When using the analogy of “the domino effect,” the prompted image is of dominoes falling down. However, when it comes to employee health clinics, the metaphor works in reverse. As per the definition, one change causes another change that causes another. And in this case, the dominoes pull one another up.
Consider the “when-dominoes-fall” scenario. A county employee feels flu symptoms coming on. He ignores the symptoms because he has too much to do at work, and he cannot spare the time to wait in a long line. Eventually, he calls in sick and makes an appointment with an outside provider. In the end, he lost more time at work, spent more money on treatment, and possibly infected other employees by working while contagious.
What if the illness wasn’t the flu? What if the employee ignored the symptoms of diabetes or heart disease? In these cases, the dominoes would fall more heavily bringing with them increased claims, loss in productivity, and more importantly, severe health risks.
County employee health clinics have the potential to reverse the falling dominoes, propping up qualifying officials, staff, and dependents with preventive care and prompt treatment.
On the House
The Brazoria County Health and Wellness Center (clinic) was established in October 2012.
Any employee, dependent age 2 and older, or retiree who is on the county’s medical plan is eligible to use the Wellness Center, explained Mary Jo Baumeister, benefit advocate for the Brazoria County Department of Human Resources.
The visits are “on the house,” Baumeister emphasized, meaning the qualifying patient is not charged a copay when he or she visits the Wellness Center, and the county’s self-funded plan does not receive a claim.
Current services include annual physicals, vaccinations, flu shots, urgent care, primary care, and blood draws, Baumeister continued. The county employee is able to schedule same-day appointments Monday-Friday and use county time when visiting the clinic, which is located within a 10-minute drive of over 70 percent of Brazoria County worksites.
The Wellness Center is 100 percent county funded, Baumeister detailed, and the equipment is county-owned. In 2018, Brazoria County spent approximately $630,000 on the employee clinic.
Personnel are provided by the clinic manager, the Next Level Health and Wellness Branch of Next Level Urgent Care
Brazoria County clinic patients have access to a phone app that allows them to schedule their appointments, offered Cheryl Bertrand, director of marketing and business development for Next Level Urgent Care. Patients receive reminder notices that allow them to confirm or cancel their appointments.
“If it is after hours or on the weekend, we have a map for the closest Next Level Urgent Care near them to keep employees from over utilizing the emergency rooms when not necessary,” Bertrand added. Next Level also manages county employee clinics in Fort Bend and Montgomery counties.
The advantage to Brazoria County as a whole is reduction of lost productivity time, Baumeister shared. The clinic is also a selling point in recruitment of new hires.
“Investing in the well-being of our employees is a priority in Brazoria County,” emphasized County Judge L. M. “Matt” Sebesta Jr. “With our on-site clinic, we are able to contain medical costs, identify health conditions earlier, and assist employees in managing chronic conditions.
“The clinic is convenient as it more easily allows employees to fit appointments into their schedule,” Sebesta observed.
The Montgomery County Wellness Center has been open since 2009, and the medical services are currently being provided at no charge to eligible employees and their dependents, shared Virginia K. Little, director of risk management. Montgomery County owns the Wellness Center building and equipment; the county spent approximately $1.3 million on the clinic in 2018.
“For the employer, it helps to reduce the number of claims that would have otherwise been presented at higher outside costs to the self-funded medical plan or the self-funded workers’ compensation program,” Little reported. “It benefits both employee and employer in an effort to reduce employee time away from work when seeking medical services for themselves or their family members while still providing them with access to top quality medical professionals.”
All county employees are eligible at the time of employment to use the Wellness Center for on-the-job injuries. Full-time employees may access medical services from the Wellness Center upon hire date if they elect to participate in the county’s medical plan, Little specified. Their participating dependents may seek medical services upon their effective date of coverage on the medical plan.
“The Wellness Center has shown to be beneficial to employees and their families by adding a convenient and accessible option for health care appointments by ensuring they can be seen much more quickly than is often possible when scheduling through outside primary care physicians,” Little elaborated.
From the perspective of the county, the Wellness Center has certainly reduced the hours of missed work that comes with employees often having to travel farther to see outside primary care physicians, Little reported.
Montgomery County has approximately 2,500 employees, said Commissioner Mike Meador, and many of them are located downtown right by the Wellness Center.
Annual Health Risk Assessments help with early detection of diseases such as hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and diabetes.
“Employees and their dependents who are regularly seeking disease management services will stay healthier and lower their need for emergency room visits and hospitalizations,” Little offered. Equally important to Montgomery County is the capability of the Wellness Center staff to offer education opportunities on a number of health topics, frequently traveling to work locations to offer classes on-site.
“We are very pleased with the way the Wellness Center has worked out,” Meador summarized. Along with curtailing costs, employees are not only missing fewer work hours, but they are pleased.
In fact, just before Meador shared his perspective on the clinic, he had visited with a county employee who had commented on a sore throat. The employee walked over to the clinic the same day, was diagnosed with strep throat, and offered a prescription. That evening, a clinic representative called to check on him.
“The more employees treated at the Wellness Center, the better off we are,” Meador concluded.