By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS
GOSHEN — The cost of medical benefits has skyrocketed the past decade, forcing employers to come up with creative ways to continue offering benefits to employees without breaking the bank.
According to Kate Snedeker, representative of Indianapolis-based Novia Care Clinics, one route that seems to be gaining increased support among many Indiana businesses — including those right here in Elkhart County — is the use of on-site medical clinics.
Snedeker pointed to the successful on-site clinics currently being operated by Elkhart County Government and Concord Community Schools, and more recently Goshen Community Schools. Novia manages the county and Concord sites, while the Goshen site is run through a partnership with IU Health Indianapolis.
“By providing convenient access to medical care, on-site clinics have proven to increase employee health and improve productivity,” Snedeker said. “Employers win due to improved employee morale and less sick time.”
According to Carol Caviness, director of Elkhart County Human Resources, the county got into the on-site clinic game fairly early, opening two on-site clinics — one in Goshen and one in Elkhart — in early 2007.
“It has been excellent,” Caviness said of employee response to the two clinics. “I think if we were to take it away, we’d probably have a mass rebellion. The employees love it. It’s not without its kinks, but that’s true about anything. But I think both clinics have well over 90 percent utilization, meaning 90 percent of the slots we have available are utilized annually.”
Janet Gruwell, business manager for Concord Community Schools, reported similarly positive results at the corporation’s on-site clinic, which like the county sites was also opened in 2007.
“We meet with the reps that run the clinic quarterly, and they provide us with information on how well it’s being utilized,” Gruwell said. “We had 74 percent of our employees who were eligible to use the clinic use it last quarter, which was above what they would expect for usage. So it’s very popular.”
In discussing why the county went the way of the on-site clinic, Caviness pointed to a combination of both cost savings and increased employee wellness as the selling points of the decision.
“It was a combination of both cost savings and the wellness component, because the clinics are heavily geared toward having the employees take control of their medical conditions and work toward wellness,” Caviness said. “For example, every year they have to complete a health risk assessment and do a metabolic blood draw to check for any health issues.”
For those who may still be sceptical of what an on-site clinic has to offer, Caviness was quick to point out that on-site clinics are able to provide almost everything that a typical family practice can provide, and at significantly reduced cost.
“They can get physicals, cancer screening, they can have stitches put in or removed, moles removed... it’s just a wide, wide range of services,” Caviness said. “And one of the biggest things is, it doesn’t cost the employees anything. It’s part of their health plan, and the county pays the cost. We get a bill each month for the labs done, the provider hours and medications dispensed, and I would have to say we pay probably somewhere in the area of 45 to 55 percent less than you would pay out in the marketplace. So it’s a significant savings.”
According to Jerry Hawkins, coordinator of business affairs for Goshen Community Schools, one of the biggest positives associated with the on-site clinic model is that it is often able to reach those employees who may not have had a regular physician in the past. The corporation officially established its own on-site clinic in February of this year.
“One of the things that really surprised us was how many of our employees, particularly our new employees coming in, didn’t have a regular primary care physician,” Hawkins said. “This clinic isn’t about trying to take away from those who already have great doctors. This is more about helping those who maybe didn’t have that primary care physician to begin with and giving them an additional piece to their medical pie. It’s one option designed to supplement what’s already out there.”
As for potential drawbacks to the on-site model, Caviness could point to only one thing, lack of flexibility in clinic appointments.
“The biggest drawback is it’s not a walk-in clinic. You can’t just go in, you have to have an appointment scheduled, or it messes up the whole day,” Caviness said, noting that the average clinic visit is only about 10 to 20 minutes long. “We do actually set aside some acute or urgent care slots, because especially with kids you don’t know when they’re going to be sick. So if someone has a need to get in, they can call the 1-800 number, and those people will work as diligently as possible to squeeze someone in.”
Other than that, Caviness said she couldn’t be more pleased with how adoption of the on-site medical clinics has worked out for the county.
“I would say it’s meeting expectations 99.9 percent of the time,” Caviness said. “I think the biggest thing that surprised me was the overwhelmingly positive outlook from the employees. I knew it would be embraced, but I didn’t know it would be to this extent.”
Gruwell was quick to agree.
“I think we were a little surprised at how quickly people did take to it and start taking advantage of it rather than going someplace they’re used to,” Gruwell said. “They were willing to try this and give it a chance, and it has turned out great.”