At SRA, Sick Calls Stay in the Building

At SRA, Sick Calls Stay in the Building<@VM>What SRA Offers<@VM>SRA International

Ann Denison

By Cindy L. O'Hara, Staff Writer

With quality-of-life issues fast overtaking pay increases as the No. 1 job satisfaction factor among technical employees, information technology companies are taking pains to show employees that they get it.

Take Internet services giant America Online, which offers employees at the company's Dulles, Va., location a host of concierge services that include running errands and performing chores that the employees are often hard pressed to find time to do.

Not far away, about 1,000 employees laboring under tight deadlines and sometimes stressful situations at SRA International headquarters in Fairfax, Va., can get speedy medical attention for themselves and family members from nurses who staff an on-site sickness program launched in 1998.

The staff includes two part-time registered nurses and one part-time case manager who handles disability cases.

The nurses, Susan Infeld and Lisa Provance, were hired last May. They work a total of 50 hours a week, seeing employees and immediate family members for distress treatment and preventative care measures, such as blood pressure screenings and flu shots. Provance also visits other SRA facilities in the Washington region on Fridays.

The seeds for the program were sown by the company's desire to show employees that the system integrator cares and its goal of keeping health care costs down, according to Ann Denison, vice president of human resources at the 20-year-old company.

"We learned that one of the things that people care about are health issues," she said. "It is not [offered] because we're altruistic. But on a softer side, if the company can intervene in a health crisis, an amount of loyalty can be built up."

Provance estimated that the clinic sees about eight to 10 people a day. The clinic's doors are open Monday through Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with Fridays reserved for on-site emergencies.

Having medical personnel on site is not uncommon for large manufacturing companies, but it is unusual for a midtier systems integrator, said David Downer, a consultant for Washington-based Segal Company, a private actuarial and consulting firm.

Downer said he was unaware of any integrators in SRA's size range with a similar on-site medical care program, but noted that the trend nationwide is for corporations to help lessen the load on their employees.

"Employee services are really becoming a convenience service," making it more cost effective for the employer from a productivity viewpoint. "It's an example of how the workplace is changing," he said.

One company with a similar program to that of SRA is SAS Institute in Cary, N.C. The privately owned company counts the departments of Defense, Energy and Veterans Affairs among its customers.

The company has maintained its own primary care facility since 1984, said SAS spokesman John Dornan. The on-site building has a 30-member health care staff that includes eight family nurse practitioners, two family practice doctors, a nutritionist and a physical therapist at no cost to any of the 6,600 SAS employees or family members.

SRA's program debuted in 1993 with one full-time nurse who was to focus on whether employees' health care providers were charging too much money and also to help manage employees' insurance claims, said Kay Curling, associate director of human resources for SRA. When the full-time nurse left the company, Curling decided to replace that nurse with two part-time nurses and expand the program.

Denison said the program evolved as company officials noted that employees wanted someone not only to manage their insurance claims but also answer their health care questions. Company officials recognized they had a vested interest in "making sure employees had good, balanced lives and didn't have to worry about managing their health," Denison said.

Infeld, one of the two nurses working at SRA, said: "We do not want to function as enablers of anybody's problem, but we want to empower folks to be living and working at their most productive.

"All IT folks are [Type As], and one thing we've learned is that the longer we wait to deal with a medical problem, the more it will cost," she said.

A case in point is Donna Lindsay, a senior member of SRA's professional staff. She credits the on-site clinic with saving her life on two occasions, the first in spring 1998.

Lindsay first visited the clinic seeking relief from recurring headaches. During a routine blood pressure screening, she recorded an unusually high blood pressure reading.

"I was thinking I just had headaches because I'm in a stressful position," she said.

The nurses not only referred her to an internist, whom she still sees today, but they also set up the appointment, accompanied her to the doctor and discussed their concerns about her condition.

A later situation proved even more life threatening. "I'm allergic, and on a particular day, I think it was environmental, I went into an anaphylactic state [of shock]. [The nurses] were there to save my life again," Lindsay said.

The nurses subsequently set up training sessions with Lindsay's staff of 20, as well as demonstrations on administering epinephrine shots that can counter such an allergic reaction.

SRA's clinic is truly an asset, said Lindsay, who added that more companies should follow suit in offering similar programs.

Said Infeld: "Nurses in general are not valued. But in this setting, it is valued for what it is. Folks know that when they need us, we're there." SRA has expanded its nurse advocacy program over the last year. Some of those extra services include:

• Tai chi and aerobics classes at no cost to the employee

• Weekly on-site meetings for members of Weight Watchers

• Free weight-management consulting and nutritional analysis by the SRA nurses

• Home visits for first-time parents

• Help with hospice placement

• Brown bag lunches that address topics such as depression, stress management and breast cancer, among other issues

• Flu shot vaccinations

• Blood pressure screenings

• Allergy shots

• Health fairs

Susan Infeld

Business: Provides systems integration and consulting services for clients in business and government

Headquarters: Fairfax, Va.

Founded: 1979

Employees: More than 1,800

Fiscal 1999 Revenue: $292 million

Fiscal 1999 Net Earnings: $8.6 million

Web Site:

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