ELCA NEWS SERVICE
October 19, 2006
ELCA Bishops Told of Urgent Need for Health, Wellness of Leaders
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- Citing statistics gleaned from health analysis reports, the president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Board of Pensions said the church may not be able to grow unless its professional leaders embrace a stronger health and wellness discipline.
John G. Kapanke made the comment Oct. 9 in a report to the ELCA Conference of Bishops that he said would be "a courageous conversation" because of its urgency. The ELCA Conference of Bishops is an advisory body of the church, consisting of the ELCA's 65 synod bishops, presiding bishop and secretary. It met here Oct. 5-10.
Kapanke told the conference that the Board estimates "a fairly low percentage" of the church's professional leaders actually live healthy lives. "We must change our ways to keep this church viable," he said.
For the past three years the Board, working with the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., has offered an online health risk assessment and encouraged church leaders -- most of whom are clergy -- to participate. The assessment asked participants a series of questions about their overall health and suggested ways they can maintain good health. Participants are given an individualized assessment of various risk factors, Kapanke said. This year's assessment was conducted in January and February.
Data from the 2006 assessment shows some areas of concern, Kapanke said. For example, professional leaders have an average of 4.3 risk factors, he said. The data show that about 1.8 of the risk factors are related to "medical risk" or inherited conditions that a person cannot control.
About 2.5 factors are lifestyle risks, Kapanke reported, citing lack of exercise, poor eating habits, some smoking and some excessive alcohol consumption.
"That's high. All of the statistics I related to the bishops are above average, and some are significantly above average," he told the ELCA News Service in an interview.
In addition Kapanke said, in the 2006 data about 71 percent of the participants have risk factors because of poor nutrition; 69 percent are overweight; 64 percent are at risk for the consequences of high blood pressure; 63 percent indicate that they have poor emotional health; 35 percent are at risk for the consequences of lack of physical exercise; and 13 percent indicate they take medication for depression.
About 2,500 people took the online health risk assessment in 2006, Kapanke said. Participant numbers have declined from the first year the assessment was offered when about 4,500 people participated, he said.
To get a better picture of the total membership of the ELCA health plan administered by the Board, Kapanke said the Board asked Watson Wyatt, a global consulting firm based in Washington, D.C., to do an analysis. Kapanke said the firm's findings were "startling."
The findings showed that 7 percent of the health plan's "covered lives" had claims of more than $10,000 annually, amounting to 56 percent of total medical and pharmacy claims. "So, 7 percent of our (clients) are driving 56 percent of our claims costs. Both of those numbers are higher than the average," Kapanke said.
"It gets worse," Kapanke said. Participants in the health plan have much higher incidence of "catastrophic claims," which are claims of $25,000 or more, when compared to participants in a national database in which the ELCA participates. That database -- the National Data Cooperative -- includes health plan participants from the ELCA, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and about 37 other corporations, he said.
"Our catastrophic claims, as compared to others in that group, were three times higher," Kapanke said.
Trends in health for ELCA professional leaders are "deteriorating," Kapanke said, which is why the Board asked for the Watson Wyatt analysis.
Health care costs may affect the church's mission
Kapanke urged the bishops to revisit the Board's whole health and wellness concept and emphasized the importance of its "Wholeness Wheel." The Wholeness Wheel emphasizes a balanced lifestyle for good health and includes emotional, physical, vocational, intellectual and social/interpersonal well-being.
"I wanted to cite some of this data and underscore the importance of needed lifestyle changes, because we're not making improvements," he said in the interview. "In fact we're going the other way."
Kapanke quoted from a recent ELCA new release about mission starts. The release reported that the ELCA places a priority on starting new congregations. He compared that to the poor health statistics of the church's professional leaders.
"We firmly believe that healthy leaders enhance lives, and if we don't have healthy leaders ... we're not going to have effective leaders, and we won't be able to grow this church. I wanted to drive home that message -- that there is a correlation between healthy leaders and having a viable church," Kapanke said.
Health care costs affect the church's mission financially, he said. In recent years, mission support -- funds shared with synods and the ELCA churchwide organization by congregations -- has declined slightly. Health care costs will take more and more mission dollars, he said.
In 2005, Kapanke said, mission support was about 9 percent of total income, and health costs were about 4 percent. If current trends remain, in 2013 the numbers will flip, he said, with about 8 percent of total income to go for health care costs, leaving about 5 percent for mission support.
Kapanke seeks bishops' help to change health trends
There isn't much the church can do about rising health care costs in general, but it can focus attention on the underlying factors that affect health trends and try to make improvements, the Board president said.
Specifically, Kapanke asked the bishops to use the Board's wholeness wheel for maintaining good health and consider making it a focus in synods. He suggested health and wellness as the theme of a synod assembly, which could include serving healthier foods and snacks, and regular breaks for physical activity. Kapanke also suggested the bishops call on Tammy L. Devine, the Board's wellness coordinator, and build on the wellness theme using the ELCA social statement, "Caring for Health: Our Shared Endeavor," adopted at the 2003 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.
"If bishops take the leadership role here and (serve as) good models and talk about it, slowly we can maybe begin to change attitudes and have people embrace the overall health and wellness much stronger than they have in the past. That was really my challenge to the bishops," he said.
Kapanke asked the bishops to encourage more professional leaders to take the annual health risk assessment in 2007.
Hear some of John Kapanke's comments on the Web at: