Archive for the ‘Healthcare’ Category

Ignoring Employee Health Can Have a Huge Impact on the Bottom Line

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Employers are faced with many tough bottom-line decisions every day.  Because of healthcare reform, the health of employees and cost of that health has moved to the forefront. We all know that the growing trend over the past 20 years has showed Americans becoming less active, overly stressed and obese. How does that translate into dollars? Obese employees cost their employers $1,850-$5,500 more per year in healthcare costs than their healthy-weight peers. A new Gallup poll o nearly 110,000 full-time employees estimates that unhealthy workers cost businesses $153 billion a year in lost productivity. Only about one in seven employees — 13.9 percent of the workforce — is of normal weight with no chronic condition.

In response, many employers try to implement wellness programs that promise big return on invested dollars, but often fail. Why? In one word; Culture! The only true way to create behavior change, which leads to lifestyle change, is through creating a culture within the office walls. Behavior change takes time which is why having a supportive culture plays such a large role in the process. Accountability and adherence is vital in this process. For example, some companies choose to do an online wellness program, which of course is normally the least expensive option to choose.  Employees log on and register in the beginning, but rarely utilize the program over a two to six month period, or these employees “click through” a program in order to say they have completed it without gaining any type of benefit! Why? Because there is no follow up and commitment aspect.  Some US companies are finally realizing that these types of “wellness programs” are merely a band aid on an amputated arm!  It just doesn’t work. At a human level people need interaction and attention to build the culture, then the behavior changes can start to take place. It’s a process that needs to be nurtured.

Many companies look at “wellness programs” as something to check off the list when talking about insurance, benefits or human resource topics.  This is a grave mistake. A healthy workforce not only yields more productivity and less insurance claims that drive down aggregates, but it creates loyalty from the employees.  A wellness program isn’t simply a blood panel test taken once a year followed by a couple webinars and a pedometer. A true, and effective, wellness program takes into account the entire person on a physical, nutritional and emotional level. It deals directly with stress, quality of life, time management, productivity, planning and self esteem!  The cherry on top is the reduced health care costs and increased work output!

Don’t just “check off” wellness. Become involved, become the example and become the leader who creates a positive and productive culture for employees.

Listen to the full podcast here.


Danielle Girdano is a Certified Master Personal Trainer, who specializes in Childhood Obesity, Exercise for Persons with Diabetes, Postural Assessment & Corrective Exercises for Postural Abnormalities, Weight Loss, Strength and Endurance, Senior Fitness, Pregnancy & Postnatal Exercise, and Exercise Motivation & Psychology.  She is President of D’fine Sculpting & Nutrition LLC with offices in multiple US states. In addition to being one of only 12 worldwide professionals that sit on the prestigious Personal Training Advisory Board for The Cooper Institute based in Dallas TX, she was recently named to the “Top 40 Executives Under 40” by the Dallas Business Journal and nominated for the “2013 Chicago Innovation Awards” because of her mathematical based fitness programs.  She serves as Fitness Advisor for Synergy Worldwide based in Utah.

Will Mayor Daley’s Successor Be Hit With Economic Reality When Contemplating Landmark Public Improvements?

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Will Mayor Daley’s Successor Be Hit With Economic Reality When Contemplating Landmark Public Improvements?As Chicago’s longest serving mayor leaves his post in May of 2011, Richard M. Daley leaves a legacy that includes the iconic Bean in Millennium Park to the flower-filled planters that ornament 85 miles of the city’s streets.  Whoever fills his post will find that budget shortfalls resulting from the Great Recession will collide with reality; the bottom line is that it will be difficult for whoever succeeds Mayor Daley to extend his vision to beautify Chicago.

Writing in the Chicago Tribune, architectural columnist Blair Kamin says that “This was a mayor with a passion to build.  By combining the roles of chief politician and chief planner, Daley became the ultimate shaper of Chicago’s cityscape.  There was no denying his authority over the cityscape — just as there is no denying the deep anxiety his departure has spawned among the city’s architects and builders.  Chicago, they worry, will go from being a city in overdrive to a city on hold.”

“I hope the intensity remains,” said Chicago developer Dan McCaffery, who is planning to turn the 580-acre former U.S. Steel plant on the southeast lakefront into a mixed-use community. “People in City Hall knew that when the mayor had endorsed something, it was aggressively pursued. You could feel the difference.  It was palpable.”  “Any new mayor has got to realize that being a green city has become a part of Chicago as much as hot dogs,” said Ben Helphand, president of the Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail, which is pushing to develop an elevated park, nearly three miles long, on a long-disused railroad spur on the city’s Northwest Side.

A 2010 survey conducted by the Trust for Public Land revealed that Chicago has a mere 4.2 acres of parkland per every 1,000 residents, according to Erma Tranter, president of the advocacy group Friends of the Parks.  “We do not have sufficient park space for a healthy community,” Tranter said.  “It’s an absolutely critical issue in neighborhoods where children don’t have places to play.  That correlates to obesity, health problems and higher costs for future health issues.  There are children who are bombarded with all these electronic games.  They don’t have land anywhere near for them to go to.”

“Daley’s done a great job and he led the city very strongly. But if we’re going to move where we need to be, we need to engage the community in a different way,” said Peter Nicholson, executive director of the Foresight Design Initiative, a nonprofit devoted to sustainability issues. “It can’t be command and control.”

Under Water Homeowners Slow Consumer Spending

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Consumer spending is down as under water homeowners struggle to pay their mortgages.  Although millions of Americans are paying their under water mortgages on time – sometimes with difficulty — it still could prove to be a source of trouble.  Because home prices are stagnant, many owners are using their hard-earned dollars to pay the mortgage and less on consumer spending.  In the long term, that is not encouraging news for economic growth.  With an estimated 15 million American homeowners under water, approximately 7.8 million owe at least 25 percent more than their homes were worth in the 1st quarter of 2010, according to Moody’s Analytics.

“At the root it’s ‘the’ problem,” said Mark Zandi, Moody’s chief economist. “If you’re going to put your finger on the one thing that’s gotten us into this fiasco, it’s the fact that millions of homeowners are under water on their homes.”  Consumer spending is slumping as homeowners find they can no longer take equity out of their homes to fund big-ticket purchases. In a sluggish economy, it’s not difficult to push an under water mortgage into default.  “When you’re under water and you have some kind of hit to your income or some kind of unintended expense, that’s when you default.  And so now we’ve got this noxious mix of millions of people under water and unemployment,” Zandi said.

Because under water homeowners owe so much, they can’t refinance or get home equity loans that could be used to finance major remodeling projects.  A case in point is Heather Hines and her husband, Santa Rosa, CA, residents who owe $415,000 on the house they purchased for $430,000 in 2004.  The county recently appraised the house at $246,000, a lower figure than just one year ago.  Although the Hines’ house needs a new roof, they have put off replacing it because their mortgage payments eat up too much of their income.  “It’s hard to think of making that investment when you’re hundreds of thousands under water,” she said.  “It just feels hopeless.  What are we supposed to do?  It feels like we’re never going to see any equity in our home.”

Chicago Is Greening its Roofs

Monday, May 17th, 2010

The City of Chicago has more than 500 green roofs, totaling seven million SF.  Ten years after Mayor Richard M. Daley ordered a roof garden planted on top of Chicago’s City Hall, the city has 500 green roofs downtown and scattered throughout its neighborhoods.  According to Department of Environment spokesman Larry Merritt, green roofs cover approximately seven million SF, although that represents less than one-tenth of one percent of Chicago’s 500,000 buildings.

City Hall’s roof garden, for example, has more than 100 plant species, including native prairie grasses.  The Willis Tower is now sporting a partial green roof, located on the 90th floor, that is tied down with steel ropes to protect it against the wind.  One of the city’s few green roofs that is open to the public tops the 555 West Monroe Street building that serves as PepsiCo’s headquarters.  Writing in the Chicago Tribune, Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Blair Kamin describes PepsiCo’s green roof as having “a swath of grass, tables and chairs, and four twirling wind turbines that are handsome enough to be kinetic sculpture.  This green roof isn’t an energy-saving toupee.  It’s integrated into the daily life of the city and the people.”

On the city’s Far North Side, an organic farm tops the Uncommon Ground restaurant at 1401 West Devon.  According to Kamin, the farm is “totally in sync with the restaurant and its embrace of the ‘locavore’ philosophy of locally produced food.”  Another green roof – visible from the CTA’s Red Line – tops an Aldi supermarket at 4450 North Broadway.  Kamin isn’t so impressed by this green roof, noting “It resembles a postage stamp.  Green roofs, it shows, can comply with the law without adding much beauty to the cityscape.”

London’s Strata Tower Design Incorporates Wind Turbines

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

Strata Tower in London incorporates wind turbines to generate some of the building’s own energy.  A 43-story residential tower in south London’s Elephant & Castle neighborhood will receive eight percent of its power from three wind turbines  installed at the top of the structure.  The Strata Tower – nicknamed the Electric Razor – is being developed by Brookfield Europe and eventually will be home to 1,000 residents.

The Strata is a £13 million milestone in the £1.5 billion project to revitalize the Elephant and Castle area.  The Strata’s 408 studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments range from £230,000 to £2.5 million, with the first residents expected to move in this summer.  As well as generating an estimated 50MWh annually, the turbines will earn approximately £16,000-£17,000 per year through the British government’s new feed-in-tariff, a payment per kilowatt-hour for electricity generated by a renewable resource.

Each turbine has 15 blades with a 9m-diameter rotor plane.  The wind turbines – which will meet energy demand for 33 two-bedroom apartments – were chosen because they had the best potential, given the building’s height and shape.  Although other buildings have wind turbines mounted on their roofs, the Strata Tower is the first to incorporate them into the original design.

Kenneth Feinberg Widens Review of Rescued Bank Compensation

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

The nation’s pay czar is widening his review of how much money hundreds of banks paid their top executives during Pay czar is asking for details on compensation at U.S. banks that took TARP money.  the 2008 financial crisis. Kenneth R. Feinberg, officially the Special Master for Executive Compensation, is asking for details on compensation at 419 banks that were bailed out by the Treasury Department’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).  Because Feinberg’s authority over compensation only started on February 17, 2009 – when President Barack Obama signed the $787 billion stimulus bill into law and gave Treasury the ability to shape compensation at bailed-out companies – he can do nothing about bonuses paid at the end of 2008.

The standards for deciding that compensation is excessive must be “contrary to the public interest.”  Feinberg’s “look back letter” gives the firms 30 days to provide the information requested.  The compensation review applies only to managers who earned upwards of $500,000 during the four-month period that is under assessment.  Scott Talbott, senior vice president of the Financial Services Roundtable, said the big banks “will work with Mr. Feinberg to demonstrate that the industry has eliminated pay practices that encouraged excessive risk-taking.”

Last fall, Feinberg cut executive paychecks by approximately 50 percent for the seven biggest bailout recipients.  Of those, Citigroup and Bank of America have since repaid the government.  Feinberg was able to pressure AIG employees to return a percentage of their compensation.  James Angel, a finance professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, said, “On one hand, some of these banks were effectively forced to take TARP money.  But you could also argue that the executives of surviving banks should not be compensated highly because it wasn’t really their particular skill, it was their luck that they were in an institution that survived when the government bailed out the financial system.”

Snowmageddon Didn’t Halt Economic Growth

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Despite the Snowmageddon that crippled Washington, D.C. and much of the East Coast during February, the economy continued to grow at a modest rate.  This is the opinion of the Federal Reserve’s newly issued Beige Book report – officially known as the “Summary of Commentary on Current Economics Conditions by Federal Reserve District” — which is published monthly.Latest Beige Book report confirms that the economy is growing.

In terms of commercial real estate, the Beige Book notes that activity is still limited.  “Most Districts characterized commercial real estate and construction activity as weak or having declined further, but some Districts noted slight stabilization and a few signs of modest improvement.”  The Beige Book also noted that the snowy February kept prospective house hunters home in some parts of the nation.  According to the report, “Residential real estate markets improved in a number of Districts, although several Districts noted that activity softened or remained weak partly due to extreme winter weather.”

On the jobs scene, the Beige Book reports that “the pace of layoffs slowed in most Districts, but hiring plans still remained generally soft.”

Rick Mattoon: Is the Recession Over?

Monday, March 8th, 2010

The Fed says the recession is over.Economic indicators show that the recession is over.  This is the opinion of Rick Mattoon, a senior economist and advisor in the economic research department of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and a lecturer at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.  Rick’s primary research focuses on issues facing the Midwest regional economy.

In a recent interview for the Alter NOW Podcasts, Mattoon warned that most people probably don’t feel like the nation is coming out of a recession because there are few signs of job creation or easier access to credit.  One of the major concerns economists have is that this will be a double-dip “W-shaped” recession because once the bump from the $787 billion stimulus ends, there will be scant pent-up consumer demand for products and services to take the place of government spending.

One positive sign is an uptick in hiring by temporary employment agencies, which usually is considered to be a good harbinger of what future demand will be.  Another interesting theory about this particular recession in terms of jobs is the idea that companies adjusted their employee levels much more aggressively at the beginning of this cycle.  As a result, they are operating at extremely lean levels and so may hire earlier rather than later.

One problem is that there is a skills mismatch in the economy.  Many people who have lost their jobs don’t possess the right skills to find employment in growth industries such as clean energy or healthcare.  The challenge is training these individuals to bring their skills up to par.

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“Cash for Appliances” Part of an Ongoing Effort to Jump Start the Economy

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

After the success of the “Cash for Clunkers” and “Cash for Caulkers” programs, the Obama administration has rolled out “Cash for Appliances”, with the goal of replacing aging washers and refrigerators with new ones that consume less energy.  Funded by the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus bill, “Cash for Appliances” is a $300 million program where consumers receive rebates for purchasing energy-efficient appliances.  Eligibility requires that the appliance carry the Energy Star logo, which affirms that it meets efficiency guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy.  The program’s goal is to conserve energy, boost retail sales and help speed the economic recovery.Stimulus bill’s “Cash for Appliances” seeks to replace old washers and fridges with energy-efficient models.

Rebates are allocated by the states.  New York, for example, is offering rebates that range from $75 to $105 on refrigerators, freezers and washing machines.  If all three appliances are purchased together, the rebate can be as much as $555.  “This program will provide a tremendous incentive for consumers all across New York to reduce their energy consumption while providing an important stimulus to our economy,” according to a statement by New York Governor David Paterson.

Retailers are pleased with the program, but think it will not be easy to predict how the program will affect sales.  Home Depot spokeswoman Jean Neimi notes that “It’s tough to say, from a sales perspective, because each state has such a different program.  But we’re excited the program is in place.  Any opportunity to educate our customers on the benefits of energy efficiency is welcome.”

Securitization Slowly Starts Rolling Again

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

One year later, securitization is making a slow comeback in the commercial markets.

The commercial bond market may be opening up slightly as Bank of America (BofA) prepares to sell $460 million worth of bonds collateralized by properties owned by Fortress Investment Group. The bonds that BofA is arranging are ineligible for TALF, another positive sign that the commercial mortgage market might finally be showing signs of improvement.

The transaction involves 44 properties, primarily Florida office and industrial buildings, with bonds rated in the AAA to BBB range.  Price ranges were not available.  This deal and the recent $400 million sale of shopping malls owned by Ohio-based Developers Diversified Realty represent the initial offeerings since securitization of real estate loans came to a halt in the middle of 2008.  Investors should be wary against being overly optimistic about these sales since commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) are unlikely to be as significant a financing vehicle in the future.  Although financing is opening up for specific new issues, investors have little appetite to refinance the trillions of dollars of risky commercial loans that are coming due over the next few years.

“It is another baby step,” said Thomas Zatko, managing director at Babson Capital Management.

According to an index compiled by Moody’s Investors Service, commercial real estate prices have slid 43 percent from their peak in October of 2007.