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Shaping the Marketplace

In this second of a two-part interview, Mel Hall discusses how 9/11 transformed the way that occupational health and wellness services are delivered to leading companies and government agencies and looks ahead at academic research that may transform the HRO marketplace.

by Joseph Vales, Kerry Ann Vales

Comprehensive Health Services (CHS) is a recognized leader in providing occupational health and wellness services. Mel Hall’s vision has shaped the market for more than 20 years. Known for his thought leadership and passion for service excellence, he has built a special type of HRO BPO provider. He sees a future where employers begin to control the growth of employee health care costs and expects CHS to drive the changing market.

JV: In our first interview, we discussed how leading companies and government agencies are structuring cost-effective health and wellness services for their employees. However, there is another side of your business that deals with the major crises that can so dramatically impact our lives. For example, how did Comprehensive Health Services respond to the medical crisis and trauma of 9/11?

MH: 9/11 had a big impact on our company. At the time of the attack, we were operating several health units for major corporations and organizations within New York City. Sadly, one of our nurses was lost at a client site in the World Trade Center. But within an hour or so of the fall of the towers, we had set up a triage unit at one of our Wall Street client locations. Responding to the catastrophic scope of the emergency, CHS also set up a second triage unit at another one of our Wall Street locations. We worked non-stop and counseled so many people after the crisis.

This experience had a profound impact on our company. As a provider of Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), we pride ourselves on our ability to counsel employees and address EAP issues. But after caring for the pain, agony, and emotional distress of so many people in the aftermath of 9/11, we realized how much more specialized our services needed to be. We brought our management team together and initiated a firm-wide program to elevating every aspect of our service offerings to an even higher level. We knew that we had to be prepared for what could be a series of emergencies. We knew that our clients counted on us to help them be better prepared, as we were so much a part of their organizations.

Less than a year later, our commitment to service excellence was tested when TSA asked us to support the hiring of thousands of baggage screeners throughout the country. We conducted all of the pre-employment exams for the TSA’s prime recruiting contractor. We would go into a hotel and clear out 10 or so hotel rooms to conduct exams and then import a clinic with all the testing equipment and our medical team. We would set up on a Saturday, bring in our team on Sunday, and start conducting medical exams on Monday. We did this all around the country and in every U.S. territory. We conducted more than 150,000 exams within a span of only a few months. We recognized the urgency and deep importance of providing a higher level of security for our country.

JV: Mel, it seems that you coined the phrase “medical logistics.” Was this capability developed in response to the need to take immediate action in emergency situations?

MH: The TSA contract led us to develop a complete mobile medical team approach. Our core competency is occupational health and wellness, but in many cases, TSA would give us just a few days notice to set up a clinic and start giving examinations in several airport locations across the country. At one point we had 151 temporary medical clinics operating at the same time. To support our clinics, we had to create a first-class medical logistics process. We implemented a state-of-the-art process that integrated the supply chain, logistics, and procurement capabilities we needed to provide rapid response to emergencies and disasters. This is a special mobile capability that distinguishes our firm in the marketplace. For example, we are proud of our work for the Department of Interior. We conduct the annual fitness for duty exams for the Wildland Firefighters. In Alaska, many of our native firefighters live in hard to reach, remote villages. But we have the medical logistics system in place to quickly put a “unitized” clinic on a pontoon seaplane with a doctor and nurse, fly to these villages, set up the clinic, and conduct exams. We also leveraged these capabilities in response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita. We quickly supported a FEMA prime contractor and took over the medical services for Katrina evacuees in San Antonio. We even received a special commendation from the Texas House of Representatives.

JV: CHS is sponsoring a groundbreaking research study with Georgia Tech that is addressing so many issues that impact the occupational and health wellness market. Can you tell us what is driving the research?

MH: About a year ago, I met with the director of the Health Systems Institute at Georgia Tech. We discussed the need for a more holistic approach to quantifying workforce health care costs and solutions for large employers. Today, companies have limited opportunities to reduce their health care costs and tend to focus simply on negotiating more favorable health insurance contracts or reducing the costs of treating disease and health-related conditions. At the meeting, I presented the concept of a workforce health assessment model and offered to work with Georgia Tech in developing this model. Since then, Georgia Tech has formed a joint initiative with the Emory University School of Medicine to develop the model, and CHS is helping to fund the research.

JV: Why is the HRO industry so closely following this research and the development of the workforce health assessment model?

We are examining in-depth the fundamental and underlying health risks associated with a given workforce or work environment, their consequences, and potential costs. We believe that this research will help develop more cost-effective strategies for risk prevention and reduction as a way of further controlling health costs. This research could radically change how we assess health costs and attack the problem. It will answer for an employer questions such as where do you invest, how much do you invest, and what should you expect from that investment? It will provide an analytic view of how an employer can understand the health care dynamics they are dealing with and help employers develop the programs and tactics to have the best impact on health care costs. Importantly, the workforce health assessment model will look at health care costs in a holistic manner and enable companies to quantify costs as well as a cohesive and comprehensive solution approach. Such a solution will impact costs as well as lost employee productivity and absenteeism.

JV: When will the results of the research be published?

MH: The research will take at least a year. Last month we met with the research and modeling team led by professor Francois Sainfort. We are very encouraged by the initial database the team has developed to analyze risk/cost demographic relationships. By the first
quarter of 2007, we expect to share the preliminary research findings with employers and begin the process of implementing the programs that may so positively impact the
occupational health and wellness of so many of their employees.

JV: What is next for Mel Hall and Comprehensive Health Services?

MH: It is an interesting question. Our revenue has doubled every four years since 1994. This year, with the addition of several great new clients, we are having one of our best years ever from a growth standpoint. Our goal is to partner with our clients and be part of their long-term health care solution. We also look to team with other HRO BPO providers to offer them an expanded value proposition with a fully integrated, end-to-end HRO solution. But most importantly, we want to help our clients change the health dynamics of their workforce and control costs over the long term.

We want to be in the middle of what we believe will be a radically transforming HRO BPO market. We want to be known for our great and caring people, our robust value proposition, and the innovations that will drive the occupational health and wellness segment of the HRO BPO market. Today we are a market leader in this segment and our growth in 2006 expands even further our
leadership position.

Importantly, with the research we are supporting at Georgia Tech and the analytical tools we are developing, we are committed to extending our thought leadership in addressing so many critically important occupational health and wellness issues. Armed with better information, we see a future where employers begin to take more control of their health care costs. The employer’s health cost management solution involves, as a minimum, (1) enhancing preventive health and education programs; (2) expanding the physician services offered in on-site occupational medical clinics; (3) applying more robust case management to ensure effective utilization of medical treatment approaches and resolution; and (4) involving the employee in the health cost management solution.

If employers redirect or transfer just 3 to 5 percent of what they currently pay to the medical treatment system to such efforts, it would add tens of billions of dollars to the occupational health and wellness side of the market. Mel Hall and CHS intend to be part of this market transformation.

For more information, Mel Hall, CEO of Comprehensive Health Services, can be reached at

This article was co-authored by Kerry Ann Vales. For more information she can be reached via email at

Tags: Benefits, Consultants & Advisors, Engaged Workforce, HRO Today Global, Professional Contribution

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