Don Weber on bleeding edge of health care delivery

Don Weber

Don Weber

Employees at Don Weber’s five companies in LaCrosse get three hours off out of every 40-hour week to work on their well-being. He fervently believes that employees who are mentally and physically fit are happier, more productive and less likely to look around for other jobs.

Weber, a former Marine corporal who survived the Tet offensive in Vietnam in 1968 and still can do 100 pushups, is proof positive that strong leadership makes all the difference in creating a culture of health.

This entrepreneur extraordinaire has taken the Marine philosophy that the troops eat first, ahead of the officers, and has applied it to his five companies and 1500 employees in LaCrosse. The employees come first. You commit to them and they return the commitment.

His main company is Logistics Health Inc., whose 1200 employees deliver medical and dental care and pharmaceuticals to reservists and the National Guard troops all over the country. He also launched the Waterfront Restaurant and Tavern and the Charmant Hotel on the banks of the Mississippi River and is redeveloping big chunks of the historic downtown.

He demonstrates that investment in his employees through one of the most innovative health care programs in the country. It includes:

*A free on-site primary care clinic, headed by a nurse practitioner and staffed with a physician’s assistant, provided through another Weber startup company called Riverside Corporate Wellness.
* Lab tests and x-ray on site.
* A fully equipped fitness center with coaches available.
* Nine to 11 group fitness programs daily in the center.
* Behavioral specialists right up front in the clinic, meaning no more stigma to getting treatments for mental illness than for physical illness.
* A Fit Kids program for children of employees.
* Pre-natal care on site and midwives available.
* Massage therapy for a small charge.
* Specialist and hospital services from Gunderson Health and Mayo Clinic Health System.

“You have to change the culture of your work force, and I’ve always included the families. It makes sense on so many levels,” Weber said.

He pulls out letters from grateful employees to show how much the health care programs mean to his people. After addiction treatment at the wellness center, one girl wrote, “I got my life back, my mom’s trust and my friends back again, and it is the best knowing how amazing people are.”

A manager who was successfully treated for anxiety, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, wrote, “I come to work every day knowing that doing my part is worth it, because the organization cares about me and my family. That is something very few people I know can say about their employer.”

There is a stack of those letters.

The investment in the well being of his people —physical, mental and spiritual health — makes sense in economic terms, too.

Productivity was up 12% last year. Total health care costs are about $7500 per employee, less than half the national average. His companies saw 1162 fewer sick days of last year. Premiums for care at Gunderson and Mayo have not gone up since 2011. Because of its culture, LHI recruited a manager to LaCrosse for $50,000 less than an offer from another company. Its employee turnover is low.

“Loyalty is a two-way street,” Weber said.

He had to convince his board to front the money for the clinic back in 2006. He doesn’t have to make that case any more. The results speak for themselves.

He challenges corporate leaders to lead. “We need to change the culture and where we are going with health care.”

Weber believes that other companies will make the investment, with the result that “the next generation is going to be much healthier.”

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