The rising cost and toll of employees who struggle with stress and mental illness has prompted Fairview Health to roll out a new service for Minnesota businesses.

The Minneapolis-based hospital and clinic system is branching out with a direct-to-employer mental health program, which will operate much like standard employee-assistance call lines except that it will provide workers immediate access to therapists rather than go-betweens who screen their needs first.

“We’re trying to resolve behavioral health issues with the counselors they present to,” said Rene Coult-Calendine, Fairview’s vice president of market and product development.

Many large companies have employee-assistance programs, and while some offer meaningful support, some are little more than distant call centers that allow employers to “check the box” that they have offered help to their workers, Coult-Calendine said. In most cases, they’re usually one step removed from actual care.

And trends suggest more intervention is needed. The Lancet Commission on Global Mental Health estimated last month that the world’s economy will have lost $16 trillion between 2010 and 2030 because of mental illness, primarily because of a loss of 12 billion employee working days every year.

Fairview’s approach would range from on-site counselors or psychologists at individual workplaces, to dial-up and online options, to open access to therapists at nine of its clinics. The benefit would extend to spouses and children 13 and older.

The approach would cost more upfront for employers, but could save them money later because their health plans wouldn’t have to pay claims for therapy visits for workers, or the associated health care costs of people who leave their mental disorders untreated, Coult-Calendine said.

“The workers who don’t get treatment spend two to four times as much on health resources,” she said.

The program, which will be offered to employers starting in 2019, also reflects a wider trend in health care: providers trying to cut out another middleman, health insurance companies, by working directly with employers. A survey last year by Willis Towers Watson found that 6 percent of employers were contracting directly with providers for exclusive and lower-cost health care, and 22 percent were considering it for 2019.

Northwestern Health Sciences University in Bloomington reported earlier this year that its WorkSiteRight model of placing alternative practitioners in workplaces saved $8 for every $1 that employers spent on them.