Wellness nurses provide care in workplaces

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BRATTLEBORO — As costs increase and care options decrease, employers are looking for innovative ways to make sure their employees are fit and healthy and are connected to their health care providers.

"Having a wellness nurse on site tells your employees that you care about them," said Michelle Mortimer, the owner of Wellness Works, which contracts with local businesses to provide health coaching, wellness programs, case management, ergonomic assessments, injury prevention classes, and other services based on company need.

On Friday, Mortimer was working in her office at New Chapter in Brattleboro, where she provides care and coaching three days a week.

"I make a point of starting a conversation with people, so they get to know me," she said. "By building a relationship, we can identify simple health problems before they become chronic or debilitating."

"Having a nurse onsite gives me peace of mind knowing we can address concerns quickly and in a cost-effective manner," said Roy Bartlett, New Chapter's safety director. "Adding a nurse to our team has literally improved the health of our employees in a short period of time."

For a company such as New Chapter, which is known around the world for its vitamins and supplements, having a wellness nurse onsite reduces costs while providing more care than in a traditional health care scenario where an employee has to leave the building to see a provider, said Mortimer.

"We work with human resources to figure out where companies are spending money and address those issues," she said. "In one of our companies, the biggest expense is back pain and in another it's depression. We tailor programs around their needs to help their employees get healthy and to lower insurance costs."

The benefit for employees, said Mortimer, is there are no co-pays or out-of-pocket costs for her services.

"We offer flu shots, cholesterol screenings and blood pressure checks and are able to refer people to a number of different resources," she said. "There has been a shortage of primary care physicians in the Brattleboro area. We help people find a doctor if they don't have one. We make the phone calls and get them set up."

Mortimer and her staff of five nurses offer services to companies in the tri-state region.

"The nurses work with the safety directors to help with ergonomics and preventing injuries resulting in worker's compensation," she said. "They are members of the safety committees and they run the first response teams. If someone gets hurt, we do the case management by helping that person through their claim and the entire process to get them healthy and safe and back to work."

When it comes to addressing mental health issues, Mortimer's crew also works with a company's employee assistance plan to find the right provider, which can be a daunting task for someone who is depressed or suffering from anxiety.

"We also do health coaching," she said. "We have certified health coaches on staff who help people figure out how they can modify their lifestyles to reduce their health risks."

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Mortimer, who graduated from Brattleboro Union High School in 1988, received her certification as a licensed practical nurse from the Thompson School of Nursing, now the Thompson House, in Brattleboro. She received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Vermont Technical College. She is also a board certified holistic nurse.

"As a holistic nurse, we treat the whole person," said Mortimer. "We don't just look at the immediate need. We look at what's going on in your life."

Previously, she worked as an emergency department nurse at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and Grace Cottage Hospital in Townshend, and was the director of critical care at Baystate Health in Greenfield for six years.

Before acquiring Wellness Works one year ago, Mortimer worked in the emergency department at Cheshire Medical Center in Keene, N.H.

"When you work in the ER, you see people that if someone had taught them how to eat properly or educated them on lifestyle changes, pushed them in the right direction, they might not have made that ER visit," she said. "In the ER you never see the end of the story, either. You fix them up and send them on their way and you don't get that satisfaction of seeing how things might have changed. Bringing wellness to the workplace, where the average American spends a third of their lives, allows me to make a difference before people end up in the ER."

The demand for wellness nurses is growing, said Mortimer, in part because health clinics and occupational health centers are closing. There is also a demand for contract nurses because an on-staff nurse requires liability insurance, related equipment and a physician on staff.

"A company like New Chapter would also have to have a physician if it had a nurse, because a nurse can't practice independently," she said. "We contract with a physician who does our standing orders and for when we need to consult on a challenging case."

Because the health care landscape is changing rapidly and because costs are increasing, her business is booming, said Mortimer.

"We are growing on a daily basis. We are getting calls that employers have nowhere to send their people. We have new accounts coming in."

Mortimer hopes to double her staffing, to 10 nurses, by the end of January.

"We also offer services such as going to the fire department to conduct fitness testing or holding flu clinics around the region," she said.

For more information on Wellness Works, email Mortimer at michelle@wellness-works.net or visit www.wellness-works.net.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or raudette@reformer.com.


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