BENTON HARBOR — When Cynthia Small was hired to work at Whirlpool Corp. as a nurse practitioner, the idea of having a health professional on-site was a relatively new idea for the appliance maker.

Six years later, Small is now one of eight HealthWorks team members who provide support for more than 4,000 employees at Whirlpool’s 12 Southwest Michigan locations.

As the world’s largest appliance maker, Whirlpool has added several wellness programs along with medically trained personnel to assess employee health. If an employee feels they are starting to come down with the flu, all it takes is a quick stop at the company’s pharmacist (who is on-site once a week) or a chat with one of the nurse practitioners who remain at various Whirlpool buildings five days a week.

Instead of waiting a week or a month to see their regular doctor, employees can get a quick check-up with Small and others. In addition to timeliness being an incentive, there’s no co-pay or additional cost.

Danielle Gainer is a health coach based out of the Whirlpool’s Riverview Campus in Benton Harbor. However, she has been known to visit workers at their specific building if it’s easier.

As a health coach, Gainer educates employees on healthy lifestyle changes along with providing encouragement.

“It’s beneficial because when they’re here, they can be more focused on their job instead of stressing out over a condition,” Gainer said. “(Whirlpool) is smart enough to know that taking the time to invest in their employees, not only saves a ton of money in the long run, but creates a lively culture where people are more productive.”

Something unique Whirlpool added this year is a 49-point biometric screening that is tied into the employee’s health insurance.

It’s different because it offers blood work in a more extensive manner. Employees are encouraged to get it done once a year. Gainer said they use those results to see if there are any problem areas that could prevent chronic diseases from developing.

“It’s meant to keep someone from getting open-heart surgery or being diagnosed with diabetes,” Gainer said. “I’ve been in this field for 15 years and haven’t seen this from a corporate standpoint.”

Both the nurse practitioners and health coaches work with other community physicians, sharing medical information with consent from the workers.

When employees in other buildings are sick, Small said she brings a travel bag and comes to them in the form of a “house call at work.”

At Whirlpool’s global headquarters there are two doctor offices where an appointment can be made. The look and feel of the setting feels like any other doctor visit.

“We ask all the questions a physician would ask. We do diagnose and order the medication if needed,” Small said. “Obviously we don’t do surgery, so we sometimes send them to the emergency room. We’ve called ambulances before.”

Massages and treadmills

Over the years Whirlpool has added several programs and equipment to help workers retain their health. There are rooms dedicated to nursing mothers, there are treadmills modified to hold laptops and phones, and standing desks that move up and down by the push of a button.

The company reimburses employees up to $250 a year for health-related purchases, from a new bicycle to a gym membership. Whirlpool also introduced a travel program in which on-site nurses administer vaccinations for workers who visit places like China, India or Mexico.

One of the popular additions has been the massage therapists. Gainer said the therapists have specific buildings they stay in for workers who need to relax.

Being the first nurse practitioner at Whirlpool, Small said she has seen the positive effects these programs have had in the six years she’s been there.

“I can say it has worked out very well. Employees love having it here,” Small said. “When they come back and tell me I saved their life, or the family calls thanking me, those are the things you like to hear.”

The program was built from the bottom up after Small arrived. There were no rooms to replicate the doctor’s office and there were no blood pressure monitors.

As each year has gone bye, Small said she’s noticed the subtle changes.

While Small and Gainer can be disease-focused in their treatment, they said they want Whirlpool’s work force to focus on maintaining their health.

“When patients tell me they can’t do something, I ask them if they have a car,” Small said. “I tell them, ‘I bet you treat that car really, really good.’ I say, ‘I bet you get the oil changed every 3,000 miles.’ When they say they do, I ask them, ‘Aren’t you better than a car?’ Then they get the point.”

Contact: twittkowski@TheHP.com, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski