AutoNation's health bus saves lives, money
Mobile clinic visits group's stores across U.S.
In July, Gene Clayton was ordered to the hospital after a health care screening found troubling symptoms.
He's among scores of AutoNation Inc. employees who got wake-up calls when the retailer's Know Your Numbers Health Bus rolled into town. The bus travels the country to AutoNation dealerships with a team that takes blood pressure readings, checks cholesterol and blood sugar levels and provides advice on doctors and exercise programs.
The bus has saved lives, says Clayton, the company's vice president of benefits who helped dream up the mobile clinic. It also is persuading employees to adopt healthier lifestyles and is helping the nation's largest auto retailer to control its health care expenses.
"We've found diabetics who didn't know they were diabetic," Clayton says. "We've seen people with hypertension. They were a walking time bomb. They didn't even know it."
Clayton himself had surgery after his scare in July and is doing fine. He didn't want to talk specifics about his condition. "It's not about me," he says.
Clayton knows of at least five AutoNation employees who were in critical danger when they got on the health bus and were sent straight to the emergency room. One employee was having a stroke, an AutoNation manager says.
Julio Ayala, who worked as a sales manager at AutoWay Nissan of Brandon in Tampa, Fla., until recently, credits the health bus with saving his life. Having long maintained his weight at 145 pounds, he was reluctant to get on the bus, believing he was healthy.
The screening found his blood sugar level more than five times the norm. Another test indicated uncontrolled diabetes.
"It was my getting on this health bus that finally gave me the rude awakening that I got," Ayala tells other AutoNation employees in a video testimonial. "I probably should have been dead, so the fact that I'm here is a miracle."
Other AutoNation employees tell stories of high cholesterol readings or other results that set them on a path to eating better, exercising more and losing weight. Some have lost more than 100 pounds.
The bus is part of CEO Mike Jackson's carrot-and-stick approach to health care. Employees pay more for their benefits if they make unhealthy choices such as smoking. But there are incentives for making good choices, and they enjoy such perks as free or discounted gym memberships.
"We say to our associates, 'We'll give you lots of choice, but you're going to have personal responsibility and a personal stake in managing your health,'" Jackson says. "If you don't have people who are engaged in managing their health and making decisions on what they're going to do for their health, then your costs are uncontrollable. They just skyrocket."
That hasn't been a problem for AutoNation. The company says its health care expenses have stayed relatively flat during the past eight years.
Without such programs as the health bus, the cost to AutoNation employees for health care benefits would have risen 82 percent between 2000 and 2012 instead of the reality of less than 10 percent, the company said.
Over the past 12 years, AutoNation's total health care costs have gone up by an average of about 2 percent annually vs. about 8 percent for companies nationally, Jackson says.
The health bus is on its third tour of AutoNation's 215-store network.
Each tour takes about 16 months and costs AutoNation about $400,000. The bus is staffed by a crew of four contract employees including a nurse and health care technicians. A health care concierge from Blue Cross also is on the bus.
Clayton is hoping for employee participation of 80 percent, up from 50 percent participation on the first tour in 2006. With visits to a quarter of the company so far, participation is running at 77 percent.
While most dealership groups are too small to justify the expense of a roving health bus, smaller retailers can take other steps, AutoNation executives say. For instance, they could hold low-cost health fairs with screening tests at individual stores.
Making employees aware of their conditions and getting them focused on taking better care of themselves is the first priority.
Says Clayton: "Everyone wins, and our costs are mitigated. Our productivity goes up, our care for our people goes up, lives are saved, people are healthy."
You can reach Amy Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.