Commissioners Consider Free Health Clinic for County Employees

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In a move to save on health care costs, Wake County Commissioners are mulling opening two free health clinics for employees.

Staff is recommending the county open two employee health clinics where employees could receive free routine exams and checkups instead of visiting their doctor.

The two potential locations are the fourteenth floor of the new county courthouse and a to-be-determined office near the county’s Swinburne and Sunnybrook offices. Between the two, the clinics would be open 40 hours a week during normal business hours. The offices would be staffed by a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant and a nurse. A physician would also be available for health consultations.

Employees who go to the clinic during working hours wouldn’t have to use personal time, which county staff said would increase productivity.

The clinic would offer standard services, such as routine blood work, help managing an existing medical condition or help for those who are sick.

Deputy County Manager Johnna Rogers told the Record that since the county is self-insured, it pays for all of the claims made by its employees and their dependents.

When a county employee sees his or her family doctor, Blue Cross Blue Shield handles and pays for the claim. The county then reimburses Blue Cross Blue Shield for the cost.

Last year, county employees and their dependents made about 48,000 doctor visits.

An on-site clinic will save money, Rogers said, because the cost would be less than what a regular family doctor would charge. The county would also save in the long term because employees would be able to manage chronic conditions, which eventually lead to increased health care costs.

A three-year contract with Marathon, the company that could potentially operate and staff the clinics, would cost the county about $1.3 million throughout the contract term. That fixed cost would include everything needed for the facility, including supplies and salaries.

The county would also pay $40,000 to upfit both locations.

Rogers said because the county expects to see a savings as employees opt to use the clinic, no additional funding is needed.

At the Commissioners’ work session Monday, Commissioner Paul Coble questioned how many employees would actually use the clinic. According to a survey done by the county, 85 percent of the respondents said they would use the clinic, but that was only one-third of the total number of employees already enrolled in the county health plan. He said many people don’t want to do business with their employer for fear that their employer will start collecting personal medical data.

Rogers said that just like with Blue Cross Blue Shield, the county will get aggregate data from Marathon, but nothing specific to a particular employee. All potential vendors told county staff that the first year is often slow, but participation increases as the program continues.

Commissioners will vote on the Marathon contract at their next meeting April 15.

Safety of Public Safety Facility Questioned
Commissioners continued to discuss a possible partnership with the City of Raleigh for a new location for the county’s emergency operations center.

The center would be located within the proposed critical public safety facility that is being built by the city to house its emergency operations center, the 911 call center, IT data center and traffic control center.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $69 million, with Wake County kicking in $4 million if it chooses to locate its emergency center there.

Coble has been an outspoken opponent of the city’s decision to locate the facility above ground. He often recalls being in New York City prior to Sept. 11 when city officials were touting their above-ground emergency communications system that went down during the terrorist attacks.

On Monday, he said the city is making a mistake and the county shouldn’t be compounding it.

Commissioner Phil Matthews also expressed hesitations about locating the facility above ground.

Daniel Howe, Raleigh’s assistant city manager, said the city is trying to weigh safety with a positive work environment for the employees who will be in the center 24 hours a day.

Steve Loomis, one of the designers for the facility, said that given the risk factors as identified in the risk assessment there isn’t a difference between locating the building above ground or below.

He added that the Pentagon, one of the buildings hit during the Sept. 11 attacks, has its operations center above ground.

There is, however, a $5.8 million cost difference.

Coble said those numbers are misleading because it doesn’t compare two new facilities, just the existing facility with an underground component.

The county finds itself, quite literally, between a rock and a hard place when it comes to its emergency operations center.

Today, the center is located under the courthouse, but it has outgrown the space and will need to relocate at some point.

County Manager David Cooke said that staff hasn’t looked into the cost of constructing a separate county facility.

Commissioners and City Councilors are expected to vote on an agreement in May.

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