Accolade: Where success is measured in changing lives

Accolade Inc. was voted top midsized workplace by a survey that was distributed by Workplace Dynamics to over 26,000 employees across 154 companies in the Philadelphia region. (Hillary Petrozziello / Staff Photographer)

How many people go to work knowing that they are making a difference in peoples' lives each day?

That's the mission at Accolade, a Plymouth Meeting company, whose professional health assistants help employees at large companies make informed decisions about health benefits and healthcare.

"One family at a time, I think we're potentially changing health care in this country," said Accolade CEO Tom Spann.

The company has been selected again as a top workplace for a midsized company in the Philadelphia region, its third consecutive honor based on how employees answered an annual survey distributed by WorkplaceDynamics. In all three years, Accolade's workforce has doubled.

The company was only established six years ago. So what do Accolade's 426 staff members - including nurses, pharmacists, doctors, and psychologists, among others - think makes their employer the best?

In surveys, and in person, employees cited their co-workers, the workplace environment and culture, but most of all the personal connections they make with their clients and the meaningful impact they can have in their lives.

"I came here because I really wanted to make a difference in peoples' lives, and we really do that," said Meg Hunsberger, a registered nurse and clinical health assistant at the company. "We help them when they're really emotional or have a healthcare issue that has emotion attached to it, and we help support them and guide them during the entire process."

The company's unconventional approach to healthcare forms a relationship with the client, and answers any questions they may have about benefits or clinical services, which can pose challenges for the consumer. Among other duties, health assistants schedule doctor appointments for their clients and monitor their care.

"We actually help them get the right care the first time," Spann said. "Then they're happier, they're healthier, it costs less, their employer saves money. And we feel better about what we're doing, and we're growing from the success."

The company says it helps clients save about eight percent in healthcare costs each year.

"They're going to the doctor when they should, they're staying on their medicine, because you have this relationship that's helping them do all these things," Spann said. "And that's keeping them out of the hospital, all the really expensive stuff, instead of not getting the right care their first time."

To forge that long-term relationship, health assistants even conduct monthly checks on clients - even if they're not seeking care at the time. They're with them from the time of diagnosis through testing and treatment, and even afterwards. The whole process begins with a simple call.

"Every single call is an opportunity here to change someone's life, even if it's in a small way," said Caroline DeZolt, another health assistant with the company. "It's amazing what we get to do here, the way that we get to help out the clientele."

Like other employees, DeZolt and Hunsberger work on a coordinated team to ensure each client understands both the medical and insurance aspects of healthcare. Hunsberger, who has been a registered nurse for 24 years, helps with the medical part, and DeZolt helps with insurance.

"Healthcare is really confusing," DeZolt said. "It's complicated, it's forever evolving and changing, and to be able to just help somebody with that one small part of their life, I think it takes a lot of stress off our clients to know that we can do that for them, and in turn, it makes you feel really good."

Such enthusiasm is infectious among Accolade employees. They not only worry about helping their clients, they focus on helping each other as well.

"The culture here is incredible," one respondent wrote in response to the WorkplaceDynamics survey. "Accolade strives to hire the best people with the best attitudes. The people who work here really care about the clients and about each other. People aren't afraid to ask questions or to use each other as a resource."

Some said the work atmosphere is like a "family," with employees in different departments supporting and helping each other, whether it's giving advice or answering questions.

"We created an environment where there are only two rules: you do the right thing for your clients every time, and you support each other," Spann said.

Hunsberger said she comes to work knowing she has the support of her team and managers, and that makes her job that much more pleasant.

"As a registered nurse, if I don't have the exact answer, I have a lot of resources to help me - whether it's my pharmacist, medical director, or even just my colleagues - everyone comes here with a great knowledge base," she said. "I like coming to work not only because of the clients and meeting new people, but I really like the people I work with."

Last month, Forbes ranked Accolade number 25 on its list of America's 100 Most Promising Companies, and in 2012, Inc. 500 ranked it as the fastest growing healthcare company in America.

Innovation fuels that explosive growth. In this year's WorkplaceDynamics survey, Accolade scored the top award in the new ideas category, which demonstrated that employees feel as though new ideas are strongly encouraged.

Each week, employees submit more than 100 requests and suggestions for improving how the company serves their clients and how to make it more of an enjoyable work environment.

The feedback from those ideas is another reason employees cited for why the company stands out and is a great place to work.

Accolade recently moved its offices to a new building, and it was designed based on employee feedback. For example, they lowered the walls to improve collaboration and light.

The company also shows its gratitude to its employees by offering free fruit and access to a gym right in the building. Bowls of bananas and apples are visible throughout the office.

"We want it to be a good work environment," Spann said. "It's a hard job, we're dealing with tough issues, and we're a health care company. The natural thought is to bring in snacks and cookies and cake and candy, so we stoked the place with fruit."

Producer Lauren Mennen writes for the Health and Jobs channels on