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Firms invest in partner health

|Written By Daryl-Lynn Carlson

It can be said that partners at the national law firm Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP have cheated death - not once, but at least three times now.

Sharon Mitchell

That, says Sharon Mitchell, the firm’s chief operating officer, is hardly a dramatization. For almost seven years, Gowlings has been offering its partners health assessments at private clinics as a perk.

The clinics provide medical checkups that are far more thorough than a standard visit to one’s family physician that is covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.

The investment by the firm has paid off. One young woman partner was diagnosed with early stages of breast cancer, a young male partner learned he had prostate cancer, and another attended his appointment presenting symptoms that indicated he was in the throes of having a heart attack.

All three of the partners have recovered, although Mitchell says it’s probable none would have been diagnosed through an OHIP-covered visit to their family physician, as they likely wouldn’t have been tested for their respective illnesses due to their age or likewise wouldn’t have thought it necessary to even see a physician at all.

“We have had a number of partners who, because they’ve been diagnosed early, have been able to prevent a potentially life-threatening illness and get treatment,” says Mitchell.

Offering thorough medical examinations at private health clinics is an increasingly popular perk as law firms and companies strive to keep their top performers healthy and stress-free.

Typically, private clinics such as Ageless in Toronto, Medcan Health Management Inc., Medisys Health Group, or La Vie Executive Health Centre, charge between $1,200 and $2,000 for a medical examination.

The head-to-toe checkup includes electrocardiogram and stress testing, an ultrasound of all vital organs, pulmonary studies, bone density surveys, a prostate or gynecological assessment, blood tests, and a check of both hearing and vision.

It also includes a nutritional assessment and advice on how to become proactive to prevent any illness the physicians at the clinic have determined the patient is prone to.

The examination takes roughly four to five hours, albeit in a relaxing, sometimes pampering setting and there’s no time wasted waiting for the physician’s availability.

Workplaces see value in ensuring their top performers are healthy, recognizing that the long-term absence of any partner or key executive can be detrimental to business and well exceed the cost of the checkup investment.

Mercer LLC human resource consultancy found that in Canada, 72 per cent of CEOs and presidents, along with 68 per cent of senior executives were being offered private clinic medical exams by their workplaces in 2006 –– a marked increase from just 42 per cent and 37 per cent for each management group respectively four years earlier.

At Gowlings, partners can also obtain a corporate rate for family members to attend a private clinic of their choice, says Mitchell.

She personally has attended the Medcan’s private clinic for an annual checkup for several years now.

“We feel it’s not only a benefit to the partners, but also to the firm,” she says. “Lawyers, like lots of people, are very busy and instead of having to go to the doctor and then going for blood tests or other tests somewhere else, they can do it all at once. Sometimes you can wait months to get in for some tests. Having healthy partners contributes to the firm’s health and its ability to provide service at the highest level.”

She adds, however, that the checkups are not mandated and not all the partners yet take advantage of the benefit, although based on the results of several younger partners, she wishes more would.

“You never used to hear about stuff that goes on that you do nowadays with younger people,” says Mitchell. “Is it the environment? It’s really quite astonishing when you hear some of the things that people are experiencing in a large firm like ours.”

While a lawyer’s health or medical history is not an underwriting criterion for professional insurance, Duncan Gosnell, vice president of underwriting for LawPRO, commends the perk.

“For insurance purposes, there is neither an advantage or disadvantage in undertaking regular medical checkups,” says Gosnell. “However, we do know that lawyers are exposed to high levels of stress on a daily basis, and that stress is a contributing factor in many LawPRO claims. Stress can result in misuse or addiction to drugs or alcohol, physical challenges, and relationship and mental wellness issues.”

He points out that through its practicePRO risk management program, LawPRO strives to provide lawyers with information and resources that help them manage stress, and achieve more healthy and balanced lifestyles.

“To the extent that regular medical checkups can help identify stress-related issues that could affect lawyers’ health and work/life balance - and potentially their law practice - we would encourage lawyers to take advantage of these opportunities,” Gosnell says.

LawPRO also helps fund the Ontario Lawyers’ Assistance Program that provides confidential, peer-to-peer counselling to lawyers experiencing stress-related problems. Still, facilitating prevention can be a valuable investment, particularly in the current economic climate.

“Financial and emotional strain is caused when a key person, employee, partner, or owner is off work for a significant period of time or unable to return to work at all due to a serious illness,” says Catherine Gaudet, vice president of operations at Ageless in Toronto’s private executive clinic located in Vaughan.

“As a business owner, co-owner, or partner with a family, you have a number of people relying on you for a secure lifestyle.”

Gaudet acknowledges the client list at Ageless is growing despite the slumping economy, a factor she attributes to the rising recognition that the cost of replacing a partner or redistributing their caseload far outweighs the investment in preventive health measures.

“The loss of one person can have a financial strain on the business.”

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