LeAnn Harris Supports Wellness Through and Through

LeAnn Harris helps carry out Mercy’s extensive coworker benefit efforts, keeping all facets of well-being in mind

leann harris
LeAnn Harris, VP of Health, Benefits & Wellness, MercyPhoto by June Potts

LeAnn Harris came to Mercy in 2010 to aid the organization in its investment in and creation of its coworker health and wellness initiatives. The goal was to standardize the whole system—more than nine hundred physician practices and outpatient facilities as well as more than forty hospitals—and create a shared service model that would enable Mercy to offer its coworkers benefits more as a collective, rather than as separate entities.

For Harris, who serves as vice president of health, benefits, and wellness, the goal has been to continue the mission of the Sisters of Mercy, a ministry whose two-hundred-year legacy of care is forwarded by more than forty thousand coworkers today. The VP sees her own role as an extension of the Sisters and is moved to provide the same degree of care and urgency for everyone supporting the Mercy mission as the physicians and frontline workers provide for their patients.

The Mercy Mission

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Harris had already positively impacted the workplace and wellness journeys of the broader Mercy network. “Over the years, we’ve been able to develop a very robust, outcomes-based wellness program to support our coworkers,” Harris explains. That includes a biometric screening with a premium differential when meeting individual health goals and a healthy activities rewards incentive, where coworkers and their covered spouses can each earn up to $400 by engaging in healthy lifestyle activities.

“We’re self-insured, so it’s important for us to help our coworkers understand that habits drive costs,” Harris says. “We want to educate them to be good consumers of healthcare and their benefits so they can have more money in their pocket.”

Mercy’s health plan offers an exclusive provider organization (EPO), which allows the health system to provide a high-quality, integrated continuum of care for its coworkers while managing costs for the wider health system. Over 80 percent of benefit-eligible coworkers are enrolled in this plan.

In terms of financial wellness, Mercy works with Payactiv to allow coworkers to get early access to their paychecks prior to payday. “It’s money they’ve earned, and we’re only paid every two weeks, so if there is an expense that needs to be paid tomorrow, this allows them access when they need it,” Harris says.

“We’re called to serve and just because we’re not at the bedside doesn’t mean that our role isn’t important. We’re here to support those who are caring for our patients, so they don’t have to worry about their pay or benefits.”

To help support coworker financial education and wellness, Mercy works with Fidelity to find and create tools that will help them learn about budgeting, expense tracking, and other financial literacy instruments.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mercy recognized that it needed to provide more for its people in times of crisis. At the height of COVID cases, the organization offered emergency paid time off as well as major disaster PTO. “This was a time that you simply could not plan for, but I’m just so proud of what this team has been able to roll out to support our coworkers,” Harris says.

“There’s a saying that adversity doesn’t build character; it reveals it. That is certainly true of LeAnn,” says Rae Shanahan, chief strategy officer at Businessolver. “We’ve worked side by -side with LeAnn and her team for years, providing technology and services to help power her benefits vision for Mercy’s workforce.

“Many things have shifted dramatically over the past eighteen months,” she continues, “but LeAnn’s visionary leadership has not been one. We’re proud that Businesssolver continues to help support her in bringing Mercy’s benefits to employees so they can care for themselves and families as fully as they do for their patients.”

Along with an extensive mental health first aid kit, Harris said the organization placed a premium on listening to each other and recognizing when people need help through its Listen 1st campaign.

“Through our Mercy EAP [employee assistance program] and behavioral health services, we can provide so many tools and resources for people that need them,” the VP explains. “We’ve put together campaigns to simply let our coworkers know that this is a very hard time and that we are here to help.”

Support from All Sides

Harris says one of the silver linings of her team being sent home during the pandemic was the leg up it will offer Mercy in terms of talent attraction and retention.

“I’m fortunate to have a talented and diverse team, and had the pandemic not happened, I’m not sure the organization would have been ready to move to a work-from-home model,” Harris says. “But to be honest, I have seen some of my teams become even more productive working from home—they’ve just flourished.

“We have also been able to retain talent in this new model,” she adds. “For example, we have had a couple highly talented coworkers whose spouses have been relocated to a new state and we have been able to retain them, whereas in our old model, they would have had to resign.”

Harris says the need to check in on her team, however, shouldn’t ever be overlooked. “There are a lot of people who get most of their social interaction from their job,” Harris says. “It’s imperative to check in on my team, to see how they’re doing, and to continue to form that Mercy mission for our new coworkers, who maybe haven’t stepped foot in one of our facilities.”

Given Harris’s pride in her diverse team, it’s no shock that she’s on Mercy’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Advisory Council and serves as the chair of the Social Determinants of Coworker Health Council. One of the council’s biggest victories was the creation of the Medical Premium Assistance Program, which allows coworkers who qualify to pay healthcare premiums that are reduced by up to 50 percent.

“If we have coworkers who are deciding whether or not to get coverage, we want to be able to help make that choice much easier for them,” Harris says. The VP says that in working with Experian to determine eligibility, the program allows individuals to retain anonymity and not place an undue burden on their own dignity.

After nearly eleven years at Mercy, Harris says her knowledge that the Sisters of Mercy laid the foundation for the role she’s in today is never far from her mind.

“I always think that one of the Sisters was in one of our positions years ago,” Harris says. “We’re called to serve, and just because we’re not at the bedside doesn’t mean that our role isn’t important. We’re here to support those who are caring for our patients so they don’t have to worry about their pay or benefits.”

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Missouri is proud of our partnership with LeAnn Harris and the Mercy team. We join them in their mission to deliver a transformative health experience to the communities we serve. Thank you, LeAnn, for your continued innovation and partnership.

Aon congratulates LeAnn Harris for this well-deserved recognition. We are honored to call you a partner and friend. Aon is a leading global professional services firm providing a broad range of risk, retirement, and health solutions. We empower results for clients by using proprietary data and analytics to deliver insights that reduce volatility and improve performance. To learn more, visit aon.com.