Blue Promise: How Can We Fuel the Health of Our Energy Workforce? (Part 1)

Texas is the number one state in the U.S. for oil and natural gas. It's a massive industry, credited for more than 348,000 jobs across the state. Despite this workforce's robust health care benefits, they still face a unique set of challenges. Energy expert Rod Branch, Chief Human Resources Officer at HydroChemPSC, shares his insights in this episode of Blue Promise. He's joined by Heather Linton, Divisional Vice President of National Accounts and Energy at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas.  

Continue with the conversation and view the part 2: Blue Promise: How Can We Fuel the Health of Our Energy Workforce? (Part 2)

You can listen to the complete discussion on Apple Podcasts SoundCloud  or wherever you listen to podcasts. You can also watch the video recording of this podcast on YouTube 

Blue Promise is a podcast and online video blog that aims to address complicated health issues with candid conversations from subject matter experts. New editions are published regularly and are hosted by Dr. Dan McCoy, President of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, and his co-host, Ross Blackstone, Director of Strategic Influence. 

Show Transcript

DAN:Texas is the number one state in the U.S. for oil and natural gas. Its massive industry creating more than three hundred forty eight thousand jobs across the state. But when it comes to health care this audience comes with a unique set of challenges. Find out more in this episode of blue promise. 

DAN: Thanks for tuning in. I'm Dr. Dean McCoy and I'm the president of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas. I'm here with my co-host Ross Blackstone.

ROSS: Thank you Dr. McCoy, We have two guests here with us today Rod branch is the chief human resources officer at Hydro PSC and Heather Linton is the divisional vice president of National Accounts and energy here at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas. Thank you both for being here. Thanks for having me. OK. So this podcast really focuses on health care. You guys are experts in the energy sector but there is a synergy between health care and energy in the state of Texas Heather could you kind of explain what that synergy is all about.  

HEATHER: Yes. So in Texas there's over 340000 people that are directly an oil and gas jobs. And so it really is a lot of the folks that we cover here at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas a lot of our membership is in that industry and so it's an important industry for us to understand because there are some unique challenges that people in the industry face when trying to access health care.

ROSS: And it's a growing population I think there's just between 2017 and 2018 we added almost 27000 energy related jobs here in the state of Texas. So it's increasingly impacting more of our economy. Maybe just to level set a little bit more before we dig too much deeper in and I will ask of both of you guys, Heather maybe if you want to kick us off what is the energy sector the energy industry what are we talking about what kind of jobs are we talking about.

HEATHER: So for us the energy industry is oil and gas related jobs that we're talking about midstream upstream downstream jobs and even shipping utility and even nuclear power plants so anyone that's directly in jobs that are part of the economy bringing energy to us whether it's in the form of natural gas crude oil utility electric so all of those all of those different employers represent a lot of jobs here in our state.

DAN: Well Rod Let me ask you a quick question here so I'm just going to pick on Heather here for a minute. So she said these jobs are unique. I mean that these problems and challenges are unique. I would argue if seeing that kind of landscape health care in Texas access to health care is challenging for a lot of people. So what's what's special about oil and gas.

ROD: Well what's special about oil and gas is these people are a distributed workforce. They're out in the elements they're offshore away from any kind of services except kind of a medic team that are there the pipeline people are very remote in between you know the centers of populations. They're they're out in the elements all the time in the field

DAN: And these are high risk jobs?

ROD: Very high risk jobs there's a certain level of safety risk with all of these jobs you know plus you know in their downtime it's a fairly masculine workforce. So you have used to so you're sedentary life issues and you know you've got diabetes and hypertension and things like that that are kind of rampant in those kind of workforces

DAN: So let's dissect that just for a minute there because you you kind of talked about two different issues so the one on the one hand I would assume that there's a lot of challenges with acute care access trauma you know urgent care illnesses and things like that. It's a relatively younger workforce probably but because there's a lot of those kind of active related diseases. Is that fair?

ROD: We.. our average worker is 40 years old. So this is when these these

DAN: I count that is younger.

ROD: Yeah absolutely. That's way younger. But that's that's when these these lifestyle sort of issues start showing up at the 40 year old age and you know we've we've got them in Wyoming and North Dakota and West Texas and and sometimes out of the population centers in those sparsely populated states. And so we have to have an emergency plan for all of that all the time. How do we get these people if they're hurt on the job to those centers of excellence around.

DAN: And then I guess the flipside from that is all these people are developing chronic diseases which are harder to manage in a traditional relationship because they can't maybe not have the same pharmacists, may not have the same access to their physician, something like that. Is that fair?

ROD: It's very fair and a lot of these people when they do have some sort of affliction have to have to travel hundreds of miles to get to you know well-equipped hospital or or you know something above urgent care

ROSS: So Rod one of the things that I wanted to ask you about was trends in the energy sector. And I know one of them is just transactions between companies and companies buying purchasing one another requiring each other are merging together. And that also affects health care because there's a communication issue. There's a culture change. Could you talk on that a little bit and Heather you might you probably have some experience with other clients as well. How does how do those factors play together.

ROD: Well we went through a period and certainly in the 80s with a lot of major mergers. And lately it's it's gotten back to a much more of the smaller company mergers the service company mergers private equity coming in and buying buying up similar businesses and merging together. And so from from a health care standpoint it's really challenging when it comes to what people are used to. So there's a change management issue there around you know what they're what their finances were able to afford. Whether they're self-funded or fully funded and and a lot of those change management issues are not well understood by my employees. And in fact not well understood by some of the some of the leadership. And so there's a change management issue even within the company to get people to understand the differences between the two and what it means to people you know if you if you are offering a PPO and you merge with a company who doesn't offer that going to a consumer driven health plan is a big change. And some families are not really equipped to doing that. So the communication has to be ramped up really big and then. But this is a mindful thing and when we have consultants who come in and do the assessments on these mergers for us that's one of the major concerns and one that we have to be prepared to deal with

DAN: That creates some challenges because you're also not managing an employee over extended period of time you use the word distributive earlier. But I guess also and I'm just making an assumption you correct me if I'm wrong that there's a lot of movement of employees among companies and in the energy sector too that they may work for one company and then because there's so much growth they make grt a better offer from someone else and so there's quite a bit of movement within that sector is that fair too?

ROD: It is fair and you know most companies these days have a 90 day waiting period when people change. So that's a consideration for the families sometimes it's important to them and sometimes it's not as important if the money's a big enough difference for them. We deal with with the issues around our business being cyclicals. So we do a lot of turnaround work in refineries which we might need two hundred and fifty people for four or five weeks and then we only need about 50 people after that. And so if we can't absorb those people into the business they have to go find work elsewhere and if we get a chance to talk about it later the gig economy actually works really well for us in that area.

DAN: So I'm going to go down a path in a minute before I get there and talk a little bit about what you just what you just mentioned cause I think it's actually pretty fascinating if you look at the success of Texas and we've had economist on here on the podcast before and we've talked about the market trends. Energy's a big deal to Texas. In fact if you look forward for the next 30 to 40 years it looks like it's going to it's going to be a big deal. How important is solving these health care challenges to maintaining a healthy sector in the energy economy?

HEATHER: I would say that it's really important. So Midland is the fastest growing city in the state of Texas which you know seems unheard of 10 years ago. But Midland is where kind of the capital of the Permian Basin. So out in West Texas where a lot of oil and gas is being explored and it's no longer a boomtown. So now you hear people talking about the need for permanent infrastructure roads health care child care also schools. You have this huge population growth and then you end up with public schools they don't have enough teachers. So it's a long term opportunity but there's a lot of short term and long term problems to get there.

DAN: And that was really where I was going next which was one of the kind of confounding factors for Texas and probably true with oil and gas everywhere I don't think it's just unique to Texas is that many much of the oil and gas is in areas that are relatively less dense and population and infrastructure. And in Texas that's rural Texas. We often talk about rural health. So in addition to the challenge we have in energy it sounds like that this also kind of accelerates and expands some of the challenges in rural role America. Is that fair?

ROD: That is fair and when you roll in the fact that these people are you know a little bit more prone maybe to diabetes and hypertension and these problems that can really cause major health issues these aren't just rashes and you know skin irritations these are..

DAN: Be careful, I’m a Dermatologist.

ROD: I realize that but these are major life threatening health issues that getting that sort of support is going to be very important going forward.

ROSS: Well so you talk about diabetes I am curious what are the most prevalent claims that we see within that energy sector?  What are the most prevalent health care claims?

HEATHER: So some of it Rod’s already talked about.  We do see a lot of diabetes hypertension but there's also a lot of cancer and that goes back to you saying people are out in the elements a lot. So they're out in the sun they're out working jobs, absolutely. 

ROSS: Well Dr. McCoy clearly there are some unique challenges that face the energy sector but I think that a lot of the solutions for the energy sector could also apply to employers and other industries so coming up in our next segment we're going to talk about some of those solutions.

DAN: And thanks for joining us for this segment of Blue Promise. 


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