Original story by Alissa Widmann Neese
The Columbus Dispatch
Any other winter, Jill Webb might have ignored the sniffles, coughing and congestion settling in her chest.
Waiting for an illness to run its course sometimes seems simpler than scheduling an appointment, taking a day off work and spending time in a crowded waiting room to see a doctor, she said.
But this year, the Gahanna city employee just walked across the street on her lunch break for a free appointment that took less than 30 minutes, including filling a prescription.
“It was totally hassle-free,” said Webb, an engineering program technician.
Gahanna is one of a growing number of Ohio municipalities that have established a near-site health clinic for its employees and their dependents. The arrangements not only make accessing health care more convenient and affordable for employees, but also help self-insured employers cut costs by reducing their number of claims.
Self-insured employers operate an insurance plan themselves instead of purchasing a fully insured plan from a carrier, which typically tacks on additional costs. But if a self-insured employer processes more claims than expected, the arrangement can sometimes be more costly.
Gahanna is a member of the Central Ohio Health Care Consortium with nine other self-insured local governments.
Its near-site health clinic opened Jan. 2 and Webb was one of the first in line.
ExpressMed Urgent Care, in partnership with Mount Carmel Health, has a contract with Gahanna to provide the services in its existing facility at Rocky Fork Boulevard and South Hamilton Road, adjacent to Gahanna City Hall. Gahanna employees can schedule primary care appointments in advance or visit during normal business hours for urgent care. There is no co-pay charged.
A pharmacy is on-site, though some medicines might not be stocked, requiring a visit to another pharmacy. The clinic also doesn’t employ specialists.
Mount Carmel Health will coordinate follow-up care after appointments and general wellness programming for employees.
Gahanna expects to pay $140,000 for the arrangement in its first year.
In that time frame, it’s expected to save $109,000 by reducing the number of visits employees make to urgent care and emergency rooms for services that could be handled at the clinic, Gahanna Mayor Tom Kneeland said.
That figure doesn’t include savings associated with primary-care services, prescriptions and on-the-job injuries, which haven’t been estimated but will be calculated at the end of the year.
The arrangement has proven successful in other area communities.
Whitehall opened a near-site health clinic in 2014 in partnership with KeyPoint Medical and has saved about $958,000 during that time, city development director Zach Woodruff said.
The clinic has since expanded to serve Whitehall school district employees.
Kneeland, who once worked as Whitehall’s technology director, said he enjoyed the clinic’s benefits so much that he made establishing one in Gahanna a priority after he took office in 2016.
“The ability to call and get an almost immediate appointment was amazing and the personalized service the clinic provided was extraordinary,” he said.
Near-site and on-site health clinics have been a popular arrangement for years for private businesses, but have just recently gained popularity among governmental entities nationwide, said Larry Borres, executive director of the National Association of Worksite Health Clinics.
It can sometimes take time for employees to buy into the new concept, meaning maximum savings might not be realized for a few years, Borres said. But he believes that in time it will become a more-common practice.
By 2020, it’s estimated 65 percent or so of large employers will have one, an increase from 50 percent today, according to the association’s projections. About one-third of employers of all sizes currently have one.
For many employees, the clinic becomes their primary source of medical care, Borres said.
Though cutting costs is important, officials and employees agreed that perhaps the greatest benefits of near-site health clinics are those that aren’t measured by price: employee health, happiness, retention and productivity.
“Getting treatment easier is a huge benefit, regardless of the cost,” said Robert Alexander, an equipment operator for Gahanna’s water department and an employee union president.
“We’ll be taking less time off work, taking care of illnesses and spreading less germs,” he said. “That alone makes it worth it in my mind.”