carrier and the benefits consultant. The task force worked with a wellness committee representing all departments of the organization. Together, the two groups came up with various ideas to get workers incentivized toward healthier living, and their efforts helped COTA earn Columbus CEO's 2015 HR Innovation Award.

"We were really trying to change the culture," says Kristen Treadway, vice president of human resources and labor relations. "We began looking at the factors causing the health insurance plan to be unsustainable. The staff put a new focus on the design of COTA's health plan, as well as current and potential future challenges associated with the plan."

Among the initiatives launched were a 34-panel biometric screening wellness program that offers premium incentives for employees and spouses.

"The program itself goes beyond what a typical program would," Stephanie Pulliam, compensation and benefits manager, says. "Using biometric and not (body mass index), which can vary for a lot of people, means we can get a much clearer view of areas people need to work on. We are doing as much as we can, as far as education, tools and resources to help people maintain and improve healthy lifestyle."

And employees are saving money doing it. The base employee premium contribution is only 25 percent of total health costs, but that amount can go down to as low as 8 percent for those who engage in the screening. For a single person that means a reduction from $200 per month to $60 per month.

The Wellness Committee's work was rebranded the "On the Road to Wellness Program," and it also launched a benefits fair, wellness fair, basketball league, a team walking competition and an individual healthy weight loss competition in which the top woman lost 16.5 percent of her body weight and the top man lost 17 percent.

In addition, COTA hired a dietitian to be onsite monthly and conduct grocery shopping education trips and created onsite fitness centers. COTA also offers a $150 fitness/wellness reimbursement for fitness or wellness-related memberships.

COTA has used an extensive education and marketing campaign to encourage 81 percent of employees and spouses to take part in the program and adopt healthier habits, leading to cost savings and lifestyle changes. Many participants are now reporting significant weight loss and smoking cessation, as well as early cancer detection in 25 participants.

One employee reported to COTA that the screening saved her husband's life by recommending a stress test, which resulted in him having a heart catheter and stint.

"This is one of those things that has become a real partnership and has changed the culture of the organization," says Treadway. "We are moving toward a healthier culture."

The committee has gone one step further by becoming wellness ambassadors to spread the word about the various initiatives-no small task when most employees are not in an office setting and lack company phones or emails.

"Our goal is a healthier work force," Treadway says. "That is good for all of us."

"We are doing as much as we can, as far as education, tools and resources to help people maintain and improve healthy lifestyles."

Finalist

Kelly Johnston
Director, HR Information Systems
Cardinal Health

Since joining Cardinal Health four years ago, Kelly Johnston has championed human resource innovation, working her way up from the human resource development program to staffing implementation lead, HR project manager, human capital management implementation lead and, finally, HR service center manager.

At every step, Johnston has been engaged with innovation and challenged the status quo of human resources, leading to her selection as the 2015 finalist for HR Innovation.

She was central to the optimization of Cardinal Health's Workday Program, to expand and augment such areas as talent management, compensation, performance management, talent acquisition, payroll, and employee and manager self-service.

Johnston developed POP! Innovation, a program designed to encourage all human resource team members to pursue and act upon ideas that "pop" into their heads.

No idea is too small or too frivolous, and all employees are encouraged to consider themselves "ambassadors for innovation."

The program expanded to become 90-minute "Pop! Rallys" that introduce new innovation tools to coach participants through solving specific HR problems, and quarterly "Pop! Tank," which allows for pitches to senior HR leadership in the style of "Shark Tank."

Hundred of innovations have been implemented since the beginning of the program, from streamlining and automating Cardinal Health's talent review process to reducing human resources mailing costs.