Pittsfield-based Cianbro Corp., a 2,000-member employee-owned firm, earns over $300 million in annual revenue and pays 80% of employees’ health costs. Its health-care costs were projected to reach $20 million by 2004, a huge boost over the $11.5 million it paid in 2001. “We asked, ‘Where is the $20 million going to come from?’” says Peter G. Vigue, Cianbro president and CEO. “Most firms would look to shift costs to employees or reduce benefits. We found that unattractive. Plus, we have a moral responsibility to our employees so we took a different path.”

Cianbro decided in 2001 to institute an employee wellness program, offering a $1,500 annual incentive for employees and families to join. Over 70% of employees now participate in the voluntary program and more are joining monthly due to success stories, says Vigue.


The firm looked for models to start a program but found none. So officials essentially grew it in-house with independent contractor Occupational Medical Consulting LLC, Leeds, Maine. OMC does full-time, one-on-one educational interventions with employees in order to reduce risky behavior, such as smoking and overeating, and promote healthier life-styles while giving employees the resources for corrective behavior.

“In January 2003, we instituted a tobacco-free workplace to include all our jobsites,” says Vigue. “We gave everybody six months notice and there were predictions of problems and resignations, but it never happened. We estimated 46% of our workers smoked and now we’re at 20%—but not at the workplace.” The ban also applies contractually to subcontractors and suppliers.

OMC believes rising health-care costs are directly related to chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart and lung problems, which are mostly preventable through healthier living. “Now, we do individual health risk appraisals identifying problems and helping employees make small, achievable changes,” says Dr. Larry L. Catlett, OMC founder and president.

All employees are tracked on OMC- written software and the firm now is working with Cianbro to link their disability, sick day and absenteeism data to develop a more comprehensive tracking system. “We don’t have individual claim costs but we conservatively estimate Cianbro gets a $3.50 return per dollar on its investment,” Catlett says.

Since 2001 health-care costs have remained flat, even when accounting for the $300,000 for OMC’s doctor and educators and an insurance-sponsored 24-hour advice hot line, according to Vigue. Other results are equally impressive: 34% more employees are exercising on a regular basis, and there has been a 20% reduction in overweight employees and dependents, a 33% reduction in hypertension and a 25% reduction in high cholesterol. “We had one person lose over 200 pounds and a number have lost between 25 and 100 pounds,” says Vigue.

large heavy civil and industrial contractor in Maine is working hard to become the healthiest company in America. Besides helping employees and dependents become healthier, its wellness program has reduced the open shop firm’s burgeoning health-care costs.